The growing popularity of genealogy has helped people worldwide figure out where their family comes from. Now those interested in learning about their family’s geographic beginnings can also discover their spiritual origins. 

ELCA Archives is working with researchers to make records from the early-to-mid-1900s available in a digital format for the first time. 

“Having a digital copy will help us help people who are researching where they come from,” said Joel Thoreson, ELCA archivist for management, reference and technology. “The indexing Ancestry does is something we couldn’t do ourselves.” 

Thoreson said about 30 percent of the calls and emails his office gets every year are regarding genealogy, so this project will benefit families, along with the church’s record-keeping. “Putting these records online really helps the process,” he said. “Now you can search in seconds what used to take us hours.” and Archives staff went through rolls of microfilm and thousands of paper records for the project, which went live on in late March. Records were provided by the Archives; the Swenson Swedish Immigration Research Center at Augustana College, Rock Island, Ill.; and Gustavus Adolphus College, St. Peter, Minn. 

“Putting these records online really helps the process,” he said. “Now you can search in seconds what used to take us hours.”

“With all of this we have been able to prepare the largest set of Swedish-American church records in existence,” said Craig Bullough, a content acquisition specialist for “It’s exciting because there are so many details that go into these records: dates of baptisms, marriages and deaths—key things people look for when they do their genealogy research. 

“The Swedish collected so much information when they came to America and started their churches. Not many church records give us that much detail.” 

While much of the project gave researchers information on Swedish immigrants, it also led back to Norway, Germany and Denmark. Since such specific details were kept, Thoreson said this will help a great deal in determining religious roots as well as what are considered standard genealogical demographics. 

“People make assumptions they are Lutheran because they come from a ‘Lutheran country,’ ” he said, “but that isn’t always the case. Through these records we will be able to help them figure that out.” 

The ELCA now has more than 8 million records online at Bullough said the company plans on continuing to partner with the ELCA on the project in the future. subscribers can access the records here. Nonsubscribers can search the collection at any library with an Ancestry Library Edition. 

Jay Saunders
Jay Saunders has more than 20 years' experience writing for television, newspapers and magazines. He is a member of Fox Point Lutheran Church in Fox Point, Wis.

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