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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

Ancient burying-grounds of the town of Waterbury, Connecticut, together with other records of church and town - Prichard, Katharine Adelaid
Call Number: F 104 W3 P7
Includes burials from Gunntown Episcopal Church records (1801-1857), burials and marriages (1742-1875) from the Parish of Northbury, and Congregational Church records (1765-1809) of Northbury Parish (later Plymouth).

Churches of old New England, their architecture and their architects, their pastors and their people - Marlowe, George Francis
Call Number: BR 530 M3

The colonial clergy and the colonial churches of New England - Weis, Frederick Lewis
Call Number: BR 520 W4
                   Special Collections BR 520 W4 1936
"For the first time a complete list of New England colonial churches and clergymen of all denominations is herein presented" (1620-1776). Alphabetically arranged by surname. Includes the individual's birthplace, date of birth, parents' names, education, death date, career, publications (sermons), dates of installation and dismissal, etc. Also offers a geographical index.

Early Connecticut marriages as found on ancient church records prior to 1800 - Bailey, Frederic William
Call Number: F 93 B16
The "most complete collection extant of printed Connecticut church marriage records" to 1800. A seven-volume work solely of church records. Each volume contains a surname index. "The first settlers of Connecticut came from Massachusetts Bay and Plymouth Colonies and located at Windsor, Hartford, and Wethersfield"
First Book
Second Book
Third Book
Fourth Book
Fifth Book
Sixth Book
Seventh Book

Guide to church vital statistic records in the state of Rhode Island. Supplement to Guide to public vital statistics, births, marriages, deaths. Prepared by the Historical Records Survey, Division of Service Programs, Work Projects Administration.
Call Number: CD 3481 H52
"The purpose of the compilation is to offer an actual guide to all extant records of births, marriages, and deaths located in the churches throughout the State or in the custody of church officials."

A history of the Episcopal church in Narragansett, Rhode Island, including a history of other Episcopal churches in the state - Updike, Wilkins
Call Number: Special Collections BX 5980 N2 P3 1847
 The first entry in the church records was made in 1718. Includes a name and subject index.

History of the First Church in Hartford, 1633-1883  (First Church of Christ) - Walker, George Leon
Call Number: Special Collections BX 7255 H4 F57 1884

History of the Second Church of Christ in Hartford - Parker, Edwin Pond
Call Number: Special Collections F 104 H3 P2 1892
This church was established in 1670. Volume contains a "Catalogue of the early members of the church, and the record of baptisms, marriages, and deaths."

Inventory of the church archives of Connecticut. Lutheran. Prepared by the Connecticut Historical Records Survey, Division of Community Service Programs, Work Projects Administration.
Call Number: BX 8042 C8 H5
Another WPA project which provides a history of the church, describes the church records, and notes the locations of those records. Includes chronological, geographical, and church name indexes.

Inventory of the church archives of Vermont. Prepared by the Vermont Historical Records Survey, Division of Professional and Service Projects, Work Projects Administration.
Call Number: CD 3550 H48 Number 1
"In this inventory one can readily find what the records are and where they are located. It also provides a survey of source material for the history of the Episcopal Church in Vermont." This volume is the first of the WPA's Vermont series. Contains church, clergy, and location indexes.

Les Mariages de Notre-Dame, Central Falls, R.I. (1873-1979).
Call Number: F 89 C33 M37 1982

Memorial. Genealogy, and ecclesiastical history [of First Church, New Britain, Conn.] To which is added an appendix, with explanatory notes, and a full index - Andrews, Alfred
Call Number: F 104 N5 A5
Highlights all members "who have been communicants of the first Church of Christ in New Britain, from its organization, April 19, 1758, to 1867." Provides very complete biographical information including lists of members' children. Also contains a name index.

New England Yearly Meeting of Friends Records, 1654-2016.
Call Number: Special Collections MS 902
Quaker records which include business meeting minutes, newsletters, financial records, some personal papers, printed books and serials, and an assortment of photographs. Of particular note are the vital statistics recorded by the Monthly Meetings, including general information on births, deaths, marriages, membership, and specifically-Quaker information on removals (formal letters written as members moved from one meeting to another), denials, testimonies (beliefs and convictions), and sufferings (penalties suffered by Quakers for following testimonies). The collection includes several thousand Quaker books and pamphlets.

The New Hampshire churches; comprising histories of the Congregational and Presbyterian churches in the state, with notices of other denominations: also containing many interesting incidents connected with the settlement of towns - Lawrence, Robert F.
Call Number: BR 555 N4 L3
Arranged by county and thereunder by city or town. Contains indexes of towns and clergymen.

Records of the Congregational church in Canterbury, Connecticut, 1711-1844, published jointly by the Connecticut Historical Society and the Society of Mayflower Descendants in the State of Connecticut.
Call Number: F 104 C18 C2
"Many of the early settlers of Canterbury were descendants of passengers who came to Plymouth on the 'Mayflower' in 1620."

Records of the Congregational Church in Turkey Hills, now the town of East Granby, Connecticut, 1776-1858.
Call Number: Special Collections F 104 E1 E13 1907
The church was organized in 1737. Records include births, baptisms, marriages, and deaths, admissions, meeting minutes, church votes, excommunications, and names of members. Has a name and subject index.

The two hundredth anniversary of the First Congregational Church of Haddam, Connecticut, October 14th and 17th, 1900. Church organized, 1696. Pastor installed, 1700.
Call Number: F 104 H14 H3
Includes baptisms, marriages, deaths as well as a name index to the church records.





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