Gathering the Material
Gathering the material can be among the most fascinating activities of the work of writing a local church history or it can be exceedingly dull. The first place to look for material is the previous history or histories that may have been written about the church. In addition, good sources are anniversary booklets, programs, broadsides, and special events calendars that have marked the career of the community or church.
Other written sources are the minutes of the Board of Trustees, the Charge Conference, and any or all of the minute books of the organizations that have been a part of the church at any time during its history. Much of this can be dull reading, but some of it will sparkle with gems of insight and events that will greatly brighten your history and its general appeal.
Sometimes much about the church has been told in the local newspaper, especially at the time of special religious events. These accounts should not be overlooked. In addition, many histories have been written about towns, cities or counties in which churches are located. These histories contain valuable information for the purpose of the Editorial Committee. Many of these histories often list their sources. Such sources are valuable since they may lead to further insights. Many of the historians of towns, cities or counties are cramped for space and use only a small portion of what can be found in their sources.
In this connection, do not overlook the Annual Conference records or the Annual Conference newspapers or magazines. At one time a periodical called The Christian Advocate ran a regular column about local church events. Sometimes facts appear there that appear nowhere else. At one time, also, each District Superintendent reported about the work of the church on the district. Helpful information may be secured by reading those reports. Here may be found a brief record of a stirring revival, the dedication of a new organ, the clearing of a church’s debt, or the building of an addition to the sanctuary. All of these events are of paramount interest for the church’s history. Certain boards, committees and commissions of the Annual Conference may also have preserved information about the beginnings of a church, or about loans to a church for building purposes. All this is food for the historical banquet of facts and figures.
People are also an excellent source of information for church historians. Talk to those who are involved in the key events in the life of the church. Some of these people were money-raisers and can give an informative account of how funds were raised for an addition to the church sanctuary or for the main building itself. It is curious, but significant, that some churches in the early history of religion in America were built from proceeds from lotteries—a method now being used to support some programs by governments. People of any and every age may have a story to tell. Get it! Much of this information can be recorded on tape or digitally and thus preserved in a more permanent form.
Since this booklet was first published, the use of the internet has become a valuable tool to search for information. There are digital resources on the web that can aid your research, including books, periodicals, and documents. Be creative when searching, look in regional newspapers, use all of the names of your church, and search using the names of your mnisters.
Once gathered, these facts should be filed with the research secretary, already mentioned above as an officer of the Editorial Committee, and permanently preserved. The sources of information should also be carefully noted. One weakness of many church histories is that they do not list their sources. Future historians, therefore, must work over this material again, some of which may be forever lost.
To gather all possible facts, various members of the Committee can be assigned the task of tracking down particular sources of information. For example, one may be asked to read the minutes of the Board of Trustees, another the town or city or county histories, another the minutes of the organizations of the church. Here it would be well for the chosen editor-author to consult with each researcher to advise what kind of material is required. The researcher must separate the wheat from the chaff. Not every event or debate is worth recording. At this point, an experienced editor-author is a valuable leader.
Once having gathered all this material and having had it properly filed and coded, we are ready to tell the story.