Cornell University in Ithaca, New York, has been actively engaged in microfilming copies of church record books of churches throughout what was described as “Western New York.”
Some of these microfilms are woefully disappointing to one who expects to find carefully laid out columns of births, baptisms, marriages and deaths.
It would appear as though the records were written for the scribe’s own edification, and the format, style and penmanship is extremely erratic. My feeling is that the recorders of these books would have kept these notes for local consumption, for in the days of quill pens, who would have ever imagined that future hoards of humans with cell phones, GPS gadgets, laptop and handheld computers, scanners and digital cameras, would have ever a reason to want to delve into these records for clues about the local citizenry?
Well that being said, these books are still some of the very best primary sources of data on individuals that were recorded in contemporary documents, and that have a higher than usual degree of reliability. Though nothing is sacred, these records must still be analyzed and used with care, as there will be misteakes in every form of record ever made by mankind.
So what might we hope to find in these church record books? First off they are generally concerned with the business aspect of operating a church. Subscriptions, pew rentals, payment of pastors, fixing the roof, supporting the widow, and items of such ilk, generally are prominent. Hopefully, somewhere scattered in the chaff might be a few kernels of wheat that would indicate a baptism, marriage or burial record, or perhaps receiving of an individual by letter, (which will be extremely helpful in putting people in a place in time and might also indicate from whence they came,) and sometimes just having a listing of the members of a certain church might be very helpful for further study.
Many of these early churches in the wild, wild west, were lineally connected to a not too distant past colonial New England town where the local government was the church. The theocratic government of the New England towns might still be in the veins of the now satellite appendages. So you might also discover some legal news in these church record books. Some of these churches held trials for such things as blasphemy, non payment of debts, adultery or fornication, and things that we today would reserve for civil courts. Our ancestors were snapshots of ourselves. They had trials and tribulations, and some of these records are not for the feint of heart.
We need to discover all of the clues that we can from such primary records, and this fantastic collection at Cornell University in the “Study Center for Religious Life in Western New York,” that is held in the Kroch Library, Rare Books and Manuscripts Department should be studied and transcribed.
The listing of the church records available is at; http://rmc.library.cornell.edu/eguides/lists/churchlist1.htm
Sixteen counties are represented, some more extensively than others. They are Cayuga, Cortland, Erie, Genesee, Livingston, Monroe, Onondaga, Ontario, Oswego, Schuyler, Seneca, Steuben, Tompkins, Wayne, Wyoming, and Yates.
These films may be viewed at the Cornell library and they are also available for longer term study at your local library through Inter-Library-Loan (ILL.)
If you are going to go there I would suggest calling ahead to verify that the film is in. I made the trek to Ithaca a couple of days ago and the film that I needed was out on ILL. The day was not a total loss though. The Kroch Library has a fabulous exhibit of General LaFayette and his association with General Washington.
Just about the sweetest antiquity I have ever seen is a manuscript letter written in almost flawless English, by LaFayette’s six year old daughter to Washington in 1798. She was sad that her Papa was leaving but glad Washington will get to have him for a while.
I was just a couple of nose lengths away from the original document. You can’t do THAT on the Internet!
Upstate New York Genealogy