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Sunday, July 17, 2016

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Tracing an African Methodist Episcopal Ancestor

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Historic Bethel AME Church, Columbia, SC
It is rewarding to branch out to learn more about the life of your ancestor than what you may discover in basic records used in genealogy research. It can be difficult to figure out where you can learn about different records. Early church affiliation during the late 1800's and early 1900's when so many other struggles pressed in on your ancestor can speak volumes about family values. Your African American ancestor may have been affiliated with the African Methodist Episcopal Church. Use the following tips to locate your AME ancestor.

Church records
  • Search the online catalogs of university libraries in the area where your ancestor lived to see if they have any resources on African American Methodists or churches.
  • The Works Progress Administration (WPA) surveyed local churches during the mid to late 1930's. These records contain an brief sketch of the beginnings and early history of churches that existed during that time period. The survey contains information about the organization of the church, previous buildings, pastors, membership, and where records were being held if records existed. Some records also include a sketch of the current building. See the example of the survey for Antioch AME Zion Church in Richland County, South Carolina.
  • Research church sites and plat maps to determine if a church had a cemetery. Many cemeteries are no longer maintained, however, you may find the family church still has a church cemetery on the grounds or nearby.
Church schools
  • Church schools affiliated with AME Church (current institutions) have archives containing the history of African American Methodists, schools, and churches.
  • Biographies and local history often will help you glean more about your ancestor's life even if it does not mention your ancestor. Look for a contemporary if you do not see your ancestor mentioned in the collection. In the autobiography, "Recollection of Seventy Years," Daniel Payne tells of his early childhood from his birth in 1811 and becoming an orphan during the period of slavery in Charleston, SC. He became a pioneer and was a devout AME member. His stories tell about many other AME pioneers of his day.
AME records
  • Contact the AME Church to ask about membership or leadership records on your ancestor. You should be able to provide details (location, and years residing) about your ancestor so to make it easier to locate information.
  • Local AME Conferences were often published in the newspaper with a list of local presiding elders and pastors in a district. You might be able to locate this information before your initial contact to request a church record.
Bishops and clergymen
  • The manuscripts or personal papers of AME bishops or clergymen found in library or society collections can still provide you with important clues. You might find church bulletins, programs, newspaper clippings, financial reports, or correspondence that mention you ancestor.
  • The resource for AME Bishop E. A. Adams in the South Caroliniana Library contains the tithing records of members who attended Bethel AME Church in Columbia, SC.
Newspapers
The Christian Recorder embodied secular as well as religious material, and included good coverage of the black regiments together with the major incidents of the Civil War. The four-page weekly contained such departments as Religious Intelligence, Domestic News, General Items, Foreign News, Obituaries, Marriages, Notices and Advertisements. It also included the normal complement of prose and poetry found in the newspapers of the day. Learn more about the Christian Recorder at Accessible Archives.
Research all the local newspapers where your ancestor lived for mentions of your ancestor. Do not assume your ancestor's obituary did not appear in the town newspaper. Contact the local library to find out if they have an obituary index if you are not sure about your ancestor's death date.

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