Brethren Historical Library and Archives (BHLA)
The Brethren Historical Library and Archives (BHLA) is a program of the Church of the Brethren General Board. It serves the Church of the Brethren in two ways. First, BHLA is the official repository for the denomination. Therefore, the archives collects and preserves the publications and records of the denomination. Second, BHLA is a research center for the study of Brethren history and beliefs. As such, the archives provides resources and services for researchers interested in the Brethren. While genealogy is not its primary focus, BHLA is interested in assisting individuals with their genealogical research to the extent that resources and time permit.
Types of Genealogical Resources
Many genealogists contact BHLA looking for baptismal records. Unfortunately very few such records exist. Brethren congregations generally did not keep baptismal records since they practiced adult baptism. The best sources of genealogical data are the obituaries published in Brethren periodicals. Major Brethren periodicals with obituaries include The Gospel Visitor (1851-1873), The Gospel Messenger (1883-1964), The Brethren at Work (1876-1883), The Primitive Christian (1876-1883), and The Vindicator (1870-present). Most of the obituaries in these periodicals have been indexed.
In 1996 BHLA completed the indexing of the obituaries published in The Gospel Messenger, the primary periodical for the Church of the Brethren. This was a massive project which took eight years to complete. When printed out, the index is over 3700 pages long. The plan is to publish the index on CD-ROM.
An index to the obituaries published in The Vindicator, the periodical for the Old German Baptist Brethren, is available from Alva C. Riffey (R.2, Box 59, Westphalia, KS 66093); and the summaries of The Vindicator obituaries are available from Rosa L. Brovont (2040 E St Rd 218, Camden, IN 46917-9705). The index is less than one hundred pages long. The summaries are in 5 volumes. Copies of the index and the summaries are in the BHLA collection. The obituaries published in most of the other Brethren periodicals are indexed on cards at BHLA.
Another major BHLA resource for genealogists is the collection of family histories. There are over 700. Most of these were obtained because they contain significant information on Brethren families. The Fellowship of Brethren Genealogists has made available to its members a listing of these family histories and a family surname check list based on the BHLA collection.
A third major genealogical resource at BHLA is the collection of area (often called district) histories and congregational histories. Two examples of the area histories are: Emmert Bittinger's Allegheny Passage and Gladdys Muir's Settlement of the Brethren on the Pacific Slope. Allegheny Passage was published in 1990 and combines Brethren history with family history for the area known as the West Marva District. Muir's book was published in 1939 and covers Brethren history in Washington, Oregon, California, Idaho, and Canada. Most of the newer district histories have indexes. Many of the older ones do not. However, BHLA has name indexes to almost all of the older district histories.
Other resources at BHLA that can help genealogists include the collection of Brethren history books, the biographical files, and the photo files.
BHLA is open to the public, Monday through Friday, from 9:00 a.m. to noon and 1:00 to 4:00 p.m. Those coming to do genealogical research should call in advance. BHLA has only one employee and is closed when that person is out of town.
BHLA also responds to genealogical requests received by mail, phone, e-mail, or fax. Several years ago BHLA began charging for the time spent working on genealogical requests. The rate is $25.00 per hour. This charge was put in place because the Church of the Brethren General Board could no longer continue to underwrite the costs of providing free genealogical research. However, there is no charge for coming to BHLA to do your own research.
Please note that one service which BHLA does not provide is the loaning of books and records. This policy was established by the Brethren Historical Committee. Because BHLA serves as the historical library for the denomination, they cannot take the chance of losing items which are irreplaceable.
HOW TO CONTACT BHLA Address: Brethren Historical Library and Archives 1451 Dundee Avenue Elgin, IL 60120 Phone: 847-742-5100, ext. 294 Fax: 847-742-6103 (Be sure to include Brethren Historical Library and Archives on the fax.) E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org