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New England's Hidden Histories: Colonial-Era Church Records

Congregational church records offer a rich and remarkable view of life in seventeenth- and eighteenth-century New England. Well before the writing of the Constitution each member in the early Puritan churches had an equal vote, with the power to govern themselves and to choose their own ministers. The records of these congregations document births, deaths, and marriages, but also open a window onto the lives of ordinary people deliberating on matters both sacred and secular. For much of the colonial period, church business was town business, and so beyond the usual information on births, deaths, and marriages, church records show ordinary people making decisions about property, taxation, and their representation in the larger affairs of the Commonwealth.

Many of the documents in New England's Hidden Histories are being made available to the public for the first time. Since 2005 the Congregational Library, in partnership with the Jonathan Edwards Center at Yale and many local churches across New England, has been rescuing old records from church attics and basements, and making them widely accessible through preservation and digitization. Many of the documents also include transcriptions.

We are regularly obtaining new documents. For the sake of clarity we have arranged New England Hidden Histories documents into three series, one dealing specifically with records created by local churches, another for items created by individuals, including sermons, diaries, correspondence, and rare theological works, and a third category of records created by conferences, associations and extracurricular bodies related to Congregational churches.

We also have many related primary and secondary resources in our collections. Scholars interested in broadening their research beyond what is available online should consider applying for our research scholarships.

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