Digital Collections Spotlight #24: Moravian Church Registers

Posted September 27, 2021 in Digital Access

Digital Collections Spotlight #24: Moravian Church Registers

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As part of an ongoing series of posts, we’re highlighting different collections and items from the Moravian Archives, Bethlehem. Check out our earlier posts in this series at https://www.moravianchurcharchives.org/digital-access/.

One of our main responsibilities at the Moravian Archives Bethlehem is caring for the records of congregations in the church’s Northern Province. A notable example of this is a large collection of church registers, which are an invaluable resource for pastors, genealogists, and other researchers and we would like to highlight this collection and our ongoing efforts to preserve and facilitate the use of it.

Like many denominations, the Moravian Church requires that congregations keep a record of official acts such as baptisms, weddings, and funerals, and as these record books are filled they are sent to the Provincial Archives (in our case, Bethlehem) for safekeeping. As these are valuable and frequently used resources we have been pursuing multiple projects intended to make them more available to researchers as well as preserving them so that they will be available to future generations as well.

One approach we have been working on is the Moravian Roots project, as part of which a number of people are generously volunteering their time and effort to index church registers. Currently, these volunteers have indexed roughly one-third of the collection, and there are nearly 75,000 entries including 250,000 individual names. These indexes are then uploaded to the Moravian Roots database where they can be easily searched by researchers, who can access the full record for a small fee which helps offset the costs of designing and maintaining the database. Out of respect for privacy and in accordance with Moravian Church policy only entries of official acts that are more than 75 years old are accessible in Moravian Roots.

Another ongoing project with the Church Register collection has been its digitization. While some registers have been restored thanks to the generosity of various donors, some other volumes are still in poor condition and the frequency with which they are used means that even volumes that are in excellent condition or have been restored are subject to a concerning amount of handling. In the interest of balancing our duties to both preserve these materials and keep them available for use, we plan to have high-quality digital images of each register so that in many cases these can be referenced while the registers themselves remain safely stored in the vault. As an example of this project, here is a detail from one of the indexed church registers².

 

And here is the entry in Moravian Roots created by a volunteer that reflects the first entry there, for the baptism of one James Harvey Shull.

We encourage interested readers to look further into this and our other resources and look forward to continuing to preserve these valuable pieces of history and expanding access to them.

Further Reading:

Moravian Roots, 2021, http://roots.moravianchurcharchives.org/about/.

References:

¹ Detail from the church register of Graceham Moravian Church, Graceham, MD, vol. 1., 1758-1844, ChReg 43, pp. 222-223.

² Detail from the church register of Harmony Moravian Church, Harmony, IA, 1868-1909, ChReg 161, p. 15.