Moravian Church in the United States

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United States Gotoarrow.png Church Records Gotoarrow.png Moravian Church Records

Online Records[edit | edit source]

History[edit | edit source]

The Moravian Church (also known as Unity of Brethren) in North America is part of the worldwide Moravian Church Unity. It dates from the arrival of the first Moravian missionaries to the United States in 1735, from their Herrnhut settlement in present-day Saxony, Germany. They came to minister to the scattered German immigrants, to the Native Americans and to enslaved Africans. They founded communities to serve as home bases for these missions. The missionary "messengers" were financially supported by the work of the "laborers" in these settlements. Currently, there are more than 60,000 members.

The beginning of the church's work in North America is usually given as 1740, when Bishop August Gottlieb Spangenberg sent Christian Henry Rauch to New York City on a mission to preach and convert native peoples. Eager to learn more, the Mahican chiefs Tschoop and Shabash invited Rauch to visit their village (in present-day Dutchess County) to teach them. In September 1740, they led him to Shekomeko, where he established a Moravian mission. The two Indian chiefs converted to the Christian faith. By summer 1742, Shekomeko was established as the first native Christian congregation in the present-day United States.

The Moravians were more successful in Pennsylvania, where the charter of the colony provided religious freedom. The towns of Bethlehem, Nazareth, Emmaus, and Lititz, Pennsylvania, were founded as Moravian communities. Graceham, Maryland was founded as a Moravian Community on October 8, 1758. Later, colonies were also founded in North Carolina, where Moravians purchased 98,985 acres. This large tract of land was named die Wachau, or Wachovia. The towns established in Wachovia included Bethabara (1753), Bethania (1759) and Salem (now Winston-Salem) (1766).

Bethlehem emerged as the headquarters of the northern church, and Winston-Salem became the headquarters of the southern church. The Moravian denomination continues in America to this day, with congregations in 18 states. The highest concentrations of Moravians exist in Bethlehem and Winston-Salem. The denomination is organized into four provinces in North America: Northern (which includes five Canadian congregations), Southern, Alaska, and Labrador. Source: Wikipedia

Information in Records[edit | edit source]

Baptisms[edit | edit source]

Children were baptized soon after birth, and therefore, the baptism record proves date of birth.

  • baptism date
  • date of birth
  • the infant's name
  • parents' names, including mother's maiden name
  • status of legitimacy
  • names of sponsors, who may be relatives]
  • the officiant's name
  • later confirmation
  • later moving out

Marriages[edit | edit source]

Marriage registers can give:

  • the marriage date
  • the names of the bride and groom
  • birth dates and places for the bride and groom
  • parents' names
  • 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
  • place of burial
  • cause of death
  • the names of a widow or widower
  • parents' names, for chilren
  • short biography

Family Registers[edit | edit source]

  • records of entire families
  • birth date and place for each family member
  • baptism and confirmation
  • immigrant arrival dates

"Choir" Lists[edit | edit source]

  • name of husband and wife
  • maiden name of women
  • date and place of birth
  • date and place of joining the church
  • date and place of first communion
  • number of sons and daughters
  • occupation
  • church office
  • date of death of spouse

Lebensläufe (Memoirs)[edit | edit source]

"The Memoir is a biographical sketch, sometimes autobiographical...but usually prepared by the pastor...and with a careful search of the Church registers for dates....Today [it] is read in conjunction with the funeral gives the life-story in detail, carefully including the religious experiences of the member." [1]

Community Diaries[edit | edit source]

"Community diaries were written daily and shared with other communities so that each could be informed of the news of that community.Baptisms of Native Americans, travelers who stopped by (including non-Moravians), the health of their members, and expected immigrant parties were all part of the news shared by the community to their brethren."[2]

Finding Records[edit | edit source]

Archives[edit | edit source]

The Northern Province covers the Moravian churches in the United States (excluding congregations located in North Carolina, Florida, Georgia and Virginia) and Canada.

  • The Northern Province Moravian Archives
41 West Locust Street
Bethlehem, PA 18018
Phone: 610.866.3255

For Florida, Georgia, North Carolina, and Virginia:

  • The Southern Province Moravian Archives
457 S. Church Street
Winston-Salem, N.C. 27101
Phone: (336) 722-1742

Writing to a Local Community[edit | edit source]

Contact the congregation to ask about old records.

Published Records[edit | edit source]

Check these online digital archives:

Dark thin font green pin Version 4.png Try different keywords in various combinations: the name of the town, the name of the specific church, the denomination, "church records", and "[STATE] church records".

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.

References[edit | edit source]

  1. Adelaide L Fries, "Moravian Church Records as a Source of Genealogical Material, National Genealogical Society Quarterly24:1 (March 1936), 5.
  2. Ibid., 6