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Start with Three Important Questions

Was my ancestor an ordained minister? Many families have the tradition that “great-grandpa was a preacher.”  Such family history may or may not be accurate.  In United Methodism the term preacher could refer to an ordained minister or it could refer to a lay person who had many of the duties of an ordained minister, but only in a specific locale.  This person was called a local preacher.   

If the person was an ordained minister, then records held by the General Commission on Archives and History may be able to help you.   The resources for genealogical research are limited to full-time, fully ordained clergy of the United Methodist Church and its predecessor denominations. (See below for a list of our predecessor groups)  If the person you are researching falls into this category then please feel free to fill out our Genealogical Research Information form.    What we may be able to provide is a copy of the official obituary taken from the person’s Annual Conference Journal.  (See below for definition). There is a non-refundable fee for this service. Many annual conferences can also provide this service. You may wish to contact them as well.

Was my ancestor a missionary?  If you believe that your ancestor was a missionary, then again, we may be able to help you.    We have obituaries for many of the denomination’s missionaries and we have reports filed by many of the missionaries about their work.  If the person you are researching falls into this category then please feel free to fill out our Genealogical Research Form

Where are baptismal and membership records?    Local church records, such as baptismal and membership records, are not kept by the General Commission on Archives and History.  Local church records are kept at the local church.  If that church closes and merges with another church, then the records go to the new church.  If the church closes and there is no sucessor church, then the records are usually transferred to the annual conference archives.  You will need to contact the conference archives to learn more about the status of the church and how to go about finding its records.  Feel free to use our on-line conference directory to locate the person you need to contact.   If you have any questions please feel free to contact us.

What are the Predecessor Denominations of The United Methodist Church?

Today’s United Methodist Church is the descendent of several predecessors.  These denominations are: Methodist Episcopal Church (1784-1939), Methodist Episcopal Church, South (1845-1939), Methodist Protestant Church ( 1828-1939), Methodist Church (1939-1968), United Brethren in Christ (1800-1946), Evangelical Association (1803-1922), United Evangelical Church (1894-1922), Evangelical Church (1922-1946), Evangelical United Brethren (1946-1968), United Methodist Church (1968- present).

“United Method-ese” – What Some of our Terms Mean

  • Annual Conference – an organizational unit  within United Methodism (and all predecessor denominations), consisting of  churches in a given geographical area.   Clergy and lay delegates attend a business session each year, usually in the early summer, at which time clergy receive their preaching appointments for the coming year.   Financial business, reports of the numbers of new members, and other matters are also addressed at this yearly meeting.
  • Annual Conference Journal – Published every year, the journal contains detailed information about, clergy, churches, and ministries of an annual conference.
  • Appointment – The preacher’s assignment by the bishop of the annual conference where the preacher holds his or her membership.
  • Charge – The church or churches to which a pastor is appointed.
  • Circuit – A pastoral charge of two or more churches. 
  • Local Preacher/Pastor – In the 19th century, a lay person who was authorized to perform ministerial tasks (such as preaching, marrying and burying, but not conducting the Lord’s Supper) at a local church while the fully ordained minister was away traveling the circuit.

If you have further questions about our research service feel free to contact our genealogy research staff.
Written by Dr. John E. Sims  and adapted with permission, GCAH 2/1994