Genealogical Research in Records of the Episcopal Church
The Archives of the Episcopal Church welcomes inquiries from genealogical researchers. The Archives collects select personal records of a few individuals, usually ordained, who have made a significant contribution to the national Church and its mission. As the repository for records on the national church offices and agencies, however, the Archives has few records that are typically found in a church archives. Sacramental records of births, marriages, and deaths as well as communicant membership of families are maintained by the individual parishes.
The Episcopal Church does not maintain central membership lists. Information on families prominent in local church activities, parish registers, and church directories can best be found by contacting the parish directly. If a researcher knows a town or city, the Archives can usually provide them with a list of local parishes. If a church has closed, the records are typically found in the diocesan archives. The Archives can provide contact information for the diocesan offices. Episcopal dioceses do not maintain central membership lists.
Vital Records Inquiries in Parish Registers
Records of baptisms, burials, and marriages can most likely be found at the church where the event took place. For information from these records, you would have to contact the appropriate congregation or the diocese directly. If the congregation is unknown, the researcher should focus on a few congregations at one time in a process of elimination. One can determine whether a particular congregation still exists and its current address by contacting the Archives or by using Episcopal web resources such as the Parish Finder tool. You should then contact the rector. Keep your inquiry brief, giving only the essential information and requesting only the information you need. Your chances of receiving a reply are better if you do not ask broad questions or provide unnecessary details of your family history. If the church no longer exists, the records could be located in either the archives of the diocese, or in some cases, in a local repository of manuscript collections.
Please keep in mind that parishes generally do not have a practicing archivist, and that many pressing demands are placed on parish priests and staff. Few parish registers are cumulatively indexed. As a result, it may take the parish some time to reply to your inquiry. We recommend patience in these matters. Please understand that the parish office must give priority to the pastoral concerns of its parishioners, church administration, and worship. Inquiries on purely genealogical matters are usually a low priority for the staff, particularly if the question is vague and/or unlimited in its scope. If possible, an offer to visit the parish to perform the research yourself may be preferable. Alternately, you may want to consider making a donation to the parish for its time, as this may encourage a competent volunteer to offer up some time for the search.
Though the Archives does not collect biographical data on all of the Church's clergy, directories kept by the Archives can frequently provide a rough outline of ministerial service and sometimes provide vital information. This outline can be fleshed out by contacting the churches where the priest served or by locating an obituary in the local newspapers. Information we may be able to provide includes: date and location of birth, parents' names, education, ordination dates, spouse's name and number of children, and the dates and locations of all the places the priest served. Please note that there will be much less personal information for priests who lived prior to 1920. We do not maintain contact information for the children and/or descendants of Episcopal clergy.
The Archives of the Episcopal Church has collected the personal papers of some foreign missionaries, and documents persons appointed by the national Church for missionary work. Most of this documentation exists in the form of personnel files. Information available in personnel files varies considerably from missionary to missionary, depending on length of service, time period served, and the missionary's propensity to correspond with the home office. Please bear in mind that the personnel files are largely administrative in nature; that is, they document the missionary's contact with the Church's offices in New York. As a result, there may be reports on the missionary's work interfiled with requests for financial reimbursement, travel expenses, and other mundane exchanges. Personnel files also contain confidential personal information. The policy of the Archives is to close all personnel records for a period of 80 years.
The Archives will conduct research for records older than 80 years, however, our staff cannot photocopy entire sets of files. Our policy permits copying of up to ten percent of a file. If the missionary's personnel file is extensive, the researcher is encouraged to visit the Archives personally to examine the records. In limited circumstances, we will review a smaller file and send copies of substantive letters.
Churches that existed in the colonies prior to the establishment of the Protestant Episcopal Church in 1789 should be contacted directly for more information on parish registers and membership. Additional information on colonial churches is available from Lambeth Palace Library, which houses the records created while the colonies were still under the ecclesiastical aegis of the Church of England. The Lambeth Palace Library can be reached at the following address:
Lambeth Palace Library
London SE1 7JU
The records of the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel (SPG) contain papers of clergy who served as missionaries of the Church of England in the colonial period. For more information on these records write to:
Bodleian Library at Rhodes House
South Parks Road
Oxford OX1 3RG
Records of Other Anglican Churches
Information on clergy persons from other Anglican Churches outside the United States can be obtained by writing directly to the appropriate headquarters. For information on Canadian Anglican clergy, write to:
Archives of the General Synod
Anglican Church of Canada
600 Jarvis Street
Toronto, Ontario M4Y 2J6 Canada
For all other provinces of the world wide Anglican Communion, researchers should consult directory information available on the Anglican Communion website.