Casefile Clues

03 April 2013

ELCA Records at Archives.com and Some Concerns

Archives.com recently announced the release of digital versions of microfilmed records of church records in the Archives of the Evangelical Church in America (ELCA). Until now, most of us have had to rely on actual use of the microfilm to view these records.

For those of us who had ancestors that were Lutheran, this is a huge set of records. However, there are some challenges to the way these images are currently presented to the public.

At this point, these records are only searchable by name--you cannot browse the records of a specific church or view page by page. This is a serious limitation--particularly if the name for which you are looking was difficult to read in the original records or if the researcher doesn't know "all the names" already. Many of these records were in German or Swedish and there are times where that writing is difficult to read and transcribe.

The other concern I have is how the congregation is named in these records.

This is the screen shot for the "results" I obtained when searching for my grandfather:

The name of the church does not appear to be the name of the actual church--it appears to be the name of the "denomination" of which the congregation was a member when the records were microfilmed. Many Lutheran churches were members of the former America Lutheran Church. This church is actually the Immanuel Lutheran Church near Basco, Hancock County, Illinois. The database indicates this congregation was in Carthage, Illinois--which it was not. To the best of my knowledge this church was never called the "American Lutheran" church (this church was actually having services in German in 1917). This generalization of church name appears to be the case with other church records in this database. This is a serious difficulty with this database and one that I hope is rectified. If the user is already aware of where the person was a church member and is simply confirming information--then this is not a problem.

The scans are nice as shown in this enlargement from my grandfather's baptismal entry from 1917 in the Immanuel Lutheran Church near Basco (this is only part of the entry):

A few other finds


I did find some really neat entries in this set of images--mainly for people I already had information on but for whom I had never looked at the church records.

My great-grandmother's 1882 baptism from Dawson County, Nebraska:

American Lutheran Church,[sic] Gothenburg, Nebraska, 1882 baptisms, Tjode Anna Goldenstein: digital image on Archives.com. 

The death entry for my ancestor Bernhard Dirks from 1913 in the Lutheran church records from Coatsburg, Illinois.

Bernard and his daughter Anke both died in 1913--interesting that his entry is in German and hers is in English.

In Summary

It is great that Archives.com has released these records to their subscribers. The indexing appears to be pretty good from my not so random sampling. But my wishes for this database are:

  • Specific name of the congregation as a part of the "results"
  • Ability to browse the records. Having to search by typing name only is inefficient.

Users who already have a good idea of for whom they are looking will make finds in this database. I'm hoping that by the time I've exhausted all my searches, the browse feature is activated. It'll take me a little while as over half my ancestry was Lutheran at some point in time.