Montana Church records undoubtedly are a exceptional resource for the genealogical and historical researcher. In many parts of Montana, church records predate civil records. They therefore document vital occurrences, giving birth, marriage, and death information which could often be lost. Furthermore offering names and dates, church records may show you associations between people and show a family’s position in the community. In addition, records of a personal nature are not unheard of, and these could offer a view into an ancestor’s persona or habits.
Before Montana County and city governments compiled vital records, many people recorded significant dates, events, and names in their family Bible. Family Bibles are invaluable research tools. Even though the dates are not guaranteed, Family Bibles are a tangible link with past generations.
Each church denomination kept different records in Montana. In some cases, a family’s migration can be traced through church memberships that were transferred as a family moved around. The Presbyterians. Roman Catholics, Episcopalians, and Methodists were the largest religious denominations in Montana until about 1900. Those groups all came to Montana when it was still a territory in order to minister to miners and try to convert Native Americans in the area. The following groups were also in the area around that time, but were minority groups: Latter-day Saints, Baptists, Brethren, Hutterites, Lutherans, Disciples of Christ.
The Mansfield Library at the University of Montana in Missoula holds historical files relating to several religious denominations in the state. Some of those denominations include: Assemblies of God, Baptists, Brethren, Catholics, Disciples of Christ, Episcopalians, Hutterites, Methodists, Latter-day Saints, Presbyterians
Roman Catholic records for Montana can be obtained by contacting either of its two dioceses. Those are the Diocese of Helena and the Diocese of Great Falls-Billings. They can tell researchers where certain registers from various parishes across the state are located.
The Latter-day Saints who originally came to the state of Montana were in search of work. In the later part of the 1870s, the Latter-day Saints began to bring produce and other goods into Montana from Utah and Idaho. Then, beginning in 1880, certain movements began, many of them headed by politicians, in order to try to remove the right of the Mormons to vote in certain Montana precincts. In 1896, Montana became an official missionary field of the church. The FHL holds all of the records from the missions, branches, and wards.
The FHL also houses the records from the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (RLDS Church), which is now Community of Christ. The World Church Archives, which is located in Independence, Missouri, holds the original records. It’s important to note that one Mormon sect, the Morrisites, did exist in Montana at one time, but the sect no longer exists today.
In 1904, the Mennonites first settled in Montana. Their original settlement was at Bushy, which was part of the Northern Cheyenne Reservation. Two years later and about 18 miles away, they created the Lame Deer mission. Soon, other groups of Cheyenne took an interest in listening to the teachings of the Mennonites. When the missions first began, in fact, more than 500 members of the Cheyenne Nation underwent baptism by the Mennonites. Congregations of Mennonites in Montana belong to the General Conference Mennonite Church.
In 1864, the Methodist Church came to the Montana area. They began ministering to the miners who were there mining for gold. The Montana Conference Depository, Paul M. Adams Memorial Library, Rocky Mountain College has a large collection of records relating to the United Methodist Church.
In the late 1800s, the Church of the Bretheren started to establish a foothold in Idaho. Then, they started to move north into Montana via the Snake River Valley. From 1895 to 1910, they established several different congregations in Montana.
Patricia M. McKinney’s Presbyterianism in Montana: Its First Hundred Years, 1872–1972 (Helena: Thurbers, n.d.) provides a list of churches in Montana including Native American congregations both extant and defunct.
C. Leroy Anderson’s Joseph Morris and the Saga of the Morrisites (Logan, Utah: Utah State University Press, 1981).
Lois R. Habegger’s Cheyenne Trails: A History of Mennonites and Cheyennes in Montana (Newton, Kans.: Mennonite Publication Office, 1959).
Doris Whithorn’s Bicentennial Tapestry of the Yellowstone Conference (Livingston, Mont.: The Livingston Enterprise, 1984)