Researching Your Lutheran Ancestor at Concordia Historical Institute

It should first be stated that there is no computer database containing the name of every person who has ever been baptized or married in a Lutheran church in North America. We receive questions from people hoping that is the case quite often.

The popularity of tracing family roots has steadily grown over the years. CHI welcomes genealogists who have specific inquiries concerning their ancestors. Information available is normally limited to baptism, confirmation, marriage and funeral entries. The researcher may anticipate that records before 1920 are in German and that 19th century records are written in German script.

Baptism records

Baptismal information is a goldmine to the genealogist. Normally one may expect to have recorded the child’s name, the dates of birth and baptism, the parent’s names (including the mother’s maiden name) and the names of the sponsors. Many times the sponsors are relatives and should not be overlooked. Sometimes baptism records contain information about the place of birth and even the number of children born to the parents.

Confirmation records

The Rite of Confirmation generally takes place when a child reaches the age of 13 or 14 years (at the 8th grade level). Confirmation records generally record the child’s name, baptism and a scripture verse given by the pastor. Confirmation records may contain some clues but usually do not offer many answers to the genealogist.

Marriage records

Marriage records give the names of the bride and groom and the date of the union. If the couple are recent immigrants, the place of emigration may be also stated. Sometimes the reading of the bans are included.

Funeral records

Funeral records offer the names of the deceased and date of burial. They may also record the date of death, cause and survivors. Often the scripture text of the funeral is recorded and the place of burial.

So how can CHI assist you in your research?

1. We do have the records of SOME Lutheran congregations that contain information on baptisms, confirmations, marriages, burials, etc. Usually these are from disbanded congregations, since most Lutheran parishes retain their records locally. In a few cases, existing congregations have transferred their original records to us. We also have some records on microfilm. But our collection altogether represents a very small proportion of Lutheran church records.
2. We can create a certificate verifying the official act as found in our collection. This comes with a raised seal suitable for legal documentation; we cannot provide original certificates. Before we can assist you with genealogical information, we must know that the individual or family being researched was a member of a particular Lutheran congregation. If the record is available, we will be glad to provide what information is at hand.
3. Even if we do not have the records of a congregation, we may be able to help you determine which existing congregation to contact. Place names change, but if you have the name of a pastor from a baptismal or marriage certificate, we may be able to determine which congregation the pastor was serving at the time and provide a current address. Give us as much detail as possible to help us pinpoint the best potential source of information.
4. If your ancestor was a Lutheran pastor or teacher, we may have some biographical information on that person, especially on the places where he or she served.
5. Some histories of Lutheran families, published and unpublished, have been deposited in our collection. We can check the family name against our holdings to see if anyone has already done some work on the family.

If you think we might be able to help you, please contact us (reference@lutheranhistory.org or 314-505-7935). See our hours, rules and fees page for a list of service charges.

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