Church records rank among the very best genealogical records available worldwide, but they are one of the most under-used sources in American genealogy. Until the advent of vital statistics in the United Statesa very late development in most stateschurch records were the primary source of birth, marriage, and death information. The sheer number of denominations and affiliate churches has made identifying and locating each one's records a time-consuming ordeal for most genealogists. Church records vary a great deal in content and emphasis according to the basic theology of the religious group that created them.
Early immigrants from England, Scotland, and other European countries brought their religious beliefs, institutions, and customs with them, including the keeping of church books in which to record births, baptisms, confirmations, marriages, communion lists, deaths, and burials. Lutheran and Reformed Church records in Pennsylvania rank among the very best.