Schwenkfelders Church in the United States

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History in the United States[edit | edit source]

Schwenkfelder Church in Palm Pennsylvania

The Schwenkfelder Church (About this soundlisten (help·info)) is a small American Christian body rooted in the 16th-century Protestant Reformation teachings of Caspar Schwenkfeld von Ossig (1489–1561). Though followers have held the teachings of Schwenkfeld since the 16th century, the Schwenkfelder Church did not come into existence until the 20th century, due in large part to Schwenkfeld's emphasis on inner spirituality over outward form. He also labored for a fellowship of all believers and one church.

Originally calling themselves Confessors of the Glory of Christ , the group later became known as Schwenkfelders. These Christians often suffered persecution like slavery, prison and fines at the hands of the government and state churches in Europe. Most of them lived in southern Germany and Lower Silesia.

By the beginning of the 18th century, the remaining Schwenkfelders lived around Harpersdorf in the Dutchy of Silesia, which was part of the Bohemian Crown. As the persecution intensified around 1719–1725, they were given refuge in 1726 by Nicolaus Ludwig von Zinzendorf in Saxony. When the Elector of Saxony died in 1733, Jesuits sought the new ruler to return the Schwenkfelders to Harpersdorf. With their freedom in jeopardy, they decided to look to the New World.

A group came to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, in 1731, and several migrations continued until 1737. The largest group, 180 Schwenkfelders, arrived in 1734. In 1782, the Society of Schwenkfelders was formed, and in 1909 the Schwenkfelder Church' was incorporated. Though the Schwenkfelders thereafter remained largely confined to Pennsylvania, a small number later emigrated to Waterloo County in Ontario, Canada. The Schwenkfelder Church has remained small: as of 2009 there are five congregations with about 2,500 members in southeastern Pennsylvania. All of these bodies are within a fifty-mile radius of Philadelphia: two in the city itself, and one each in East Norriton Township, Palm, and Worcester. The Society of the Descendants of the Schwenkfeldian Exiles is a related lineage society. Source: Wikipedia

Finding the Records[edit | edit source]

Look for online records.[edit | edit source]

Some records have been digitized and posted online, where they are easily searched. More are being added all the time. Partner websites such as Ancestry.com, FindMyPast, MyHeritage, and American Ancestors can be searched free-of-charge at any Family History Center.

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Online databases are incomplete. This can lead to two common errors:

  1. Near matches: Researchers might mistakenly accept an entry very similar to their ancestor, thinking it is the only one available "so it must be mine". Only use information that matches your ancestor in date, place, other relationships, and details.
  2. Stopping research: Researchers might assume the database proves church records do not exist. Actually the record is still out there, just not in this incomplete collection of records. Keep searching!

Correspond with or visit the actual churches.[edit | edit source]

Some records are still held in the local churches. Contact the current minister to find out what records are still available.

  • Make an appointment to look at the records. Or ask the minister of the church to make a copy of the record for you.
  • To find church staff available, you might have to visit on Sunday.
  • Ask for small searches at a time, such as one birth record or a specific marriage. Never ask for "everything on a family or surname".
  • A donation ($25-$40) for their time and effort to help you would be appropriate.
  • If the church has a website, you may be able to e-mail a message.
  • See the Letter Writing Guide for Genealogy for help with composing letters.

Addresses:

Check the church records collections in archives and libraries.[edit | edit source]

Schwenkfelder Library and Heritage Center
  • Schwenkfelder Library and Heritage Center
105 Seminary Street
Pennsburg, PA 18073
Phone: 215–679–3103
  • E-mail: info@schwenkfelder.com
  • Website
  • Resources: Genealogical Record of Schwenkfelder Families, Church and Cemetery Records, Newspapers, Family Genealogies, Published and Non-Published Local and County Histories, Family Files, Deed and Land Drafts, Archival Resources, Periodicals
  • Society of the Descendants of the Schwenkfelder Church

Information in the Records[edit | edit source]

Baptisms[edit | edit source]

Baptism registers might give:

  • baptism date
  • the infant's name
  • parents' names
  • father's occupation
  • status of legitimacy
  • occasionally, names of grandparents
  • names of witnesses or godparents, who may be relatives
  • birth date and place
  • the family's place of residence
  • death information, as an added note or signified by a cross

Marriages[edit | edit source]

Marriage registers can give:

  • the marriage date
  • the names of the bride and groom
  • indicate whether the bride and groom were single or widowed
  • their ages
  • birth dates and places for the bride and groom
  • their residences
  • their occupations
  • birthplaces of the bride and groom
  • parents' names (after 1800)
  • the names of previous spouses and their death dates
  • names of witnesses, who might be relatives.

Burials[edit | edit source]

Burial registers may give:

  • the name of the deceased
  • the date and place of death or burial
  • the deceased's age
  • place of residence
  • cause of death
  • the names of survivors, especially a widow or widower
  • deceased's birth date and place
  • parents' names, or at least the father's name

Reading the Records[edit | edit source]

Many of the records will be written in Fraktur (old German) script. These articles will teach how to read the records.

Carefully compare any record you find to known facts about the ancestor[edit | edit source]

You will possibly find many different people with the same name as your ancestor, especially when a family stayed in a locality for several generations, and several children were named after the grandparents or aunts and uncles. Be prepared to find the correct church records by gathering in advance as many of these exact details about the ancestor as possible:

  • name, including middle name and maiden name
  • names of all spouses, including middle and maiden name
  • exact or closely estimated dates of birth, marriage, and death
  • names and approximate birthdates of children
  • all known places of residence
  • occupations
  • military service details


Dark thin font green pin Version 4.pngCarefully evaluate the church records you find to make sure you have really found records for your ancestor and not just a "near match". If one or more of the details do not line up, be careful about accepting the entry as your ancestor. There are guiding principles for deciding how to resolve discrepancies between records that are seemingly close. For more instruction in evaluating evidence, read the Wiki article, Evaluate the Evidence.