DOCUMENTING OUR COMMUNITY: CHURCH RECORDS
Concern from local preservationists (spearheaded by the late Bill Hetfield) over the run-down condition of Plainfield's Evergreen Cemetery has led to a new collection of valuable resource material being built in the Plainfield Public Library's Local History Department. Local History staff monitored the activities of the ad hoc preservation group and advised them that it could contribute in two ways: 1. Host meetings; and 2. Computerize the church records.
Coincidentally, library administration had recently identified the need to obtain historical information from local churches as one of the year's objectives. A letter had gone out to over 100 local churches describing the library's recent church records and family bible documentation projects and explaining its interest in transcribing church records. Enclosed with the letter was a list of new publications on world religions and spirituality.
The First Park Baptist Church, owner of the Evergreen Cemetery, was first to lend its older records, which included membership lists and deceased parishioner files for the project. The late 19th and early 20th century records are currently being copied and indexed by the Local History staff and volunteers. Information on each card includes the full name of parishioners with birth and death date, full name of spouse, full name of parents, full name of children and all addresses. To date, over 3000 names and accompanying data have been entered into an Excel spreadsheet.
Other churches have also come forward to participate.
- Mount Olive Baptist Church, one of the earliest African American churches in Plainfield, formed in 1870, has loaned two minute books with entries of deceased members dating from 1916. Sadly, many of their earliest records were lost in a fire in 1963.
- Crescent Avenue Presbyterian Church has loaned an 1844 leather-bound volume of church records (see image).
In terms of the local history and genealogy of the area, these records are fundamental to the history of Plainfield. Membership records document where the parishioners came from or where they moved. Minutes of the church meetings shed light on the how the community has evolved. Deceased and cemetery records provide the genealogist with information as they trace their families in the area. The preservation of these records is an important part of the preservation of Plainfield's history.