Thursday, July 10, 2014

How to track down those church records

December 23. 2013 12:46AM
TOM MOONEY Out on a Limb

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It is sad enough that so many churches that have been so important to genealogists and their families down through the generations have had to close in recent decades. It also presents genealogists with a difficulty: What happens to the records from a shuttered church?

The best general answer I can give is this – search online for the denomination’s regional headquarters. Then put in a phone call or an email or postal mail. Make sure you know the name of the specific church and where it was located.

For genealogists researching ancestors who attended Northeastern Pennsylvania’s Roman Catholic churches, there is a source of information close at hand. The Diocese of Scranton’s website offers a listing of the parishes that consolidated with other parishes.

The diocesan website is at Under “diocesan directory” click on “parish listings” and under “consolidated parishes reference list” you will find a listing, alphabetized by community, of the parishes that no longer exist as separate entities and the parishes with which they have consolidated. The visitor to the website is told to contact the new parishes for information.

The same page has a list of parish addresses and phone numbers, plus a map.

Please remember that when you contact a church about records you will probably deal with a part-time, volunteer office worker who’s already doing a great deal of work on behalf of church members and clergy. Also, many church records are still in old books that must be searched year by year – a very time-consuming job.

Making a small donation to that church is certainly appropriate. You might also want to thank Bishop Joseph Bambera for this very useful website feature.

Looking Ahead: As the song says, the weather outside is “frightful.” But that’s no reason why genealogists can’t do some advance planning for regional trips in 2014. Ellis Island, in New York Harbor, reopened about seven weeks ago on a partial basis. You can tour the first floor great hall, though the remainder of the exhibits will not return until sometime next year. To keep up to date, go to

Another of my favorite sites, the Lower East Side Tenement Museum, in Lower Manhattan, offers year-round tours of restored apartments of the sort that immigrant families in that area would have lived in from the 1860s to the 1930s. Go to Don’t forget the National Historical Park in Philadelphia, also on the National Parks Service website. When the weather warms up, a day trip to the Civil War battlefields of Gettysburg and Antietam will be a good excursion. Incidentally, all these places are readily accessible via bus trips.

News Notes: Eminent local historian and friend to genealogists C. Charles Ciesla of Mountain Top died recently at 83. Ciesla was the author of numerous books, including illustrated histories of his native Hanover Township and of Mountain Top, where he spent much of his life. His works were beloved by genealogists, providing as they did a window into the communities in which their ancestors lived.

The Northeast Pennsylvania Genealogical Society now conducts genealogy classes on the first Thursday of every month. Reservations are not required, but anyone who wants to attend is urged to call 570 829-1765 for details. The classes are held at the society’s research library in the caretaker building of the Hanover Green Cemetery, Main Road, Hanover Township. Classes are conducted by John Henry Stevenson, a member of the group’s board of directors and an experienced genealogy teacher.

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