Church records include parish registers, recorded marriages, baptisms, christenings, confirmations, and burials. Other church records document the church history - its organizational structure, the clergy, meeting minutes, financial records, and membership lists (including admissions and dismissals).
Church records are especially important because they "provide the best source of vital records information" from the earliest times, before civil (county and city) records existed. By the end of 1633 eight churches had been established in the Massachusetts Bay Colony. Church records are often more complete and accurate than civil records. For example, baptism and christening records may include the date and place of birth, the parents' names and residence, the sponsors'/godparents' names, the officiating clergy, and the mother's maiden name. In some cases church records are the only place wives' names appear.
"Church records are among the earliest evidence of ethnic groups in a particular locale." As in their native countries, immigrants' lives "centered upon their religious activities" and they depended on their churches to record "the vital records of their lives." "Church death registers have been the single most valuable source for tracing an immigrant's place of birth."
Genealogical researchers should also check this website's Vital Records and Marriage Records sections. The compilers of these sources and of town histories frequently used church records for their work.
The W.E.B. Du Bois Library's rich historical collections include a number of published church records and histories as well as an interesting selection of assorted sources.
The Special Collections and University Archives Department of the W.E.B. Du Bois Library houses a collection of more than 7,500 community cookbooks. The Beatrice McIntosh Cookery Collection includes cookbooks prepared by a variety of churches and synagogues from the 1880s to the present. "These cookbooks document important aspects of the lives of families and women in the region, as well as ethnic groups and their adaptation of traditional foods to New England. The collection is focused primarily on New England, but includes cookbooks from other states for comparative purposes." Many of the community cookbooks offer an historical introduction to the organization and most of the recipes are signed by the contributing members. A partial listing of the church cookbooks is available at http://www.library.umass.edu/spcoll/cookbooks/