A Church Book Is a Church Book Is a Church Book


Elizabeth Shown Mills


Across centuries of record-keeping, different denominations have created different types of records. Some keep sacramental registers (books in which they record the sacraments they have administered—typically, baptisms, marriages, burials, and sometimes communions). Occasionally, they will record an abjuration. Some keep minutes that are rich in details on parishioners, such as disciplinary measures. Other minutes may treat only business matters. Some hold membership rolls and others have taken censuses. Some keep letters of admission and dismissal.

Despite these variations, the formats in which these records are cited are much the same across denominations and nationalities.

Regardless of the country in which you work, your citations to church books will have essentially the same elements. An American church register, a Spanish registro parroquial, a German Kirchenbüch, an Icelandic kirkjubøk, and a Norwegian klokkerbøk are all “church books.” Similarly, it matters little whether the book is a sacramental register in Poland or a vaccination register in Norway, a register of incoming and outgoing servants such as those kept in Denmark, or a church census such as those found in Italy and Nordic countries. The basic elements for citing them are essentially the same.

The factors that do create variations within citations are usually these:

  • whether the register is in the custody of the local church or a central archive;
  • whether the register is an original, a transcribed copy, or a translation;
  • whether the register carries a distinctive title or whether it is a numbered volume within a named series; and
  • whether you are using a manuscript volume, a microcopy, a photocopy, a certificate, a digital image, a database entry, or a published abstract or transcript.

In citing original records created by a church—or images thereof—the church should be treated as the “corporate author.” If you are citing abstracts or databases, your source is no longer a set of church records; it is a set of data drawn from those church books. The creator of those derivatives would be the author of the abstracts or database.

EE's Chapter 7 provides a wealth of examples illustrating how records are cited under these different circumstances, along with many explanations of the quirks you'll deal with.


PHOTO CREDITS: "Old book bindings," Wikimedia Commons (http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Old_book_bindings.jpg : accessed 5 April 2015), used under Creative Commons GNU Free Documentation License; uploaded 25 August 2005 by Tom Murphy VII.

Posted 5 April 2015