New England's Hidden Histories: Colonial-Era Church Records

Congregational church records are an unparalleled source of information about the religious activities of the early colonists, and about many other aspects of early American life as well. They provide a richly detailed view of town governments and social customs, data on births and marriages and deaths, and demonstrate the ways that ordinary people participated in community-wide decision-making — information that is simply not available in any other records from that time.

In 2005 the Congregational Library, in partnership with the Jonathan Edwards Center at Yale and now with the assistance of the project steering committee, began a systematic effort to preserve these records and to make them available to the public. Surprisingly, despite the great age and historical significance of these church documents, they are mostly scattered across New England, in church closets, bank vaults, or the offices of town clerks. Many have been left exposed to the elements and are in danger of deterioration, or are all but impossible for the average researcher to locate.

The documents in this collection include digital copies of microfilmed records already in the library archive, as well as many other records newly available for the first time. These were unearthed by our project participants and in most cases donated by individual congregations for safekeeping in the library.

New England's Hidden Histories is arranged into two series. Series I: Church Records contains cohesive collections created by churches. Series II: Personal Papers and Documents contains items created by individuals that support and add context to the records in Series I. 

The Middleboro Transcription Project is an important part of the church records recovery effort, created in response to an unusual find of rare church documents in 2011. We welcome all volunteers and would-be transcribers to investigate.