First I want to share information from an article, "Your Local Church
-- It has History, Too!" found in Together Magazine, (The midmonth
Magazine for Methodist Families) dated November, 1959. It is the 175th
anniversary edition of the magazine (which no longer exists). On it's cover
is a painting* of Francis
Asbury (American Methodism's Circuit
Riding Bishop) on a spirited white steed, crossing a river, coat tails
flying, book or Bible in one hand, reins in the other, saddlebags bulging
with books. The background is full of mountains, pine trees and rugged
country. The caption reads: "Live or die, I must ride!"
I found this old magazine in my personal "Methodist Library." Looking
at its table of contents I discovered this article which I thought might
be of interest to people searching for church records. Although it can
apply to looking for church records in all denominations in all states,
I'm making it a part of this Kansas
Methodist website on the Kansas
Heritage Server, since that is where my research and writing is presently
appearing. My interest in helping people locate good resources for researching
Methodist church records began when I began corresponding on the Kansas-l
List Serv with people who were looking for more information about "Circuit
Riding Methodist Preachers" in Kansas.
This article was written by Bishop William C. Martin, then the President
of the Association of Methodist Hisorical Societies. It serves as a reminder
that there are indeed Methodist Historical Societies across America. I
once belonged to the one here in Oklahoma, where I've been a Methodist
minister for over 17 years, and loved attending their dinners and historical
programs at every Annual Conference. But I digress!
Bishop Martin wrote his article to help local church historians, or
people in individual local Methodist churches who wanted to dig into their
church's history, and do it in an organized (methodical) way -- the way
of all good "Method"-ists! It is definitely an article that reflects the
name of the denomination; a name first spoken derogatorily to describe
it's founder's penchant for requiring regimented and discipled religious
lives of his earliest followers.
However, as I pointed out earlier, there are several good pointers
in the article for doing research in ANY church..
Bishop Martin starts out by saying that "relatively few Methodist churches
really know their history, yet it's likely that illuminating records are
stacked away somewhere in [the] church basement, if the janitor hasn't
burned them. And sitting in the pews...on Sunday... may be descendants
of people who helped found [the] church -- with marvelous stories to tell!"
That lack of historical knowlege referred to by the good Bishop, may
have been true for Methodist churches at the time he wrote the article
in 1959. I don't think that it's necessarily true now. Methodism celebrated
it's 200th birthday some while back (1784 - 1984). And it touched off a
wave of historical curiosity within the denomination that has scarely let
up as the surrounding American culture has become intensely interested
in its roots as well.. In addition, many old churches in the Heartland
were either celebrating their own 100th birthday or making plans to do
so within a few years of the bi-centennial observances. So old records
and new historians began meeting in the strangest places in the ‘80’s.
The Bishop recommends that searchers for a church's history start with
it's current pastor. If he (and they were “hes” in the Bishop's day) "senses
the value of the past," he's a likely resource of information, or suggestions
for sources and further inquiry. There is also the reminder that local
history teachers, and librarians are valuable resource persons too.
Bishop Martin lists some resources for learning more about Methodist
History. I will put them in Part
II and add some of my own recommendations. His resources, as well as
many of my own, may no longer be published, but I would be willing to wager
(not really, since I'm a Methodist preacher!) that you could find a copy
of one or more of these books in one of the larger United Methodist churches
nearby that maintain a Church Library. Or if you have a United Methodist
College or Seminary nearby, they are sure to have copies of the really
old reference books and histories in their Libraries. Methodist Ministers'
private libraries often contain excellent materials, as well and most don't
mind loaning a book to someone they know.
Now, for more ideas from Bishop Martin for where to look for the information
The article ends with guides for how to write a church history. Apparently,
from a reference made in one paragraph, the American Association of Methodist
Historical Societies planned to publish a Guide for Church Historians.
I do not know at this time, whether such a document ever existed. There
is a current publication, however, that describes how to be a United Methodist
Historian. Order Caring for Your Church's Heritage -- Church Historian,
First, the Conference Office. This is the state organization to which a
local United Methodist Church is related. It may have published a history
of a particular church. Go to United
Methodists Websites on the this website for email addresses, websites,
Next, the present church building itself. “Be sure,” he writes, “you’ve
dug out all quarterly conference reports, yearbooks, directories, brochures,
programs, bulletins, pictures. Check dusty files and dark corners for anything
of possible value.
“Next, try the parsonage, [the home the church furnishes it’s minister],
former church buildings, and the attics, desk drawers, and scrapbooks of
onetime officers. Once it was a common practice for officials to keep records
at home. You may find a treasure next door [to the church].
“Local newspapers can be invaluable. Back issues sometimes have surprisingly
complete information about [the] church and its members. Ask permission
to go through them....
...”But no matter how much material you gather from other sources, be sure
to interview older church members, founding fathers [sic] or their descendants,
former pastors, and past officials -- by mail, if not face to face. Their
stories are history at the personal level, colorful and alive. Get direct
In a sidebar there is additional information:
Methodist Churches are encouraged by the Discipline to preserve
their historical records.
There may be Conference and Jursidictional historical societies
that would have information about the church/minister you are trying to
learn more about. They were federated with others into the Association
of Methodist Historical Societies, whose offices were established at Lake
Junaluska, N.C. -- the national retreat center of Methodism. They have
also helped publish a bulletin, World Parish and sponsored research,
shrine preservation and book publication. Currently the United
Methodist Archives are housed at Duke University.
The Wesley Historical Society is in Hull, England. They study early Methodism
and publish a quarterly. The Methodists of the United Kingdom and Ireland
house their archives
at Ryland University Library in Manchester, UK.
* This painting was found in Monmouth, Main. It’s title
is “The Man on Horseback” and was painted by Harry Hayman Cochrane (d.
1946). His works of art adorn some 200 churches and lodge halls in New
England. This particular canvas stood rolled up in a barn until discovered
by a neighbor who had it mounted on the wall of Monmouth United Church
In addition, there are eight watercolor paintings of historical events,
reproduced in this particular issue of Together Magazine. They were
joined by four other historical paintings, printed previously, to form
“an inspirational slide set” and were available for order from the Methodist
Publishing House for only $5.00!
The captions under the watercolors are:
“Captain Webb exhorting in a sail loft. He fired Methodism with enthusiasm
in pre-Revolution years.”
“It’s 1784: At Barratt’s Chapel in Delaware (still standing) Coke and Asbury
lay plans for a new church” “...and send Freeborn Garrettson ‘like an arrow’
to spread the work of the Christmas Conference at Baltimore.”
“A solemn moment: Francis Asbury is consecrated bishop of the new Methodist
“Abingdon, Md., 1789: Enroute to his inaguration, Washington passes Cokesbury,
Methodism’s first college.”
“Philadelphia, 1789: John Diskins consults a printer as he launches the
Methodist Publishing House.”
“New York, 1789: Morrell, Asbury, Diskins, and Coke formally declare Methodist
allegiance to the Republic.”
"Edward Cox cabin in east Tennessee: Here Methodism broke through the Alleghenies
on its march westward.”
|How to Research...
This page is maintained by Linda Morgan Clark, MTh.,
a United Methodist ministerial member of First United Methodist Church,
Muskogee, Oklahoma, Oklahoma Conference of The United Methodist Church.
Your suggestions for additions to this site are welcomed.
If you find information here that is erroneous, the author welcomes your
comments. Also, please report any links that aren't working.