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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.

Historic Deerfield

First Church in Deerfield Records: Among the Church records are baptismal and marriage records of enslaved people, as well as those admitted as Church members. The library has the records on microfilm. The original books are on deposit in the PVMA Library. M 974.42 D312, 10

Wood Museum of Springfield History

Fullilove Collection -- Memorabilia, photos, news clippings, programs, photo albums, and assorted ephemera related to the Fullilove family and the Third Baptist Church of Springfield.

History Committee of St. John's Congregational Church, Springfield, Mass.  The History of St. John's Congregational Church, 1844-1962.  1962. 

Amherst College Archives

Amherst College Church and Chapel Records: Records of the Church of Christ in Amherst College and other Christian religious activity on campus from the founding of the college to the mid-twentieth century. Included in the collection are records of Amherst student involvement in Zion Chapel/Hope Church, an African-American church in the town of Amherst. The collection includes manuscript records, correspondence, printed material, and books.