Monday, October 12, 2015

East Tennessee Baptismal Record

A couple weeks ago I finally got around to making digital copies of an East Tennessee Baptismal Record (I'll call it ETBR for short). I've known about this record for a few years, but I have been kept pretty busy with the Middle Tennessee equivalent (MTBR). I am still in the process of reviewing it for the wealth of data it contains, but I thought I would describe some of the things I am expecting to get out of it.

The ETBR on its face is a listing of baptisms in the LDS Church from about 1870 to 1920 in east Tennessee and western North Carolina. It includes a name, birth date & place, baptism & confirmation dates, the person who performed the ordinances, father's & mother's names, a mailing address, and some notes about membership. Often the notes include post baptism marriages, where they person moved to when they left or if they were reported as dead. It was a big area. Often death notices would take years to reach mission headquarters. Rarely an excommunication or apostasy is noted. (At the time there was no way to resign church membership. Excommunication was the only option. Resignation didn't become an option until the 1990's. Anyone reading this know the exact year?)

In practice the ETBR was not a baptismal record as much as a membership log book of sorts. It didn't really start until around perhaps 1896. Many years were all written in the same hand as if it was a transcription of another record (or more likely records). Sometimes the penmanship would change, and that change would correspond with dates, suggesting that every could of years someone would update the book with baptisms since the last entry. There are a few dates from prior to 1896, but fewer the further back you go. So far it seems that even if someone was baptized, they did not get in the book unless they stayed in the church AND stayed in Tennessee until about 1896. It is perhaps not a coincidence that around the same time the LDS Church stopped encouraging converts to gather with other members in the western United States.

Using this record I can see many demographic details. Although the records does not indicate the sex of the convert, often this can be inferred from the name. I can also see where missionaries were working successfully, and who was doing the work. While later mission newspapers would record missionary assignments, this record would give me another view of related information including who was working with whom.

What I can see is reliable information on where the baptism was performed. In stead the mailing address only told me where they lived when the record was last updated. I have lost count of how many early members I have found in an area (like say Memphis) only to discover that the person joined the church elsewhere and had simply moved to the address on record. Makes it harder to find the first converts in a town.

But the biggest frustration with the record is that there are lots of handwritten marks in the book. When the boundaries between districts changed, their records would be "sent" to the new district and their name would be crossed off. At some point the record appears to have been transcribed into a newer book. In that process names had check marks, and other notations added to help that process. Names were circled, annotated, and scribbled over when people got married with new names written above or next to it. Sometimes people would get entered on the wrong page (organized alphabetically) and so would be crossed off on one page and entered again elsewhere. The result is that the name is often illegible. When that happens, if I am lucky I can read the birth date and the parents name and with a little sleuthing I can most of the time figure out what I need to know. I may from time to time post a photo of a particularly difficult to read entry that has no other identifying information. Any help interpreting is much appreciated.

If you couldn't tell, I so excited!!!


Left Field said...

My great-grandfather Abinadi Porter was a missionary there around 1901. I'm very interested to learn if there is any mention of him.

BruceCrow said...

I'll keep my eyes open and let you know.

Michelle Ganus Taggart said...

Are the Faucetts (Fawcetts) in that record? They were baptized by John Morgan. I am finding that I "thought" I knew their story, but there appears to be more to it than I realized and I am now digging around trying to see what original records exist. It's so easy to assume things and apparently that is what I have done.