I've spent 2011 trying to better acquaint myself with church records and the goodies that can be found in them. Well, the year is mostly over and I feel like I've only just scratched the surface. I also have not explored all records and churches of the various denominations of my ancestors, and that doesn't include all the ancestors whose religious leanings are as yet unknown.
The two denominations I have explored in some depth are the United Methodist church and the Roman Catholic church. My great-grandfather and great-great-grandfather were ministers in what is now the United Methodist church so my interest lies in finding biographical information on them above all else (though other records are always welcome too). My grandmother was raised in the Catholic church and her parents are quite the mystery to me, hence my interest in those records.
I feel like I'm at a point where I'm knowledgeable enough about their records that I can request copies without looking like a fool. So, now comes the hard part: find the church's contact information and then actually contact them.
I began my quest with my two Methodist ministers (specifically my great-grandfather because I know where most of his charges were and the years he spent in each). I started at the "Find-A-Church" page of the United Methodist church website. From there I was able to get contact information, and in many instances the churches had websites I could visit (and a page with church history information I could read).
My great-grandfather was a "circuit rider" which meant that he preached at several churches during his career, six in total - spending six or seven years at each place. With that many churches to contact, I decided to come up with a form letter (which I'll also be able to use for my great-great-grandfather):
I am writing to inquire as to what records you might have concerning past ministers of your church. My great-grandfather, _______________, was the minister of your church between the years of ____ and ____. I was wonder if you might have any biographical information on him or any records related to him that you would be willing to share. I would very much appreciate it and would be happy to pay for any fees you might incur. Thank you very much for your time and any help in this matter you are able to give,
(My Phone Number)"
Next up, my grandmother's church, St. Mary's. I already knew which diocese it is in, but a list of all the dioceses in the US can be found here. I went to the Diocese of Youngstown website and located the parish there. Unfortunately, I wasn't able to find an e-mail address, so will have to contact them either through phone or snail mail. I decided to create a form letter for this church as well, even though I won't be able to e-mail it.
My family worshiped at your parish for many years and I was wonder if I could get copies of a few records pertaining to them. I am looking for a copy of my grandmother's baptismal record. I don't know when she was baptized, but her name was ________________ and she was born on __ __, ____. I am also hoping to get a copy of the death record of my great-grandfather, _______________, who died on __ __, ____. I would appreciate any help you can give and would be happy to pay for any fees involved. Thank you,
(My Phone Number)"
Two of the resources I consulted for all this were RootsWeb's Guide to Church Records and an article from Genealogy.About.com
I plan on firing these off in the next few days so wish me luck. If anyone out there has any experience with this sort of thing, do you have any advice to pass on? I'm new to requesting religious records, as well as "cold calling" strangers so insights are always welcome.