Church records reveal family history

Published 9:37 am Wednesday, July 6, 2005

By By Lydia Grimes-The Brewton Standard
Imagine holding in your hands a church register that is 122 years old. That is just what I did last weekend when I returned to Asbury Methodist Church for my family reunion.
A couple of years ago I was also at the church to be the speaker for the annual Homecoming. After the service in the church we went into the community center to have our "dinner on the ground" spread. At some point, the pastor came to me and told me he had some books he knew I would love to see. He went to his office and returned with the books and my jaw dropped. The first entry in the church register was for the brother of my great, great, grandfather. I skimmed through and found entries for when my great, great, grandmother died, my great, grandfather and many other family members. I already had the dates but it sent chills down my back to see them as they were written at the time.
As I said, it is a Methodist church. Years ago, Methodists were very strict on the membership. You could be expelled from the congregation for using profanity or any number of other reasons. I got quite amused to find several entries of people being expelled for profanity. These were some of the people that I have always believed were pillars of the community.
The period of time in this book was from 1883 to about 1914 and having done a lot of research on that area, it was like I knew all these people. I spend a couple of hours on Sunday afternoon in the pastor's office copying the pages from the two books. I had worried about finding a place to copy them, but he very kindly told me that he would leave the office open and I could go in and copy as much as I wanted to. Small communities are so great! It makes you think of the times when everyone left their doors open.
I was also invited to be the speaker at this year's homecoming and I accepted, so I will be making the trip back to the church in July. It will give me another excuse to see my extended family and friends, so I look forward to it.
The reason I brought all of this up was to let you know about church records. I had never thought much about the church having records until the Escambia County Historical Society had a speaker from Sanford University to come and talk about it. There are indeed records kept in churches. Many of them are in the homes of those who keep the records and sometimes when that person dies, the records may wind up left for many years stored away in trunks and closets.
Sanford University has a large collection of Baptist records and they also accept records from other denominations as well. They have a lot of Methodist material but Huntingdon College in Montgomery is the official repository for Methodist materials.
Don't count these records out when you are doing research. They may not contain a lot a genealogical material, but they are interesting and give you an insight into the religious lives of people.
Maybe you, like me, can find out when your ancestor may have become a member of the church. You can also find out if they came to the church on a profession of faith or if they transferred from another church. You can even find out if they were expelled for some reason. By they way, the person who was expelled that I mentioned earlier was later allowed to come back.
He probably had reason to use profanity, if anyone did. He had a wife who was constantly "frail." She was bedridden, supposedly, but if it started to rain and there were clothes hanging on the line, she was able to get out of bed and get the clothes. Her husband took her to church on a wagon and carried her rocking chair along so she would be comfortable. He had to carry her into the church and then carry her back to the wagon. Maybe he had a reason to spout off once in a while.

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