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Researching and Writing a Church History

Guide to researching and writing a church history - Virginia Conference of the United Methodist Church

Researching and Writing a Church History


Virginia Conference Archives:

The Archives for the Virginia Conference are located in Richmond. For information about the resources available and contact information, see

The Flavia Reed Owen Special Collections and Archives at the McGraw-Page Library at Randolph-Macon College houses the historic archive for the Virginia Conference. For more information about what is in the collection, see the Library's Virginia Methodism page. Many of the materials, primarily the books, in the Methodist Collection at the College are listed in the Library Catalog.

The historical archive for the Evangelical United Brethren (EUB) in Virginia is held at Shenandoah University.

Archives of Other Conferences:

Conference borders changed over the years, and some church affiliations did as well. See this document for a description of the changes in the Annual Conferences and boundaries over time.

Some churches in the Shenandoah Valley and Northern Virginia may have been part of the Baltimore or Washington Conferences, now the Washington-Baltimore Conference, often as a result of affiliation with the Methodist Episcopal Church rather than the Methodist Episcopal Church, South, after the split of the church in the 1840s. These archives are held at Lovely Lane Museum in Baltimore.

Some churches in the Shenandoah Valley and southwest Virginia may have been part of the  Holston Conference.See their History Archives for more information.

Some churches on the Eastern Shore of Virginia remained with the Methodist Episcopal Church after the split and were part of the Philadelphia Conference of the MEC, and later the Wilmington Conference, The archives for the Philadelphia Conference are held by the Eastern Pennsylvania Conference while the Wilmington Conference archives are held by the Peninsula-Delaware Conference at Barratt's Chapel and Museum.

African-American churches were part of the Central Jurisdiction from 1939-1968 and more information and assistance on researching these churches can be obtained from the African-American Methodist Heritage Center. Some of these churches on the Eastern Shore were part of the Delaware Conference from 1864-1939. See the Eastern Pennsylvania Conference for Delaware Conference materials.

Other Archival Sources:

The Library of Virginia (LVA) holds many important documents pertaining to Virginia Methodism. The LVA is located in downtown Richmond and is open to all researchers. All residents of the the state of Virginia are eligible for a borrower's card.

Consult the LVA catalog, which includes archives, manuscripts, images, and many materials other than books, or explore their digital collections at Virginia Memory. Search by a church name, individual, a location, or other key word (i.e. "methodist") to locate materials.

The Virginia Museum of History & Culture holds the collections of the Virginia Historical Society (VHS) and includes materials relevant to Virginia Methodism and churches. You can search the Library Collections for print materials, photographs, objects and other items. Access to the research library is included in admission to the museum and is free for members, and they also have a fee-based research service for those who wish to hire them to do the research.

Archival Resources of the Virginias (ARVAS; formerly Virginia Heritage) is a large digital resource of finding aids for collections at several academic libraries and cultural heritage organizations in Virginia and West Virginia. Note that this does not include all items held by these libraries or organizations, so the holdings for each should be explored further.

The holdings of local and regional historical societies, museums, public libraries, and college and university libraries should be investigated.

Some of the academic libraries with large Special Collections and Archives on Virginia history include:

Albert and Shirley Small Special Collections Library at the University of Virginia

The Special Collections Research Center at the College of William and Mary

Special Collections at the Carol M. Newman Library at Virginia Tech

See a list of other academic libraries in Virginia for more.




Newspapers and Periodicals


Check Heritage, the publication of the Virginia Conference Historical Society for articles of interest. Complete runs of issues are available at the Conference Archives, Randolph-Macon College, the Library of Virginia, and the Virginia Museum of History & Culture. 

Relevant articles may have been published in the Virginia Magazine of History and Biography, Virginia Cavalcade, or in a newsletter or publication by a local or regional historical society. Check the organization's web site, your local public library, or the Library of Virginia, which has an excellent collection of local historical periodicals and has the two publications listed above. The McGraw-Page Library at Randolph-Macon College has complete runs of the Virginia Magazine of History and Biography (1893-present) and the Virginia Cavalcade (1951-2002). Online indexes for the Virginia Cavalcade are available. The Virginia Magazine of History and Biography can be searched through JSTOR at although only JSTOR subscribing libraries will have access to the articles online. JSTOR does allow some free access to individual researchers as well as individual researcher subscriptions; see the Get JSTOR page for more information.


Try Chronicling America (1789--1943; dates vary for selected papers), based at the Library of Congress. This is a free online newspaper collection of over a million pages from several states including Virginia. It also includes listings for all known newspapers in U.S., so even if the paper you seek is not digitized yet, you can determine which papers were published in your community and when they existed.  Many of these newspapers may have issues available on microfilm at your local public library or at the Library of Virginia, which has an extensive collection of Virginia newspapers on microfilm and online at Virginia Chronicle.

The Richmond Christian Advocate, the newspaper of the Virginia Conference, is available in print and on microfilm at Randolph-Macon College. Indexing for selected years and topics is available. During the 1930s, the Richmond Christian Advocate published a series of special editions that focused on the histories of churches in various circuits. These brief overviews often include photos, and in many cases provide histories and images of churches that no longer exist.

Other newspapers may be available in subscription (paid) databases. Due to the strong interest in genealogy and family history, several companies have digitized local and regional newspapers and sell access to individuals. Check your local public library first to see if they provide access before paying for a service! And also keep in mind that some of these papers may be in Chronicling America or may be on microfilm at a library. The databases below charge either a monthly or annual fee for access, and each may include newspapers not available in one of the other services, so check carefully to see if the newspapers you want are there before subscribing: includes over 5000 newspapers. This may be an add-on to an subscription or may be a separate subscription.

GenealogyBank includes over 7000 newspapers.

NewspaperArchive includes over 8000 newspapers.


Legal Records

The Library of Virginia has a guide to conducting research in the historical county and city records held at the Library of Virginia.

Check the county or city clerk's office, and also the clerk of the circuit court's office for legal records (births, marriages, deaths, divorces, property transfers, deeds, wills, building permits, etc.) of all kinds. Keep in mind that boundaries for counties and cities may have changed over time!

In Virginia, most legal documents such as deeds, property transfers, wills, lawsuits, etc. will be at the clerk of the circuit court's office, while municipal documents such as building and zoning permits, etc. may be at the county or city clerk's office.

Circuit Court System in Virginia: This has a list of courts with contact information, links to their web sites, and a map of the judicial circuits and districts.