August 23, 2008 BGS Meeting – Church Records and How to Use Them

The Birmingham Genealogical Society meets the fourth Saturday of each month (ex. Nov. & Dec.) in the Arrington Auditorium at the Downtown Birmingham Public Library. Guests are always welcome!

Next meeting: Saturday, August 23rd at 2 p.m. Refreshments at 1:30 p.m.

Speaker: Elizabeth Wells, Head of the Special Collections Department, Samford University, Birmingham, Alabama

Program Topic: Church Records and How To Use Them

Details: or BPL-Southern History Dept. at (205) 226-3665

Alabama Methodist Church Records

Laurel Baty shared the following information with the Jefferson County Rootsweb E-mail List. She was kind to grant permission to me to share on the blog.

An index to “Memorial Sketches of the Lives and Labors of the deceased Members of the North Alabama Conference, 1870 -1912″ by W. T. Andrews can be found on the webpage of Birmingham Southern College Library, under Special Collections:

Index to Memorial Sketches of the Lives and Labors of the deceased Members of the NAC

There is also an index to Memorials of Methodist Ministers who died in the North AL Conference from 1870 – 2003:

Index to Memorials of Methodist Ministers who died in the NAC from 1870-2003

There is an inventory of Methodist Church records held at Birmingham Southern:

Inventory of Methodist Church Records Held at Birmingham Southern

Visit the Special Collections, North Alabama Conference UMC Archives page for links to all resources:

North Alabama Conference UMC Archives page

Preserving Church Records, part II

Providence #1 Baptist Church, March 31, 2007

I posted last week about a church fire in my birth county of Chilton and encouraged everyone to get involved and work with churches in their area to get the records microfilmed. Well, Friday night another church in Chilton County was set ablaze (yes, it has been ruled arson) and this one strikes close to home.

Providence #1 in North Chilton County was the church home for my GREEN and related families. I have visited the church several times and photographed many of the burials (though not all – the cemetery is quite large). The “new” sanctuary (see photo above) was saved, but the old sanctuary and fellowship hall are a total loss. No word on the fate of the church records.

For a long while now, I have been plagued by this little voice that kept telling me that I needed to get involved more with all of the local churches and work with them to get the church records microfilmed. Well, I guess the Providence fire is the kick in the posterior I needed to actually get up and do something. Maybe that is how things work sometimes… we put off until tomorrow… then it hits close to home and we realize that tomorrow is too late.

Don’t wait too late to get involved. Talk to a local church today about record preservation.

Preserving Church Records

I posted back in November 2007 about church record preservation and how IMPORTANT is was to have old church records microfilmed before an unfortunate incident occurred.

This past week in the county of my birth (Chilton County, Alabama) we had a small church that dated back to the 1860′s devastated by fire. ALL church records were lost, including photographs of all of the former pastor’s of the church. In our Chilton County Genealogy Yahoo Group, we want to try to locate replacement photos of the ministers. But the church records are gone forever – they had not be microfilmed or copied.

In light of the recent fire, I thought the time opportune to give information on how to go about preserving local church records. Many of the links I give below refer to Baptist/Southern Baptist records, but the general guidance is applicable to all denominations.

The Southern Baptist Historical Library and Archives gives very detailed, step-by-step instructions on how to do this here.

A list of Church Records on microfilm at the the Southern Baptist Historical Library and Archives is here.

Samford University is the repository for the Alabama Baptist Historical Association. See the website for listings of some of the holdings.

Samford will microfilm Alabama Church Records free of charge… if the church wants a copy of the cost there is a charge for that… but no charge just to microfilm them and preserve them. Click here to find out more on this program.

Recently a friend was able to track down the early church records for a church two of my great- grandparents were founding members. In the next few weeks I will make the trip to Samford to drop them off to be microfilmed and preserved for posterity.

Many of our early churches have never had their records preserved. If you know of a church in your community who is in this situation – volunteer to assist in preserving the records. If they are in Alabama, the cost to have microfilmed at Samford is $0 – who can beat that price?

Baptists celebrate 300 years in US; 190 years in Alabama

The Alabama Baptist has an article here about the recognition of the 75 Baptist association in Alabama; the oldest fully Alabama association being Bethlehem (originally Beckbe) organized in 1816. The date of the organization of each association can be found here.

The article reminds us how necessary it is to get your church or ancestor’s church to have their old records microfilmed before an unfortunate event occurs. For information on how to have your Baptist church records microfilmed or to donate the originals to the Baptist Archive at Samford University in Homewood, click here.

Alabama Records Disposition

While searching for something else, I happened upon the Alabama Archives Record Disposition Authorities for Local and State Government agencies. It addresses current records created by these agencies as well as the older records.

According to the website:

The State and Local Government Records Commissions review and approve the RDAs at their quarterly meetings. Once the Commissions approve an RDA, the agency or official creating those records is authorized to implement records disposition. Disposition may involve destruction of records that have met their legal, fiscal, and administrative needs or preservation of records identified in the RDA as permanent.

I have not read all of this, but one thing I found of interest was the following:

As part of its record-keeping responsibilities, the probate office must maintain copies of each daily or weekly newspaper published in the county. The newspapers document the probate office’s mandated responsibility to publish various notices to the public created in conjunction with its other duties.

Here are links if you are interested in reading more and downloading the pdfs:

Record Retention Information (General)

Local Records RDA’s

State Records RDA’s

Great News for Tuscaloosa County Records

The following is an update from Mike Sullivan on the activity to save the Tuscaloosa County records in the courthouse attic:

I am very pleased to announce that a big step has been taken towards creating a Local Archives in Tuscaloosa County, AL. Jim Crowder, Chairman of the Records Preservation Committee reported to the Tuscaloosa Genealogical Society Night Group, that a temporary remote location has been found and approved by the Circuit Court Clerk, Ms. Bobo.

This has been a huge stumbling block for the complete preservation of our historic records because now the issue of getting those records into an environmentally stable facility will be solved.

Currently, the Committee has identified over 100 volumes of pre-1900 records to be removed from the attic and there is still plenty of looking to be done.

With over 40 years of insufficient funds to properly maintain the 7th floor records, records from many creating agencies have become entwined. It is also not unusual to find a 1830 record next to a 1990 record, next to a 1870 record.

This finding and sorting process will take some time but I foresee that soon a great many of the books can finally be removed from that dark, dusty storage area and as more records are found, they shall also be removed.

ADAH has pledged support by way of training volunteers in the proper way to handle and clean these historic records. It was also reported that as soon as the Society and the Clerk has the paperwork in order, ADAH will come straight away to inspect the records, proper documentations and sign off their approval without delay.

This is an important start to a multi-year project and we need to continue seeking a permanent home for which to create our Local Archives.

There are simply too many people that have been so helpful in this accomplishment but special mention of Melissa Delbridge, Archivist for Duke University in NC, who from that distance has lent her voice, influence, contacts and sound advice paving the way for certain processes to blend smoothly.

It should also be acknowledged that Jim Crowder has worked very hard over the last couple of months to get permission for this temporary new home.

So now it is up to all of the rest of us make the commitment to cleaning, organizing and indexing what I am truly guessing may be up to 500 historic books that pre-date 1900.

Once that large bite has been taken and at least chewed on awhile, we should have the opportunity to obtain more records from other agencies and later dates.

Nothing as worthwhile or of such importance as creating a Local Archives can be done over night but not only have some very necessary steps been taken but the actual work has begun. Take care.

Bye, Mike Sullivan
Homewood, AL

Update on Funding for the Jefferson County Circuit Court Loose Records Project

On September 7, 2007, I reported via a blog post found here that the Loose Records account balance was at zero. As of Saturday’s (September 22nd) meeting the Project had received $68.00 bringing the total balance in the account to $68.00. This is a great news, but far short of the estimated $2000.00 dollars needed to buy supplies to finish the rest of the project. If, like me, you never got around to sending a donation last month, please do so now.

Mail your donation to the Birmingham Genealogical Society, PO Box 2432, Birmingham, AL, 35201 and specify that it is for the Loose Records Project.


Melissa Hogan

Tuscaloosa County Courthouse Record Preservation

The next meeting of the Tuscaloosa Genealogical Society Night Group will be on Thursday, Oct 4th. They meet the first Thursday night of every month. A topic of discussion will certainly be the preservation of the records in the Tuscaloosa County Courthouse attic. What follows is an open letter from Mike Sullivan to all interested in preserving these records:

Dear Citizens of Tuscaloosa County,

There are many old sayings that help us through life. Good things come to those that are patient. I have worked towards the goal of saving our Historic records for three years this month of Sept. Can someone tell me how long it takes for patience to turn into real work?

You can catch more flies with honey than you can with vinegar. I got me a whole bunch of dead flies, even a few yellow jackets. Nobody told me there wasn’t a place to trade flies for volunteers.

I reckon my personal favorite is, you can’t be in two places at once. Lots of work might get done when we figure out how to solve that problem. We can then do what we want to do and what we need to do, both at the same time.

Maybe in our fast paced lives we don’t have time to put those time honored phases to use anymore. We’re the generation that created TGIF and ROFL. So can we slow down enough to use single words anymore?

What about publicity? My wife gets mad at me when after she shrieks “to let the show get back on” and I remind her there is a reason why it’s called commercial TV. Nobody reading this hasn’t been annoyed with junk mail in their mailbox or on the computer and I’ll only mention pop-up ads.

So we know what publicity is and somebody out there knows how to use it. Yet, how often have we heard of something after the fact and said “I wish I had of known about that”. “I would have helped or I would have liked to have been there”.

That’s the best thing you can do for our old records for the next few weeks. Just talk about them. You might not have time to come work on them yourself, but I bet you know somebody that might like too. Have you told anyone about how our history is rotting away in the attic of the courthouse? Well, tell’em again and tell’em to tell somebody else!

What I wish ya’ll would tell ever’body is that the Tuscaloosa Genealogical Society Night Group has been looking into preserving our old records for quite sometime but they need help from every avenue. The Society is not only seeking a building to work on the records but to make plans, they need to know how many people will help and when you can help.

We have a great opportunity right now to not only do something for ourselves today but create something beneficial for the future. The whole point in preserving anything is to make it useful to everyone in the future. Please don’t allow our history to continue to just sit and rot away.

The next meeting of the Tuscaloosa Genealogical Society Night Group will be on Thursday, Oct 4th. They meet the first Thursday night of every month. Please come and ask your questions of who, what, how and when? Meet the planners face to face and thank them for the work they are doing. Then tell them what you can do to help.

At the Sept 6th meeting, there was a volunteer list passed around. With 30 people present, 14 people signed up to help. This is a great start but our old records will need help by the 10′s of dozens. Maybe more! Such projects never seem to have enough help.

Reckon it is because not enough people were told about things they would like to be involved with? Don’t wait until later to tell someone about this project. Tell’em today! Tell’em tomorrow! Tell’em next week and tell’em to tell somebody else.

I would get back to patiently catching flies and figuring out how to be in two places at once but while ROFL I remembered the word commitment. Now that word might help. Take care.

Bye, Mike
Homewood, AL

Other related links and posts:

BGS Blog Record Preservation Posts

DearMyrtle’s latest post regarding the Tuscaloosa Records

Jefferson County Circuit Court Loose Record Project Needs Your Help

The Loose Records Project is a national, county by county, volunteer program to make older public court records more available to historians, genealogists and the general public. At the state level, it is coordinated through the Alabama State Archives and locally with the approval of the Jefferson County Probate and Circuit Courts. Gary Gerlach, a BGS board member, coordinates the Jefferson County project.

Over the past few years, BGS has solicited funds to assist with the current project through our newsletter and magazine and of course, word of mouth as well as donating from the club funds. As of the August meeting, our treasurer reported that the account balance for Loose Records was at zero. Help is needed to continue the work of the volunteers. I asked Gary to send me something outlining the project, see the following (my comments are in []):

In 1999 members of our group cleaned, organized, and catalogued the court records of Shelby County.  From 2001 to 2005 our group organized 22,262 Jefferson County Probate Court files (1860s to 1936).  Both projects were funded by the county Probate Court system.  A CD index was created for the Jefferson County records and was distributed free to the courts, local libraries and museums.  The Genealogical Society of Utah microfilmed the Jefferson County Probate Court files (512 reels) to make them available world-wide.

In August 2005, we began working on the pre-1920 Jefferson County Circuit Court cases. T hese records are important to the legal profession, historians and genealogists. Wills, divorces, bankruptcies, business disputes and property settlements name family members, neighbors and business partners.  The maps, newspapers, booklets and pictures included as supporting evidence, bring the history alive.

There is no index for pre-1908 Jefferson County Circuit Court records and only a partial index for the 1908-16 records.  We have identified 90 boxes of approximately 100 files each that pre-date 1900 and 169 more boxes that predate1917.  (Only 6 boxes of files dated between 1916 and 1939 are known to exist.)  The files are slowly disintegrating and the hand written script is fading.  Records are flattened, cleaned and cataloged and will be scanned into an Alabama State Court database located in Montgomery to be made available on-line.

In addition to the 12,000+ hours, this group has expended $4,931.54 for supplies such as archival folders, tape, copy paper, gloves, pencils, etc., half of which has been covered by donations. [The rest out of their own pockets.]   Using acid-free archival material to slow the aging process costs approximately $.39 per file.  We are seeking $2,000 to cover expenses for the rest of the project. [It was noted above that the Jefferson County Probate Court funded the initial phases of the project - there is no funding from the Jefferson County Circuit Court for the current project.]

In addition to the loose records, we are also cataloging the 3,000+ books dated 1850-1960 that are stored at the Jefferson County Operations Center Archives.  These are often the only alternative for researching court records and other County departments.

To support this effort financially, mail your donation to the Birmingham Genealogical Society, PO Box 2432, Birmingham, AL, 35201 [specify that it is for the Loose Records Project].  To work on Tuesdays and Wednesdays between 8 and 3 at the Jefferson County Operations Center near Tarrant, call Gary Gerlach 967-3173.