Church Records

Church records can be a wonderful addition to your genealogical research.  Immigrants usually brought their religion with them; the Irish were usually Roman Catholic, Scandinavian were Lutheran, Germans Lutheran or Mennonite; BUT they frequently changed from one church to another, often attending the church nearest to where they lived.

When trying to find church records, you must first determine an ancestor's denominational preference and which church they attended.  You may be able to find this out by checking obituaries or cemetery records.  Checking probate records, you may find that they donated or willed land or money to a church.

Then you have to determine what records were kept then and where they might be now.  Some churches kept extensive records and, of course, some did not.  Such records may include membership lists, minutes of various meetings, baptisms, births, marriages, deaths & funerals.  They often sent letters with members who left emigrated to other parts of the country saying "So and So was a good, upstanding member--Please welcome them, etc., etc."  I think the records kept sometimes depended on the pastor or minister and how much of a record or diary he kept.

These records may still be with the church or they may have been sent to central denomination archives, state or local historical societies or may be in private hands.  Also check any church-supported schools or colleges.  The LDS has microfilmed many church & parish records also. You can easily find which ones have been filmed by checking the Family History Library (FHL) catalog at the FamilySearch┬« site at:  https://www.familysearch.org

One of the major problems with finding church records of the earliest settlers is that they were usually served by circuit riders, meaning that a minister, priest or whatever, traveled from place to place, sometimes even house to house in these sparsely populated areas.  The minister would preach a sermon, do necessary baptisms or christenings, perform a marriage or what ever, and be on his way to the next group. 

These early settlers could not wait for a certain kind of preacher to show up--they took what they could get.  If they wanted to marry, they would do so now and record it later. When the minister completed his 'rounds', he would go back to his church and record the things  he had done, such as baptisms and marriages.  

We know that, in Clinton County, some of the Catholic priests came from Dubuque, so it may be that some of the earliest records regarding Clinton were recorded there.  This is true of the other denominations also, so find out if there were circuit riders and where they kept their records.  Sometimes they only kept a diary for themselves (or nothing at all).  In some places, they were required by law to record the marriages they performed at the nearest courthouse.  ("Nearest" meaning closest to where they happened to be at the time, not necessarily the closest one to where the marriage was performed.  If a priest was on his way to Dubuque and performed a marriage in Andover or Teeds Grove, he may have just kept going and record the marriage in Jackson County or even in Dubuque, rather than going back to the courthouse in Clinton County.)

Finding early church records can be quite challenging, but may prove to be quite rewarding as well. Many churches have websites.

Some churches have yearbooks on their members that are updated all the time and may have short biographies and photos. Find out if and when the church you're interested in started doing this.


What we have Online:

Catholic Churches of Clinton County, from the 1911 Wolfe history.

There are booklets about the history of the Catholic churches available from the Clinton County Historical Society.

Diary of John Klar, First Pastor of St. Paul's United Church of Christ in Wheatland

Pastoral Records of Charles H. Riedesel, Wheatland

Some churches, addresses and what they have available.


Additional Sources

Some of the following information is from www.familysearch.org  

Blossoms on the thistle : an account of the lives and Christian ministry of the Rev. and Mrs. Charles H. Riedesel, 1871 to 1960 by Gerhard A. Riedesel. Pullman, Wash. : Riedesel, c1975

Includes transcripts of the details of christenings, baptisms, marriages and funerals he conducted in each locality. Charles Henry Riedesel (1871-1960) was born in Wheatland, Iowa and married Elise Marie Zipf in 1897. As a pastor for the Germany Reformed Church, he served in Iowa, North Carolina, Ohio, Indiana, Idaho and Nebraska.

FHL book 921.73 R441r . Also on microfilm. Salt Lake City : Filmed by the Genealogical Society of Utah, 1979. -- 1036353 Item 5 

The Story of Some of Our Closed Churches. Includes brief sketches of Bethel, Birmingham, DeWitt, Elvira, Grand Prairie, Grand View, Harrison and Living Lake churches. (Not all are in Clinton Co.) The original is at the State Historical Society of Iowa . (FHL film 986170 item 7)

Many denominations have collected and stored their records in central repositories.  You can write to the following addresses to learn what is available and where their records are located:

Baptist

North American Baptist Conference
1 South 210 Summit Ave.
Oakbrook Terrace, IL 60181

Lutheran

Evangelical Lutheran Church in America
Wartburg Theological Seminary
333 Wartburg Place
Dubuque, IA 52001

The Wartburg Theological Seminary has Lutheran records from Iowa, Illinois, Wisconsin, and upper Michigan.  Many of the records of this repository can be borrowed for a small fee.  For a list of some of the records, see:

ALC Archives, ALC Congregations on Microfilm. Dubuque, Iowa: The Archives, (197?]. (FHL fiche 6330690-93; computer number 170040.) The list is alphabetical by state and then by city.  Fiche 6330690 has records from Iowa.

American Lutheran Church Shelf List Index to Their Church Records Microfilmed as of 1987. N. p., 1988. (FHL book 973 K2aL; computer number 522728.)

Methodist

Iowa Wesleyan College Library
Mt. Pleasant, IA 52641

You can find two of the library's collections in:

Iowa Churches: A File at the Iowa Wesleyan College in Mt. Pleasant, Iowa. Salt Lake City: Genealogical Society of Utah, 1975. (FHL films 956387-417; computer number 311771.) This file consists of church histories, anniversary programs, and newspaper clippings.  It is arranged by towns or by the name of the church.

Ministerial Biographies: A File in the Iowa Wesleyan College in Mt. Pleasant, Iowa. Salt Lake City: Genealogical Society of Utah, 1975. (FHL films 956418-42; computer number 311493.) These films contain biographies, mainly of Methodist ministers.

Presbyterian

The Presbyterian Historical Society
425 Lombard Street
Philadelphia, PA 19147

Many of the biographies and church records of this society have been microfilmed.  

Church records, Presbyterian Church (Elwood, Iowa) 1878-1898 -  FHL film number 503551 Item 2.

The Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints

The Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints
World Headquarters
P.O. Box 1059
Independence, MO 64051

Records of most Iowa congregations of this church have been microfilmed are available at the Family History Library.

Society of Friends

Friends Historical Library
Swarthmore College
500 College Ave.
Swarthmore, PA 19081
http://www.swarthmore.edu

Magill Library
Haverford College
Haverford, PA 19041-1392
https://www.haverford.edu

Two collections of the Iowa Society of Friends records are:

Hinshaw, William Wade. Index to Iowa Quaker Meeting Records. 11 vols. N.P., 19--? (FHL book 977.7 K28h; films 924025-27; fiche 6051154; computer number 242150.)

Hinshaw, William Wade. The William Wade Hinshaw Index to Quaker Meeting Records in the Friends Library in Swarthmore College, Pennsylvania. Salt Lake City: Genealogical Society of Utah, 1957. (FHL Films 002146-213, and 175409-13; computer number 98325.) Film 002148 has an index to surnames and indicates in which monthly meetings those surnames are found.  These microfilms contain records of many Iowa monthly meetings.