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Treasures in our Hyde Park records

The Congregational Library gets a lot of traffic from genealogists. Often they are hoping that church records will give them more clues about where their ancestors lived, who their parents and children were, and so on. About 90% of the personal records that have been collected by churches are very minimal: names, dates of baptism and/or admission to membership, and dates of death or departure to another church. However, sometimes you'll get a real treasure of a collection that kept membership records with amazing detail. I hit the genealogist jackpot with my current project: Hyde Park First Church and their individual membership cards.

Some time around 1910, one of Hyde Park's recordkeepers established the tradition of having current and new members fill out their own card upon arrival. It feels like the only thing not listed is shoe size, and preference of ice cream or a nice cheese plate for dessert.

Here is an example from a long-deceased member:

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A sample of the membership cards
in the Hyde Park Collection.
(Click on the image to enlarge.)

Not every card has all the information filled in, but many do. After a brief survey I found that the bulk are from the 1910s through 1959, with some up through the 1990s. There is a total of four boxes that look like this:

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One of the 4 boxes of membership cards

Note that the box in the photo above has a section on the right side with a lot of orange tabs. That represents those people who were current members, although when the cards went out of vogue has yet to be determined. The remainder of this box and the other three are all past members. The one frustration is that we do not have cards for last names beginning with T through Z.

A closely related resource within this collection is an entire large (banker's) box of membership biographies. They also span from the 1910s through 1959 (thus the index cards origin hypothesis). The majority of later records are surveys with all the details listed on the cards, but the earliest of these have letters from members and the minister and a significant number of "in memoriam" obituaries.

As exciting as this find is, we record guardians must tread carefully. Many of the historic documents in our collections are 100 or more years old, but some are quite recent. For the latter, not everyone mentioned in those records has moved or passed away. Requests we get for any recent names will be carefully considered to protect the subjects' privacy.

This collection is still a work in progress. Stay tuned. We will announce when the processing is complete and the guide ready for use.