On Wednesday the New York Times ran an article highlighting two historians', Dr. Cooper and Dr. Bendroth, race to find and preserve old church documents. Many of these records have incredible historical significance that absolutely cannot be duplicated in anything else and, tragically, it truly is a desperate race to try and save them. Fire, water, mold, budget crisis, and neglect can spell doom for these fragile documents. Many churches cannot house the records in the proper conditions for preservation and the longer they sit the greater the risk of losing them forever becomes.
Like Dr. Cooper and Dr. Bendroth in Massachusetts, the Godfrey is also embarking on a quest to preserve the records of Connecticut churches. We have several church record books stored with the Godfrey collection in our climate controlled building. We have also made deals with a few other churches who wished to keep their physical records at the church: they lend us the records and we create a digital and paper copy. The church receives a digital copy and we are allowed to add the paper copy to our physical collection and the digital copy to the Godfrey Scholar. So far we have records from five Connecticut churches and one church from New York on the Scholar.
Just this Wednesday we added the index to the North Stonington Church, "Breakneck"Church in South Killingly, and Killingly Church records to the Godfrey Scholar. These indexes allow viewers to browse entries in the baptisms, memberships, admissions, and marriages sections in alphabetical order by last name, making it much easier to find precisely who you might be looking for! In addition we use these indexes to make the church records searchable through our Scholar Search function. And don't forget that you can also view scans of the original records! If you have ancestors who may have lived in those towns between 1727 and 1849 why not take a look?
The information in these records is invaluable for historians and genealogists alike. It's incredible to flip though the pages and experience a slice of life from centuries ago. The highest of the highs and the lowest of the lows are recorded in these pages. Babies are born, people die, and little snippets of everyday life forgotten for ages suddenly become known again when you flip through these pages. You can learn about Sally Rawson, who was expelled from the church for the sin of intemperance, or note the tragic number of people killed in accidents or by preventable diseases. For many people these church records may be the last remaining evidence of their existence. For the sake of their memories and for genealogists and historians everywhere, we cannot sit by and allow it to disappear.
You can read the New York Times article, titled "In Church Attics, Clues to Private Life of Early America", here.