Got Lutheran ancestors? Our guide will show you how to trace them in Lutheran church records.
Lutheranism is probably the largest Christian denomination named for someone other than Jesus Christ. In the 16thcentury, Martin Luther tried to reform Roman Catholicism before founding the first substantial group inWestern Europe to remain independent of the Catholic church. While the starting principle of Lutheranism is that salvation comes from “faith not works,” genealogists with Lutheran ancestors can be thankful their forebears worked hard at producing loads of helpful records.
Luther was an Augustinian monk and professor who in 1517 challenged the medieval Catholic church’s materialism. He disputed, among other things, the ability to buy an “indulgence” as a way of obtaining pardon for the sins of the deceased.
Nonreligious events helped Luther’s cause. Many rulers of small German states seized upon religious discord as apath to greater independence from the Catholic-dominated Holy Roman Empire. Luther also used the newly invented printing press to widely disseminate his views.
Within a few decades, much of central and northern Germany had turned Lutheran. The faith soongained a foothold in Scandinavia, where national Lutheran churches were established by the early 1600s. Small Lutheran minorities existed across Europe from the British Isles to eastern Europe.
In the German states, subjects were to follow the religion of their ruler. The Peace of Augsburg allowed Lutheranism as a choice as early as 1555. The reality was more complicated, due to the existence of other Protestant groups such as the Reformed church.
During the early 1800s,the Kingdom of Prussia forcibly united Lutheran and Reformed worshippers under the name Evangelical. Congregations that dissented from this union became known as the “Old Lutherans.”
In America, Dutch Lutherans helped populate New Netherland (today’s New York) in the 1620s, though most people in this colony were Reformed. But the first New World settlement with a Lutheran majority was the New Sweden colony in the Delaware River region of what’s now Pennsylvania, Delaware and New Jersey.
Lutherans made up the most prominent religious group among the large population of 18th-century German-speaking immigrants, most of whom settled in the Mid-Atlantic states. In the 1800s, many more German Lutherans came to America and settled the Midwestern territories and states. Joining them were increasing numbers of Lutheran Swedes, Danes, Norwegians and Finns. Some Eastern European Lutherans, mostly of German heritage,also came from areas of Russiaand Ukraine.
Lutherans themselves have splintered into smaller denominations. Around the world, some 250groups have a total membership estimated at 73 million. Lutheran congregations in America since the mid-1700s have joined in larger church bodies called “synods,” which are officiated by bishops.
Lutheran denominations run the gamut in both polity and politics; some are hierarchical and others more congregational. Records are kept on the congregational level, but denominational archives in many cases have microfilmed copies.
Today in the United States, the largest Lutheran denomination is the moderate-to-liberal Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, with about 4.2 million members. The ultraconservative Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod is the second-largest with about 2.5 million.
Records generated by and about Lutherans abound. Be aware that many of the records in the 1700s and 1800s are written in the language of the Lutheran immigrant group (and just to confuse youfurther, they often use an archaic cursive script). As a rule of thumb, city churches began recording in English earlier than in countryside areas, which often were settled by ethnically distinct groups.
In many cases, you’ll access records on Family History Library (FHL) microfilm or by contacting the church or an administrative archives. But also check the subscription genealogy website Archives.com, which has announced a project to digitize and index the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America’s 1,000 reels of microfilm containing millions of baptism, confirmation, marriage and funeral records. The parish register ledger books document Lutheran congregations throughout the United States from 1793 to 1940.
Among the best records for Lutheran genealogy research:
Baptism:Lutheran groups practice infant baptism. Nearly all congregations keep registers listing the names of the child, parents and sponsors (the “godparents,” who often are close relatives or friends), as well as dates of birth and baptism. Occasionally, you’ll find additional notations, such as the illegitimacy of the child or maiden name of the mother. Many 18th-and 19th-century registers have been abstracted (and some have been published), but because of the potential for transcription errors, your best bet whenever possible is to access the original. Look for FHL microfilm or contact either the local congregation or, if it no longer exists,a denominational archive.
Marriages: Records show the date of the marriage, couple’s names and sometimes their residences before marriage. Some also give the names of the bride’s and groom’s parents. Because many American Lutheran congregations shared ministers who “rode a circuit,” it’s not uncommon to find several churches’ marriages in the records of whatever congregation was considered the “seat” of the multicongregation parish at the time. It’s important to learn the history of the congregation and what churches it shared a minister with.
Burials: Relatively fewer congregations kept registers of those its ministers buried, but some do exist. The burial register usually recounts the funerals performed by that church’s minister, and the deceased wasn’t always achurch member. Those listed might have been of adifferent denomination and be buried in a different cemetery from church members.
Confirmations: Lutheran children were “confirmed” into the faith during their teens. These records generally list only the names of those confirmed, though some registers also give the confirmands’ ages and names of their fathers. Researchers most often use these when there’s a gap in the baptismal register.
Communions and membership lists: Membership in Lutheran congregations was far more fluid in the first centuries of US settlement than it is today. Churches didn’t frequently list their members; however, most congregations have at least a few preserved lists showing the names of those who communed and the date of communion, usually grouped by family.
Financial and minutes: Few congregations have preserved the earliest books showing the church’s accounting of funds. Likewise, minutes of their governing councils often don’t exist, but the rare ones that do offer keen insights into the running of the congregations.
Congregational and synodical histories:Lutherans loved to write histories, both of their congregations and the synods to which they belonged. Profiles of individual churches can be genealogical goldmines: They often include some of the pastoral records mentioned above and give information about the church’s member families throughout its history.
Newspapers: Some Lutheran synods published newspapers,primarily during the 19th century, that can serve as an alternate source for obituaries of church members. You also can glean a thick slice of life about the congregants during the time period. Find names and locations of these titles by entering Lutheran as a keyword in the Chronicling America newspaper directory.
Martin Luther is supposed to have nailed his 95 theses to the church door in Wittenberg,hoping the Catholic church would reform itself. Instead, areligion bearing his name was founded—and the centuries of documents this church generated may be the key to nailing down your Lutheran heritage.
Lists of Lutheran parish burials are less common than baptisms and marriages, but some do exist in the form of funerals the church’s minister performed. Keep in mind the deceased wasn’t always a church member, and might be buried in a different cemetery. In addition, much of the script in Lutheran church records of all types is in the language of the immigrant group that predominated in that particular parish—usually, German, Swedish, Norwegian, Danish or Slovakian. This burial register of the Trinity Lutheran Church in Reading, Pa., dates from 1811 and 1812. Although it’s written in German, the script is more Latin-looking than the writing you’ll find in many early church books of German-speaking Lutherans.
While Lutheranism has the cachet as the first breakaway Christian group to stick, further splintering followed in short order. Especially among German-speaking US immigrants, many early congregations shared church buildings in what were called “union churches,” some of which didn’t keep their early records distinct. Here’s the lowdown on two significant groups:
The religion known simply as “Reformed” was nurtured in German Switzerlandby Ulrich Zwingli and in French Switzerland by John Calvin. It became established in some German states and the Netherlands (Calvin’s teaching also led to Presbyterianism in Scotland),and was the second-largest religious group among 18th-century German-speaking US immigrants. Reformed churches’ “congregational” polity—in which their higher church bodies “speak to them, not for them”—resulted in less-standardized record-keeping and many private pastoral registers of baptisms and marriages. German Reformed congregations in the United States joined with Evangelicals in the 1930s and eventually became the United Church of Christ. Most records are on the congregational level, but the Evangelical and Reformed Historical Society archives in Lancaster, Pa., has many historical materials.
The Moravian Church (the denomination formally known as Unitas Fratrum or Unity of Brethren) dates to the teaching of JanHus, who was burned at the stake as a heretic in 1415. Inthe 1740s, Moravians founded Bethlehem, Pa., as their headquarters, and had a number of congregations in Mid-Atlantic and Southern states in Colonial times. Their carefully kept congregational diaries, detailed memoirs of members and other records are popular sources for researchers with ancestors in or near Moravian settlements. The MoravianArchives is in Bethlehem.
Tip: Find It With FamilySearch. Use the Family History Library online catalog to see what records the library might have for your ancestors’ Lutheran congregations. Run a place search for the county or town, then look for a church records listing for Lutheran congregations or their pastors. Note the microfilm number of relevant records, then visit your local FamilySearch Center to rent the film for a fee.
Lutheran Genealogy Records at a Glance
Baptisms Research tip: Nearly all congregations keep registers of this excellent birth record substitute. Most of the earliest (1700s) have been published; many from the 19th century have been abstracted; and FamilySearch has microfilmed many of the originals. Also check the collection of digitized Lutheran records on Archives.com.
Marriages Research tip: These records sometimes include names of the couple’s parents as well as their residences. In addition to records kept by individual congregations, pastors sometimes kept their ownregisters.
Congregational histories Research tip: Most congregations have celebrated landmark anniversaries with historical publications ranging from pamphlets to hardbound books. These often are chock-full of names and photos of people from the church’s days gone by.
Lutheran Genealogy Toolkit
Websites Cyndi’s List: Lutheran Genealoger: Lutheran Genealogy Lutheran Historical Society of the Mid-Atlantic Lutherans Online Genealogy
Publications A Brief History of the Lutheran Church in Americaby Juergen Ludwig Neve (Nabu Press) Early Lutheran Baptisms and Marriages in Southeastern Pennsylvania (Genealogical Publishing Co.) A History of Lutheranism by Eric W. Gritsch (Fortress Press) Understanding and Using Baptismal Records by John T. Humphrey (Humphrey Publications)
Organizations and Archives Concordia Historical Institute (Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod) 804 Seminary Place, St. Louis, MO 63105, (314) 505-7900 Evangelical Lutheran Church in America Archives 321 Bonnie Lane, Elk Grove Village, IL 60007,(847) 690-9410 Lutheran Archives Center at Philadelphia 7301 Germantown Ave., Philadelphia, PA 19119,(215) 248-6383 Norwegian American Genealogical Center andNaeseth Library 415 W. Main St., Madison, WI53703-3116, (608) 255-2224
1517 | Martin Luther nails his 95theses to a church door in Germany 1521 | Edict of Worms excommunicates Luther and his followers 1534 | Luther’s translation gives Germans the Bible in their own language 1555 | Peace of Augsburg allows German states’ rulers to choose Lutheranism 1624 | America’s first Lutherans help settle New Netherland 1638 | New Sweden is first American settlement with a Lutheran majority 1648| Catholics, Lutherans and Reformed are on equal footing after the Thirty Years’ War 1694 | University of Halle founded; it becomes the center of the Lutheran Pietism movement 1748 | Rev. Henry Melchior Muhlenbergforms the first Lutheran synod in America 1817 | Lutheran and Reformed in Prussia are united under the name Evangelical 1847 | Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod is founded in Chicago 1988 | ELCA becomes the largest US Lutheran denomination
From the July/August 2012 Family Tree Magazine
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MATTHEW 23:17 Ye fools and blind: for whether is greater, the gold, or the temple that sanctifieth the gold?
23:1 Then spake Jesus to the multitude, and to his disciples,
23:2 Saying The scribes and the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat:
23:3 All therefore whatsoever they bid you observe, that observe and do; but do not ye after their works: for they say, and do not.
23:4 For they bind heavy burdens and grievous to be borne, and lay them on men’s shoulders; but they themselves will not move them with one of their fingers.
23:5 But all their works they do for to be seen of men: they make broad their phylacteries, and enlarge the borders of their garments,
23:6 And love the uppermost rooms at feasts, and the chief seats in the synagogues,
23:7 And greetings in the markets, and to be called of men, Rabbi, Rabbi.
23:8 But be not ye called Rabbi: for one is your Master, even Christ; and all ye are brethren.
23:9 And call no man your father upon the earth: for one is your Father, which is in heaven.
23:10 Neither be ye called masters: for one is your Master, even Christ.
23:11 But he that is greatest among you shall be your servant.
23:12 And whosoever shall exalt himself shall be abased; and he that shall humble himself shall be exalted.
23:13 But woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye shut up the kingdom of heaven against men: for ye neither go in yourselves, neither suffer ye them that are entering to go in.
23:14 Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye devour widows’ houses, and for a pretence make long prayer: therefore ye shall receive the greater damnation.
23:15 Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye compass sea and land to make one proselyte, and when he is made, ye make him twofold more the child of hell than yourselves.
23:16 Woe unto you, ye blind guides, which say, Whosoever shall swear by the temple, it is nothing; but whosoever shall swear by the gold of the temple, he is a debtor!
23:18 And, Whosoever shall swear by the altar, it is nothing; but whosoever sweareth by the gift that is upon it, he is guilty.
23:19 Ye fools and blind: for whether is greater, the gift, or the altar that sanctifieth the gift?
23:20 Whoso therefore shall swear by the altar, sweareth by it, and by all things thereon.
23:21 And whoso shall swear by the temple, sweareth by it, and by him that dwelleth therein.
23:22 And he that shall swear by heaven, sweareth by the throne of God, and by him that sitteth thereon.
23:23 Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye pay tithe of mint and anise and cummin, and have omitted the weightier matters of the law, judgment, mercy, and faith: these ought ye to have done, and not to leave the other undone.
23:24 Ye blind guides, which strain at a gnat, and swallow a camel.
23:25 Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye make clean the outside of the cup and of the platter, but within they are full of extortion and excess.
23:26 Thou blind Pharisee, cleanse first that which is within the cup and platter, that the outside of them may be clean also.
23:27 Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye are like unto whited sepulchres, which indeed appear beautiful outward, but are within full of dead men’s bones, and of all uncleanness.
23:28 Even so ye also outwardly appear righteous unto men, but within ye are full of hypocrisy and iniquity.
23:29 Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! because ye build the tombs of the prophets, and garnish the sepulchres of the righteous,
23:30 And say, If we had been in the days of our fathers, we would not have been partakers with them in the blood of the prophets.
23:31 Wherefore ye be witnesses unto yourselves, that ye are the children of them which killed the prophets.
23:32 Fill ye up then the measure of your fathers.
23:33 Ye serpents, ye generation of vipers, how can ye escape the damnation of hell?
23:34 Wherefore, behold, I send unto you prophets, and wise men, and scribes: and some of them ye shall kill and crucify; and some of them shall ye scourge in your synagogues, and persecute them from city to city:
23:35 That upon you may come all the righteous blood shed upon the earth, from the blood of righteous Abel unto the blood of Zacharias son of Barachias, whom ye slew between the temple and the altar.
23:36 Verily I say unto you, All these things shall come upon this generation.
23:37 O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, thou that killest the prophets, and stonest them which are sent unto thee, how often would I have gathered thy children together, even as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, and ye would not!
23:38 Behold, your house is left unto you desolate.
23:39 For I say unto you, Ye shall not see me henceforth, till ye shall say, Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord.
MATTHEW 24:1 And Jesus went out, and departed from the temple: and his disciples came to him for to shew him the buildings of the temple.
24:2 And Jesus said unto them, See ye not all these things? verily I say unto you, There shall not be left here one stone upon another, that shall not be thrown down.
24:3 And as he sat upon the mount of Olives, the disciples came unto him privately, saying, Tell us, when shall these things be? and what shall be the sign of thy coming, and of the end of the world?
24:4 And Jesus answered and said unto them, Take heed that no man deceive you.
24:5 For many shall come in my name, saying, I am Christ; and shall deceive many.
24:6 And ye shall hear of wars and rumours of wars: see that ye be not troubled: for all these things must come to pass, but the end is not yet.
24:7 For nation shall rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom: and there shall be famines, and pestilences, and earthquakes, in divers places.
24:8 All these are the beginning of sorrows.
24:9 Then shall they deliver you up to be afflicted, and shall kill you: and ye shall be hated of all nations for my name’s sake.
24:10 And then shall many be offended, and shall betray one another, and shall hate one another.
24:11 And many false prophets shall rise, and shall deceive many.
24:12 And because iniquity shall abound, the love of many shall wax cold.
24:13 But he that shall endure unto the end, the same shall be saved.
24:14 And this gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in all the world for a witness unto all nations; and then shall the end come.
24:15 When ye therefore shall see the abomination of desolation, spoken of by Daniel the prophet, stand in the holy place, (whoso readeth, let him understand)
24:16 Then let them which be in Judaea flee into the mountains:
24:17 Let him which is on the housetop not come down to take any thing out of his house:
24:18 Neither let him which is in the field return back to take his clothes.
24:19 And woe unto them that are with child, and to them that give suck in those days!
24:20 But pray ye that your flight be not in the winter, neither on the sabbath day:
24:21 For then shall be great tribulation, such as was not since the beginning of the world to this time, no, nor ever shall be.
24:22 And except those days should be shortened, there should no flesh be saved: but for the elect’s sake those days shall be shortened.
24:23 Then if any man shall say unto you, Lo, here is Christ, or there; believe it not.
24:24 For there shall arise false Christs, and false prophets, and shall shew great signs and wonders; insomuch that, if it were possible, they shall deceive the very elect.
24:25 Behold, I have told you before.
24:26 Wherefore if they shall say unto you, Behold, he is in the desert; go not forth: behold, he is in the secret chambers; believe it not.
24:27 For as the lightning cometh out of the east, and shineth even unto the west; so shall also the coming of the Son of man be.
24:28 For wheresoever the carcase is, there will the eagles be gathered together.
24:29 Immediately after the tribulation of those days shall the sun be darkened, and the moon shall not give her light, and the stars shall fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens shall be shaken:
24:30 And then shall appear the sign of the Son of man in heaven: and then shall all the tribes of the earth mourn, and they shall see the Son of man coming in the clouds of heaven with power and great glory.
24:31 And he shall send his angels with a great sound of a trumpet, and they shall gather together his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other.
24:32 Now learn a parable of the fig tree; When his branch is yet tender, and putteth forth leaves, ye know that summer is nigh:
24:33 So likewise ye, when ye shall see all these things, know that it is near, even at the doors.
24:34 Verily I say unto you, This generation shall not pass, till all these things be fulfilled.
24:35 Heaven and earth shall pass away, but my words shall not pass away.
24:36 But of that day and hour knoweth no man, no, not the angels of heaven, but my Father only.
24:37 But as the days of Noah were, so shall also the coming of the Son of man be.
24:38 For as in the days that were before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day that Noe entered into the ark,
24:39 And knew not until the flood came, and took them all away; so shall also the coming of the Son of man be.
24:40 Then shall two be in the field; the one shall be taken, and the other left.
24:41 Two women shall be grinding at the mill; the one shall be taken, and the other left.
24:42 Watch therefore: for ye know not what hour your Lord doth come.
24:43 But know this, that if the goodman of the house had known in what watch the thief would come, he would have watched, and would not have suffered his house to be broken up.
24:44 Therefore be ye also ready: for in such an hour as ye think not the Son of man cometh.
24:45 Who then is a faithful and wise servant, whom his lord hath made ruler over his household, to give them meat in due season?
24:46 Blessed is that servant, whom his lord when he cometh shall find so doing.
24:47 Verily I say unto you, That he shall make him ruler over all his goods.
24:48 But and if that evil servant shall say in his heart, My lord delayeth his coming;24:49 And shall begin to smite his fellowservants, and to eat and drink with the drunken;24:50 The lord of that servant shall come in a day when he looketh not for him, and in an hour that he is not aware of,
24:51 And shall cut him asunder, and appoint him his portion with the hypocrites: there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth. Matthew
A CHURCH DIVIDED CAN NOT STAND…
THE TRUE CHURCHES….