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Sunday, July 17, 2016

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Researching Your Baptist Ancestor in South Carolina


Following his vision of religious freedom in 1696, "William Screven of Kittery, Maine uprooted a small congregation and moved them to South Carolina's Low Country. From that move came the First Baptist Church of Charleston, the mother of Baptist churches in the South." Later, Richard Furman and Oliver Hart broke away from the Anglican Church, and Furman's vision led Baptist churches statewide to work together to establish missions and to educate. See South Carolina Baptist History. A wealth of resources await the researchers with Baptist ancestors. Learn about the types of resources that exist and how to access them.

African American Baptist Resources
If your ancestor was of African descent, begin researching the most recent records for African American Baptist churches. The guide "African American Baptist Reference Materials" is a great starting point for researching your Baptist South Carolina ancestor.
After you reach 1865 and your ancestor was formerly enslaved, research the church records that coincide with the denomination of the family who enslaved your ancestor. If the family was Baptist, use the resources below.

Church records
One of the ways you might find information on your ancestor is by looking through church records. Furman University has church records on microfilm that you can search by church name, county, or date organized. The Ashley River congregation was organized in 1736 in Charleston. According to the catalog, records go up to 1769. Two important things to remember would be:
  1. Be sure you know the correct boundary where your ancestor lived so that you do not choose to research churches in the wrong area. Use available map collections among the Baptist resources at Furman to locate the church or other sites.
  2. If you do not know the name of the church your ancestor attended, research the churches in the area.
Other record types
After researching church records, you may want to turn to records that mention Baptist ancestors. These resources may be found in their original form or preserved on microfilm. Some of what you need may be digitized and available in online collections. Furman University has these resources in each of the mentioned formats. See SC Baptist Resources. Other resources besides church records that may mention your ancestor are:
  • newspapers and periodicals
  • books from the time period
  • manuscripts
  • biographies
Microfilm at Furman University
You can borrow microfilmed newspapers through your local university or public library. Learn about the Furman's Baptist newspaper collection. Copies of books from the 18th and 19th centuries on microfilm in Special Collections and Archives are also available for you to borrow. Among the early manuscripts which you can review on site is "Furman, Richard, Correspondence, 1777-1825." You can see a complete list of manuscripts here.

Online resources
The Richard Furman and James C. Furman Collection was given to Furman's Special Collections by Alester G. Furman, Jr. (1895-1980), great-great grandson of Richard Furman, “on indefinite loan” on April 1, 1960. You can browse the collection by following the link above. This is the index for the Richard Furman Collection.
Once you find a digital collection, be sure to widen your search past the scope of Baptist records. For example, a search for an early Baptist pioneer in South Carolina, Oliver Hart, brought up these manuscripts:
  1. Oliver Hart Collection - Pastor of the First Baptist Church in Charleston 1750-1780; founded Charleston Baptist Assoc in 1751.
  2. James C. Furman Collection - This collection includes professional correspondence during the time Furman lived in Charleston.
  3. William G. Whilden Collection
  4. James and Nellie Hoyt Family Scrapbook
Be sure to check university and public libraries in the area where your ancestor lived. Do not assume one collection has complete resources. Being a good sleuth means you leave no stone unturned.


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