Thomas Hooker founded Connecticut
Colony, and John Davenport founded New Haven Colony. Both men were
important ministers in the Puritan movement. Church records from those
early times until recently -- particularly Congregational Church records
-- are a rich source of genealogical information. Connecticut was
created by Congregationalists especially to incorporate their worldview.
The Puritan viewpoint
also drove many of the concerns of the legislature. The legislature, for
example, was able to control church growth. A church couldn't be
gathered unless it had permission from the legislature and the
surrounding churches. Each church raised taxes for its minister from all
residents in the town, church members or not. The intertwined nature of
church and state was informal. The Fundamental Orders, which served as
the first constitution of the colony, actually mandated that the church
and the state government would go about their business independently.
Connecticut's history until 1818
was closely entwined with that of the Congregational Church. It was only
at that late date, long after the United States Bill of Rights
separated church and state, that Connecticut's Congregational Church was
disestablished by a new state constitution. Until then, the Act of
Toleration of 1708 prevailed. This act permitted those people who were
not Congregationalists to so declare themselves. They could then attend
services of their own churches, but they still had to pay taxes to
support the Congregational minister. Beginning in 1727, Episcopalians
could opt out of taxes and Baptists and Quakers could do so starting in
1729. In spite of this toleration of other religious views, until 1818
Connecticut residents still had to pay taxes to support Congregational
ministers unless they could prove they were supporting other ministers.
Other Protestant churches did make
in-roads in Connecticut. The first Anglican (today Episcopalian) church
was established at Stratford in 1707. The first Methodist Episcopal
(today Methodist) missionary appeared in Connecticut in 1767. The first
Baptist church was established in Groton in 1704. Although Scottish
ministers were found in early Congregational churches, the first church
established as a Presbyterian church was founded in 1839 in
Thompsonville. Unitarianism was also espoused by some ministers within
the Congregational churches, but it wasn't until Brooklyn's church voted
to become Unitarian and evict the Congregationalists that the group had
a foothold in Connecticut. A Universalist society was organized in 1792
in Southington. The early Quakers in Connecticut were a part of Annual
Meetings in New York and Rhode Island. The Catholic Church appointed its
first pastor to Connecticut in 1829 and later saw great growth with the
immigrations of the 1880s.
Today Connecticut is a fully pluralistic society. There are many
religious faiths and many institutions to support them. In fact, a full
discussion of church and synagogue records in Connecticut is beyond the
scope of this column, which will serve as a brief guide to the records
left by the established Congregational Church.
Where to Find Church RecordsBecause the Congregational Church was
essentially a state church until 1818, its earliest records are, for the
most part, deposited at the Connecticut State Library (CSL). Where the state
library lacks the original record, it often has a photocopy of records
stored elsewhere. Microfilm copies of these records are available at CSL
or through Family
every church had a record book to microfilm. And not every church
followed the decree to submit their record books to the Hartford
facility. For example, the Thompson Congregational Church kept its book.
The church later brought the book to the Utah Genealogical Society's
microfilm team [then in New Hampshire] to be filmed. No microfilm copy
of the Thompson book is available at CSL, only a later transcription of
some events. However, a team is now working on indexing those events in
the church book that are not included in the Thompson vital records.
This will be published in a future issue of the Register.
Early Connecticut Marriages as Found on
Ancient Church Records Prior to 1800. The records of each church are
arranged chronologically. The marriages covered in this book also appear
in the International Genealogical Index (IGI).
The Church Records Slip IndexRecords of some Connecticut churches
have been indexed and combined into one large statewide index. CSL
estimates that about one-quarter of its church records are included in
the statewide church records index, which includes other materials as
well. There are "private records" held by the Connecticut State Library.
These records include Bible records and journals kept by residents and
covering events on a town-wide basis. The church records slip index is
also available at NEHGS and at Family History Centers on microfilm. The
original slips are at CSL.
The slip index covers only the following churches. Note that the
old towns of New Haven and Stratford are not covered in the index even
though many records exist.