Genealogy and Microfilm
GENERAL INFORMATION FOR FAMILY HISTORY RESEARCHERS
Lutheran records are maintained and organized by and for local congregations, and are usually composed of chronological listings of pastoral acts, such as baptisms, confirmations, marriages, and burials. In some cases, records of communions and membership lists may be included. Other parish records include congregational annual and council meeting minutes, financial and legal documents, parish newsletters, and congregational histories, as well as similar records for congregational organizations (such as women’s, men’s, or youth groups).
Most of the information essential to tracing your family genealogy will be contained in congregational records, especially in the records of pastoral acts. Since these records are maintained only by the congregation, no centralized lists of members exist at the archives. If you do not know which congregation your family attended, the ELCA Archives can help identify the possibilities, based on the family’s locations, the pastor’s signature on marriage licenses, or other similar clues. The archives can also help with information on congregational mergers, dissolved congregations, and the locations of those records.
Census records, naturalization papers, city directories, or related sources may be a better starting point than congregational records. This would be especially true if you are not sure that your relatives were Lutheran. Not all Germans or Scandinavians were Lutheran, nor were they required to register with a U.S. church upon arrival. Many welcomed American freedom and dropped all religious affiliation. Furthermore, the term “evangelical” does not guarantee that a congregation was Lutheran. Reformed and other Protestant groups also use this term.
The ELCA Archives does hold a large collection of microfilmed congregational records. These are primarily from The American Lutheran Church portion of the predecessor bodies, but also include a number of Swedish-American Lutheran microfilms. These films are available for rental by individuals for $15 per reel for one month. Please contact the archives for more information on which congregations are represented on film.
The films can also be viewed at the archives facility in Elk Grove Village, Ill. Be sure to make an appointment with a reference archivist in advance of your research visit.
Microfilm copies may be purchased at the cost of $45 per roll. Orders will be placed for microfilm duplication every three months, with reproduction taking 2-3 weeks from that point. If the congregation is still in existence, a letter of permission granting the researcher the congregation’s permission to hold a copy of their records is required. If you wish to purchase an entire roll, you will need a letter of permission to purchase from each congregation represented on the roll; otherwise, portions of the microfilm can be spliced off. Permission to obtain records of disbanded congregations is granted by the ELCA Archives.
Copies of the entire set of Swedish-American church microfilms are held at the Swenson Swedish Immigration Research Center at Augustana College in Rock Island, Ill. The Norwegian related ALC films are held by the Norwegian-American Genealogical Center and Naeseth Library in Madison, Wis. Copies of the Minnesota-related ALC films are also available at the Minnesota Historical Society in St. Paul.
The ELCA Archives staff is limited in the amount of time available for genealogical research, but can do requests limited to two hours of research time at a rate of $20 per hour. Please provide as much information as possible (such as names and dates) when requesting this service.