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The University of Massachusetts Amherst

Researching the Early History of Black Lives in the Connecticut River Valley


In the Connecticut River Valley before the mid-19th century, the vast majority of communities of faith were Congregational--that is, Protestant churches with roots in Puritanism that prioritize the right of individual churches to govern their own affairs.  Through the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries town residents were required to participate in the life of the church for that reason, before church and state were formally disentangled in Massachusetts in 1833, Congregational church records are closely tied to town records.  Over the course of the eighteenth century Valley towns saw the appearance of Baptist and Methodist churches, and some other faiths, but before the second quarter of the nineteenth century, most Valley churches were Congregational.

Church records that contain genealogical information include parish registers, recorded marriages, baptisms, christenings, confirmations, and burials. Other records document the church history;- meeting minutes, financial records, and membership lists (including admissions and dismissals), as well as minutes associated with charitable work (sewing circles, etc), preserve the history of the congregation as a body.

Church records are especially important because before civil (county and city) records existed they were the principal records of births, baptisms, marriages, deaths, and burials. 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 officiating clergy, and the mother's maiden name. In some cases church records are the only place wives' full names appear.

For researchers seeking information on people of color, church records can be useful, as African Americans were eligible for baptism and membership; sometimes marriages between enslaved and/or free Black residents were solemnized by the church, and church records sometimes list Black residents who died and were buried.

Selective List of Materials in the W.E.B. Du Bois Library

Annals of King's Chapel from the Puritan age of New England to the present day - Foote, Henry Wilder
Call Number: F 73.62 K5 F5 Volume 1  Volume 2
                    Microfilm 5890 Reel 34 Number 461  Volume 3
Built in 1688, King's Chapel was the first Anglican church in Boston. The volumes include lists of proprietors, ministers, vestrymen, distinguished laymen, etc. and contain name and place indexes.

Annals of the church in Brimfield - Morse, Jason
Call Number: F 74 B7 M8
                   Microfilm 12012 Reel 16
Shows dates of admission and dismission or death of church members.

Catholic Pittsfield and Berkshire - Mullany, Katherine Frances
Call Number: BX 1418 P55 M8
                   Microfilm 12012 Reel 2
Includes parish histories, biographical sketches of clergy, "Catholics in business and public life," Pittsfield Catholic soldiers from Civil War regiments, and photographs.

A century of Catholicism in Western Massachusetts [microform]: being a chronicle of the establishment, early struggle, progress and achievements of the Catholic church in the five western counties of Worcester, Hampden, Hampshire, Berkshire and Franklin, in the Bay state, whose Catholic citizens have responded nobly to every challenge of citizenship, whether it be a call to the colors or to the highest civic posts within the gift of Massachusetts - Catholic Mirror (Springfield) (1931)
Call Number:  BX 1417 S76 C36
                    Microfilm 12012 Reel 1
Contains biographies of bishops, other officials, and "Catholic leaders in public life, business and the professions." Covers Catholic education, hospitals, institutions, colleges, lay societies, and missionaries from the Springfield Diocese. Of special interest are the advertisements and numerous photographs.

Christ Church, Salem Street, Boston: the Old North Church of Paul Revere fame: historical sketches, Colonial period, 1723-1775 - Babcock, Mary Kent Davey
Call Number: BX 5980 B6 C48
Offers biographical sketches of clergy, wardens, vestrymen, sextons, organists, organ builders, and rectors. Includes a name index and lists of subscribers for various projects. "The Sign Lanterns of Paul Revere Displayed in the Steeple of this Church April 18, 1775 Warned the Country of the March of the British Troops to Lexington and Concord."

Churches on Cape Cod - Vuilleumier, Marion
Call Number: BR 555 M4 V84
"Complete listing of all the religious bodies in the fifteen Cape towns." Geographically arranged with a brief history of each church and an illustration and description of the church building.

The colonial church records of the First Church of Reading (Wakefield) and the First Church of Rumney Marsh (Revere).
Call Number: F 74 W1 C65 2006
"Presented in this volume are two of the finest sets of church records from the colonial era of Massachusetts history that remain unpublished...Both are remarkable for their chronological breadth, their depth, or both, and reveal an extraordinary amount of information on church life over the course of the colonial era." Includes Reading church records for 1648-1769 and Rumney Marsh church records for 1715-1757.

Congregational church in Westfield.
Call Number: Special Collections BX 7153 W49 1830
Includes the confession of faith, covenant, regulations, resolutions, and a list of church members.

Contributions to the ecclesiastical history of Essex County, Mass. prepared and published under the direction of the Essex North Association
Call Number: BX 7148 M45 E8
Formed in Rowley in 1761, the Essex North Association offered early New England clergy an opportunity for consultation, social interaction, and advice-sharing. Volume contains biographical sketches of members and overviews of their churches.

Dedham pulpit: or, Sermons by the pastors of the First Church in Dedham, in the XVIIth and XVIIIth centuries; with a centennial discourse by the present pastor.
Call Number: Special Collections BX 7233 A1 1840
"A complete collection of the sermons published by the ministers...from 1638-1800." Also includes a "Statistical table of churches and ministers in the territory of ancient Dedham."

The early records of the town (Dedham)
Call Number: F 74 D3 D4 Volume 2
Volume 2 is entitled "The Record of baptisms, marriages and deaths, and admissions to the church and dismissals therefrom, transcribed from the church records in the Town of Dedham, Massachusetts. 1638-1845, also all the epitaphs in the ancient burial place in Dedham, together with the other inscriptions before 1845 in the three parish cemeteries." Includes indexes of towns and names.

The first centenary of the North church and society, in Salem, Massachusetts. Commemorated July 19, 1872.
Call Number: BX 9861 S3 N58
Provides lists of early members, biographical sketches of ministers, and lists of proprietors and occupants of pews in the First Meeting House.

First Congregational Church (Rochester, Mass.) [Records. [Microform].
Call Number: Microfilm 2151
Contains records of baptisms (1768-1796) and marriages (1768-1806) and lists of members. Entries are in the pastors' handwriting. Includes a list of contents at the beginning, but does not have a name index.

The genealogy of the First Baptist Church of New Bedford, Massachusetts, with roots deeply imbedded in the history of Plymouth, Dartmouth, and New Bedford: including a record of its growth and influence, 1813-1979 - Pillsbury, Avis Miller
Call Number: BX 6480 N482 F576

Guide to the parochial archives of the Episcopal Church in Boston: a survey and preliminary inventory of the records of the cathedral, parishes, and missions of the Episcopal Diocese of Massachusetts in the City of Boston - Duffy, Mark J.
Call Number: CD 3298 B67 D83 1981

Historical catalogs of the Northampton First Church, 1661-1891 - Clark, Solomon
Call Number: F 74 N86 C51
Lists more than 4,250 names of members and includes lists of elders, deacons, and missionaries. Does not have an index.

An historical catalogue of the Old South church (Third church) Boston.
Call Number: F 73.62 O4 B7
Contains lists of pastors, deacons, and members with biographical notes for those who joined during the first fifty years, 1669-1719.

Historical sketch of the Congregational church in Belchertown, Mass., from its organization, 114 years, with notices of the pastors and officers, and list of communicants chronologically arranged, tracing genealogies, intermarriages and family relatives. Also, embracing numerous facts and incidents relating to the first settlers and early history of the place - Doolittle, Mark
Call Number: Special Collections F 74 B207 D7
Offers an alphabetical name list and an appendix of genealogies which include the Bridgman Family.

History of the First Church in Roxbury, Massachusetts, 1630-1904 - Thwing, Walter Eliot
Call Number: BX 7255 R6 T4
Contains lists of church members and pew owners (and the amounts paid) plus biographies of pastors, elders, and deacons.

An inventory of the records of the particular (Congregational) churches of Massachusetts gathered 1620-1805 - Worthley, Harold Field
Call Number: BX 7148 M4 W65
A geographical listing of every Congregational church gathered prior to 1806 within Massachusetts. Each entry provides brief historical notes; lists of ministers, ruling elders, and deacons; descriptions of church records, and secondary sources of information.

An inventory of Universalist archives in Massachusetts. Prepared by the Historical Records Survey, Division of Community Service Programs, Work Projects Administration.
Call Number: CD 3290 H56
This is "the first history and inventory of church records published by the Historical Records Survey of Massachusetts." Its purpose was "to survey, preserve and render accessible historical source materials of all kinds," including church records.

The Manifesto church. Records of the church in Brattle Square, Boston, with lists of communicants, baptisms, marriages and funerals, 1699-1872.
Call Number: F 73.62 B8 B7

The ministry of Taunton, with incidental notices of other professions - Emery, Samuel Hopkins
Call Number: F 74 T2 E6 Volume 1  Volume 2
Includes sermons, biographical sketches, a chapter for "the churches and ministry" of each Bristol County city, portraits, autographs, and indexes of subjects and names.

The New North Church, Boston, 1714 - Wyman, Thomas Bellows
Call Number: F 73.25 W96 1995
Contains admission, marriage, baptism, vote, ordination, and death records through 1799 with one name index for all.

Plymouth church records, 1620-1859.
Call Number: F 61 C71 Volume 22 Volume 23
"A tablet on the meeting-house of the First Church in Plymouth bears the inscription: the Church of Scrooby, Leyden, and the Mayflower, gathered on this hillside in 1620, Has ever since preserved unbroken records, and maintained a continuous ministry, Its first covenant being still the basis of its fellowship." Contains the first three volumes of the original records of this church. Includes lists of pastors, church officials, and members; William Bradford's History of the Plymouth Church; church transactions; baptisms; marriages; deaths; and dismissions. Volume 23 offers a name index for church transactions, baptisms, deaths, marriages, and members.

Polish Jubilee Collection, 1906-1988.
Call Number: Special Collections MS 57
"Includes booklets containing parish and community histories, photographs, and local advertisements celebrating Jubilee, other anniversaries, and events in over twenty Massachusetts Polish American parishes..."

Proceedings in commemoration of the organization in Pittsfield, February 7, 1764 of the First Church of Christ. February 7, 1889.
Call Number: F 74 P6 P7
                   Special Collections F 74 P6 P7
Describes the church buildings and furniture, charities, Sunday school, missionaries, etc. Contains a name index.

The Quaker invasion of Massachusetts - Hallowell, Richard Price
Call Number: Special Collections F 67 H18
Intended to "correct popular fallacies and assign the Quakers to their true place in the early history of Massachusetts." Contains "Colonial Laws for the Suppression of Quakers," letters concerning the persecution of assorted individuals, and the "Examination of Quakers at ye Court of Assistants in Boston, March 7, 1659-1660."

Records of the Church of Christ at Cambridge in New England, 1632-1830, comprising the ministerial records of baptisms, marriages, deaths, admission to covenant and communion, dismissals and church proceedings.
Call Number: F 74 C1 C466
The "Index of Names" includes a heading "Negroes" for those individuals recorded only by their given name.

Records of the First Church in Charlestown, Massachusetts, 1632-1789.
Call Number: Special Collections F 74 C4 C6 1880 +
This church was established in 1632 and its records are among the earliest in New England. Contains lists of covenant signers, marriages, baptisms, and church votes, but does not have a name index.

The records of the First Church in Salem, Massachusetts, 1629-1736.
Call Number: F 74 S1 S173 1974
This church was established in 1629. "The only other church in New England at the time was at Plymouth." Includes name and subject indexes.

The records of the First Church of Boston, 1630-1868.
Call Number: F 61 C71 Volume 39  Volume 40  Volume 41
Its records begin when the church was established - July 30, 1630. "These five volumes of records...present an almost complete year-by-year picture of the life of a New England congregational church over a period of nearly two and a half centuries. Its affairs often inextricably interwoven with the secular and political events of Boston, the First Church has, nevertheless, always kept its own independence." Contains lists of members, records of church meetings, marriages, baptisms, funerals, and proprietors of pews. Includes an index of names.

Records of the First Church of Wareham, Mass., 1739-1891.
Call Number: F 74 W28 F57 1993 +

The records of Trinity Church, Boston, 1728-1830.
Call Number: F 61 C71 Volumes 55 Volume 56
"One of the oldest Anglican churches in Boston." Includes minute books, financial accounts, and vital statistics (baptisms, marriages, and burials) with name and subject indexes.

Report of the Record Commissioners of the City of Boston.
Call Number: F 73.1 B74
Volume 6 (2nd edition) First Church of Roxbury 1751-1774

St. Jean-Baptiste, Lowell, MA, 1869-1910 - Labonte, Youville
Call Number: F 74 L9 L33 1995
1,652 church marriage records of French Americans.

Sketches of the churches and pastors in Hampden County, Mass.: and also, an address delivered to the pastors by Rev. T.M. Cooley, D.D., at Mettineague, September 13, 1853.
Call Number: BX 7148 M45 H3
                   Special Collections BX 7148 M45 H3 1854

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Search the Five College Catalog by Subject. Examples of subject searches:

  • Catholics - Massachusetts - Boston
  • Church records and registers - Massachusetts - Boston
  • Church records and registers - Massachusetts - Salem
  • Clergy - Massachusetts - Hampden County
  • Congregational churches - Massachusetts - Directories
  • First Church (Boston, Mass.) - History - Sources