This week I’ve made several trips to the David M. Rubenstein Rare Book and Manuscripts Library housed at Duke University. My intentions have been to locate original documentation of the early Methodist church and its existence along the Rocky River in Anson, Stanly, Union, and Cabarrus Counties in North Carolina. Two times boxes of records have been requested after which the following day I made the trip to Durham with fingers crossed. Both times I came up empty handed with one more box coming in from storage hopefully tomorrow or Monday. Oh, the anticipation!
I’ve learned that Methodists were not efficiently organized in terms of their reporting to the central body of the church. The Methodist church was born in the American experience. Though they were crib mates to many in the founding of our country, their approach to record keeping was much different than their German brethren. Constantly changing as did the state, so did the look of the Methodist conference and its circuits. So, a note to the researcher …be warned that the church reshaped itself in ways that makes no sense to us today. For instance, there are Methodist churches in present day Union County that once belonged to circuits located in Lincoln County within the South Carolina Conference.
Surviving church minutes are filled with mundane operational business with little genealogical information on specific churches and their congregations. It’s really boring stuff. However, and as was used for annual reporting, a few surviving but broken books and folders of papers provide membership rolls during specific years. I’ve not plowed through the various circuits within our state but hope sometime to abstract such roll books for the churches along Rocky River.
And, I can’t move on before writing something about the Methodist records housed at Duke University. You’d hope that the Church itself, the mother of the organization, would have held or recorded all those lists and records documenting the life of each congregation. It did not happen that way. In your visit to the manuscript library realize that much of what’s there came through donations. Maybe a grandfather or other ancestor represented a church and in that responsibility came upon records that somehow fell into his hands. Whether given in such way by individuals or given though the wisdom of individual churches, such records came to Duke piecemeal reflecting very little in terms of an overarching organization. It’s a big deal in understanding the collection to which even the helpful librarians concede to be a huge hurdle.
With that said and out of the way, I was surprised today to find several pieces of paper documenting “Baptisms” in the early 1880’s. Though not labeled, several of the pages, I’m sure, represent the congregation of Bethel UMC in Midland NC. There is another for Mill Creek. Later I’ll share roll books adding in Zion UMC in Union County. Enjoy for now!