Researching Your Local Church History

It is important to preserve the heritage and history of your church. Some churches have their history well-recorded and written down, while some churches may point to boxes of papers as their history. There is one church - when asked to contribute their story - that said 'all of the older people have passed away and we have no history.' If your church's history isn't properly recorded (or is in need of more work), please use this page as a guideline to your research.

It is necessary for our churches to remember and recognize our history and heritage. The person immediately responsible for this is the local church historian. This page is designed to help the local church historian in researching a local church history. If you check your church's Historical Register page and find it empty or very bare, you may want to undertake a church history project to preserve your church's heritage.

Step 1 - Gather whatever history (or histories) have already been done 

  • The first thing to look for is any history that has already been written in the past. Something may have been written in the past that can be developed or updated. There may be a short history in a directory or previous church anniversary event. 
  • An important resource are the primary documents at your local church. This includes minutes of church meetings, church records, bulletins, newsletters, etc.  If material is missing, check with long-time members, church leaders, and former pastors. They may be able to help locate information. 

Step 2 - Interview older members or outside persons that have knowledge of your church's history 

  • You probably have members that go back to various point in your church's history. Depending upon the age of the members, you may be able to gather information up to 75 or so years in the past. Some people related to members that have passed away may have information passed down to them from their ancestors. 

Step 3 - Search local records (such as courthouse records and newspapers) 

  • You may check out historical resources for your community. This may provide information on your church and also gives additional information on the setting around your church. Check any local histories and newspapers. Look up any acts or records at the courthouse (e.g. purchases for church property). 

 Step 4 - Research conference journals 

  • Every year after annual conference a journal is produced with a summary of the proceedings and information about the conference events and statistics from the previous year. One of the more useful parts of the journal is the list of appointments. You can check the appointment list to see who was pastor of your church that year.
  • The journals also have memoirs. These are obituaries for pastors (and pastors' spouses) over the years. These memoirs are available online
  • A complete set of the conference journals is available online through the Conference Archives.  Your church/pastor may also have copies of the journals.

Step 5 - Use the resources at the conference archives.

  • The conference archives can be accessed at Centenary College of Louisiana (Shreveport) and Dillard University (New Orleans). Centenary serves as the repository for all permanent records from the Louisiana Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church.  Dillard maintains some records created by the predominately African-American predecessor denominations of the Louisiana Conference of the United Methodist Church.
  • There is a collection of local church histories at the Centenary Archives.
  • Methodist newspapers are available at the conference archives.  The Centenary Archives has the New Orleans Christian Advocate (1850-1948), the Louisiana Methodist (1949-1999), and Louisiana Now (2000-present).  The Dillard Archives has select issues of the Southwestern Christian Advocate (late 19th and early 20th century).

Step 6 - Store historical materials properly and send copies to the archives