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Questions and Answers


Ask Dr. Phil - a special service of Dr. Philip Schaff

Q Dear Dr. Phil,

My congregation will be 200 years old next year, and I’ve been appointed chairman of the Anniversary Committee. I want to plan a blow-out celebration. How can I get some information about our church’s history?

Jennifer K.


A Dear Jennifer,

Your own church library may have some old anniversary booklets, and your early church records might be in the vault in the office. Possibly your local historical society has some good information and even microfilmed copies of your records. And of course you’re going to want to interview, maybe on videotape, your old-time members. But your best bet to prepare a grand anniversary celebration that your members will never forget is to get in touch with the Evangelical and Reformed Historical Society, located on the second floor of the Philip Schaff Library at Lancaster Theological Seminary, 555. W. James Street, Lancaster, PA 17603. You can direct your inquiries by e-mail to erhs@lancasterseminary.edu. A daily pass to do research at the ERHS Library is only $5.00 a day, and annual membership in the Society is $25.00.

Yours truly, Dr. Phil



Q Dear Dr. Phil,

I was the worst kid in my confirmation class. Now my grandson is about to be confirmed. I’ve been wondering if my old pastor is still alive, and if so, where he lives. I’d love to tell him how I turned out and all about my own family.

Amos B.


A Dear Amos,

I’m sure your former pastor would love to hear from you too. Pastors who have served Reformed, Evangelical and Reformed, and United Church of Christ congregations are likely to have file folders with all kinds of biographical information in them at the Evangelical and Reformed Historical Society. You’ll find things like the bulletin from when he was ordained, newspaper clippings, programs from retirement celebrations, all sorts of fascinating stuff, including perhaps where he (or she) is now living. If you want to learn more about the church where you were baptized and confirmed and where your former pastors are now, get in touch with the Evangelical and Reformed Historical Society, located on the second floor of the Philip Schaff Library at Lancaster Theological Seminary, 555. W. James Street, Lancaster, PA 17603. You can direct your inquiries by e-mail to erhs@lancasterseminary.edu. A daily pass to do research at the ERHS Library is only $5.00 a day, and annual membership in the Society is $25.00.

Yours truly, Dr. Phil



Q Dear Dr. Phil,

The last time we celebrated communion, I noticed that the wine in the chalice had a funny taste. I don’t think it was the wine, so maybe it’s the cup. Do you have any suggestions?

Pastor P.T.


A Dear Pastor P.T.,

You’re right; it might be that the chalice needs to have a bit of repair work. If you can’t get the information you need from your local silverware merchant or antique dealer, why don’t you give a call to the Evangelical and Reformed Historical Society, where they have many fine examples of historic Pennsylvania German chalices, patens, and flagons. Sometimes a congregation will decide that its communion ware is so valuable that it will offer it to the ERHS on permanent loan. Churches that close also find that option attractive. If you want to learn more about your priceless silver and pewter communion vessels and how to care for them, get in touch with the Evangelical and Reformed Historical Society, located on the second floor of the Philip Schaff Library at Lancaster Theological Seminary, 555. W. James Street, Lancaster, PA 17603. You can direct your inquiries by e-mail to erhs@lancasterseminary.edu. A daily pass to do research at the ERHS Library is only $5.00 a day, and annual membership in the Society is $25.00.

Yours truly, Dr. Phil



Q Dear Dr. Phil,

My parents grew up in northern Illinois, but my grandmother said her people were Pennsylvania Dutch. How can I find out about my ancestors?

Sally H.


A Dear Sally,

If your ancestors were from Illinois, there’s a pretty good chance that some of them belonged to one of our predecessor denominations, the Evangelical Synod. Many Evangelicals came from Germany to the mid-west, particularly Illinois, during the mid-nineteenth century. You can write to the Archives of the Evangelical Synod at Eden Theological Seminary, c/o The Rev. Lowell Zuck, 475 East Lockwood Avenue, St. Louis, MO 63119. You can also phone him at 314-252-3140 or e-mail him at lzuck@eden.edu. But let’s not forget what your grandmother said: They were Pennsylvania Dutch. There’s a good chance that they migrated to Illinois from Pennsylvania and had come from German Reformed Churches in the early 1800s. You might even discover that they had come into this country much earlier than that, arriving in New York with the Palatines as early as 1709. If you want to learn more about your Pennsylvania German forebears, get in touch with the Evangelical and Reformed Historical Society, located on the second floor of the Philip Schaff Library at Lancaster Theological Seminary, 555. W. James Street, Lancaster, PA 17603. You can direct your inquiries by e-mail to erhs@lancasterseminary.edu. A daily pass to do research at the ERHS Library is only $5.00 a day, and annual membership in the Society is $25.00.

Yours truly, Dr. Phil



Q Dear Dr. Phil,

We just moved my grandmother into a nursing home. When I was going through the stuff in her attic, I found an old wooden chest with some fancy documents in it. They were on old paper with pretty birds and flowers painted on them and something like Olde English printing in some foreign language - maybe German. What can you tell me about these certificates? Are they valuable?

Justin W.


A Dear Justin,

What you have found in your grandmother’s chest are valuable indeed. They are a form of folk art associated with the “Pennsylvania Dutch.” The language is German, and the peculiar kind of lettering, particularly the large capital letters with the breaks in them, has given them the name “Fraktur.” The Fraktur lettering, illuminated writing, and artistic embellishments decorated birth and baptismal certificates (Taufscheine), marriage certificates, and other writing specimens (Vorschriften) in centuries past. Names of your ancestors might very well be recorded on those certificates. If you want to learn more about Fraktur and about how to discover your Pennsylvania German forebears, get in touch with the Evangelical and Reformed Historical Society, located on the second floor of the Philip Schaff Library at Lancaster Theological Seminary, 555. W. James Street, Lancaster, PA 17603. You can direct your inquiries by e-mail to erhs@lancasterseminary.edu. A daily pass to do research at the ERHS Library is only $5.00 a day, and annual membership in the Society is $25.00.

Yours truly, Dr. Phil



Q Dear Dr. Phil,

A church down the street from ours burned to the ground last week and all their records were destroyed. Our congregation is almost 200 years old, and we’d hate to have something like that happen to our records (we’d hate to have the church burn down too!). What do you suggest?

Bob B., Consistory President


A Dear Bob,

I can understand your concern. Over the centuries many church records have been lost - some because the church burned, some because a worried secretary took them home for safekeeping and her house burned down, some because the congregation ceased to exist or joined another denomination. Keeping your records in a vault in the church office might make you feel a bit more secure. A large number of churches have arranged through their local historical society or the LDS Church to have their records microfilmed. Then they keep a microfilm copy and deposit their original record books with the Evangelical and Reformed Historical Society. One of the nice things about having your records on microfilm is that, when genealogists ask for your help, you can give them a microcopy of their ancestors’ records. You wouldn’t want to put your fragile record book on the photocopy machine, would you.? When a congregation is disbanded, of course the original records should be given to the ERHS for posterity. If you want to learn more about the care and safekeeping of your church’s sacramental records, get in touch with the Evangelical and Reformed Historical Society, located on the second floor of the Philip Schaff Library at Lancaster Theological Seminary, 555. W. James Street, Lancaster, PA 17603. You can direct your inquiries by e-mail to erhs@lancasterseminary.edu. A daily pass to do research at the ERHS Library is only $5.00 a day, and annual membership in the Society is $25.00.

Yours truly, Dr. Phil
Loan Microfilm


Microfilm of church records may be rented directly from the Society. For a list of available records and further information, click here.