Census and Church Records for the US and Canada

To follow-up on yesterday's post about civil registration of births, today's topic concerns church records and census records. Church records can be a wealth of information about people in an area. Unlike today, most everyone went to church where ever they were living at the time. Finding out where the churches were in your area of study requires a good history of the area, directories (if available), and a few good maps.

There are a few important things to note about church records: first is that people often attended whichever church was in their area, even if it was not their religion of choice. This did not happen everywhere, but do not rule out a church in your area of study because it is not the "right" religion. In addition, access to church records may be restricted by canon law or secular law. For example, Catholic Church original records in the U.S. cannot be seen by anyone but the priest of that church. However, one may request a copy of said records either at the religion's parish level or the diocesan level. Canadian records, particularly the eastern part of Canada in cities such as Quebec and Montreal can be accessed through the Drouin Collection (available on Ancestry.com) without problem.

Census Records are of course, originated at the Archives in both the US and Canada. They are also on all the major genealogical pay sites.

Census and Church Records for the UK

Church of England records for baptisms, marriages, and burials are arranged by parish, as are Church of Scotland and Church of Ireland. If the boundaries of your place equate to the parish boundaries this makes things easier, but if not you may need to check surrounding parishes for relevant church entries. One quick way to identify relevant church(es) and the dates they were consecrated or deconsecrated is to check local directories like Kelly’s. Don’t forget non-conformist churches!

Once you’ve identified a church of interest, identify where the original records are. This is most likely to be in the relevant county record office or archives, but may also be held at the relevant national records office, and more recent records may still be held at the church itself. Archived records may have been digitised, making it easier for one-place studiers to access. Key places to find those scans:

National decennial census records for 1841 to 1911 inclusive are presently open to the public, well digitized and readily available at both LDS FHC and commercial genealogy websites (and for Scotland at http://www.scotlandspeople.gov.uk/, and Ireland at http://www.census.nationalarchives.ie/ although survival here is only for 1901 and 1911) . You may also want to check the FreeCen project for England however this has transcriptions only - a one-place studier will want to view the original images for additional information and insights. We also suggest you check your county archives to see if they hold any earlier informal census records specific to your place.

Census and Church Records for Australasia

Down under in Australia and New Zealand it’s a bit more challenging. In Australia each colony/state was responsible for its own census until 1911, and in both NZ and Australia only the odd census set was retained in the first place, let alone has survived until today. You’ll have to do some digging to find out what if anything survives for your specific region - for Australia, read http://www.nla.gov.au/research-guides/statistics/population-and-census-reports then contact the relevant state archives, for New Zealand contact Archives New Zealand. They’ll also be able to point in you the right direction for any church records if they don’t hold them.

Christine Sharbrough and Alex Coles

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