German Lutheran Records in Chicago
The German Lutherans in Chicago
The German Lutheran's have been a part of Chicago almost since the beginning. The town of Chicago was incorporated in 1833 with a population of about 350 inhabitants. First Saint Paul Lutheran Church was the first German Lutheran congregation and it was founded in 1846. The Lutheran Church - Missouri Synod, then called the German Evangelical Lutheran Church of Missouri, Ohio and Other States, was founded in Chicago on April 16, 1847. By 1900 Chicago's population was 1,698,575 and there were 38 German Lutheran congregations in the city. The largest had memberships of more than 5,000 souls each.
Looking for Chicago German Lutheran Church records?
To find the records of your German Lutheran ancestor you first need to determine the congregation to which they belonged. Church records are the property of the individual congregation and are retained within the congregation unless they choose to place older records in a central archive to protect and preserve them. Locating your ancestor's church is not very hard if they lived in a smaller town which typically had only one or two congregations to choose from. But in a large city like Chicago it can be a daunting task. Included here are two maps of Chicago to aid you in this search. These maps indicate the locations of the German Lutheran (Missouri Synod) congregations. First, determine where your ancestor lived (from Chicago city directories, census records, birth or death certificates, etc.) If the address is from a source published before 1909, you will have to convert it to the present day street numbering system. Information about the address change and a conversion resource can be found on the Chicago Historical Society webpage. (Click on "Research & Collections", then "Electronic Research Tools" and scroll down to the "House and Architecture History Sources & Tools.") Keep in mind that sometimes street names changed as well. Then locate the address on one of these maps and find the nearest congregation. They may have attended a different one but in the days before the automobile people usually didn't travel far from home. Be sure and check the index for the year the congregation was founded to make sure it was in existance at the time in question. Otherwise, go to the next nearest one until you find the congregation that was. The index also includes names of some early pastors which you will usually find on the marriage license or marriage and baptismal certificates. Some of the early pastors served for 30 years or more and their churches came to be known by the names of these pastors, such as "Reinke's Church" (First Bethlehem) , or "Wunder's Church" (First St. Paul.)
Chicago North (North of 39th Street)
Chicago South (South of 39th Street)
Microfilm copies of some Lutheran church record books are at the Concorida Historical Institute:
When a church disbands (closes), the records are also archived. Church records of several Chicago area Lutheran Churches are now archived at:
Concordia Historical Institute
Dept. of Archives and History for The Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod
801 DeMun Avenue
St. Louis, MO 63105
Phone: (314) 505-7900
Fax: (314) 505-7901
Chicago church records at the Concordia Historical Institute include:
Christ Lutheran Church (Logan Square), 1885-1989
First Bethlehem Lutheran Church (Microfilm), 1871-1935
First Immanuel Lutheran Church (Microfilm), 1854-1964
First St. John Lutheran Church (Microfilm), 1867-1975
First St. Paul Lutheran Church (Microfilm), 1833-1971
First ZIon Lutheran Church (Microfilm), 1868-1956
Gethsemene Lutheran Church , 1889-1997
Golgotha Evangelical Lutheran Church, 1910-1973
Mount Calvary Lutheran Church, 1926-1994
Our Redeemer Evangelical Lutheran Church, 1901-1972
St. Luke Lutheran Church (Microfilm), 1884-1975
St. Mark Lutheran Church, 1887-1975
St. Matthew Lutheran Church (Microfilm), 1872-1978
Some of these congregations are still active. You can rent the microfilms through inter-library loan for $20.00. For CHI to research your family history from the records requires the payment of a minimum $10.00 fee. Fees are $10.00 for the first hour and $30.00 per hour thereafter. Payment should be remitted to CHI by check enclosed with a letter. They cannot do such research by e-mail. Make checks payable to Concordia Historical Institute.
If you plan to be in the St. Louis area, you can pay an access fee ($10) and search the records yourself for the day. If you live reasonably close to St. Louis, you may wish to purchase an annual membership.
The institute is open for research Monday through Friday 8:30 a.m. - 12:00 noon and 1:00 - 4:30 p.m.
For more information on Concordia Historical Institute and to search their on-line catalog of holdings visit their website at http://chi.lcms.org
Microfilm copies of some Lutheran church record books are also at the Newberry Library:
Local & Family History Section
60 West Walton Street
Chicago, IL 60610-3380
Chicago Lutheran church records (microfilm) at the Newberry Library include:
First Bethlehem Lutheran Church (Film 1173), 1871-1935
First Immanuel Lutheran Church (Film 867), 1854-1964
First St. John Lutheran Church (Film 1262) 1867-1975
First St. Paul Lutheran Church (Film 1077), 1863-1985
First Zion Lutheran Church (Film 1260), 1868-1956
St. James Lutheran Church (Film 373), 1870-1951
St. Luke Lutheran Church (Film 544), 1884-1975
St. Matthew Lutheran Church (Film 1204), 1872-1978
For more information on the Newberry Library and to search their on-line catalog of holdings visit their website at http://www.newberry.org
Looking for Chicago German Lutheran Cemetery records?
Many of the older German Lutheran Churches in the towns around Chicago had a small cemetery right next to the church or maybe a short distance away. In these cases the congregation that owns the cemetery usually maintains the cemetery records. But in the city of Chicago, ordinances prohibited burial grounds within city limits for health reasons. Thus, congregations banded together and opened larger cemeteries outside of what at the time were the city limits. There are 5 German Lutheran cemeteries that were founded in this way and patronized by residents from the city of Chicago and nearby suburbs. It is important to note that, although there is a certain probability that a member of a founding congregation was buried in that congregation's cemetery, many people were buried in other cemeteries as well. Since the cemetery is almost always listed on the death certificate, that is not usually the question. But knowing the cemetery of burial can often be a clue to the congregation they were members of. And congregational burial records may provide important information such as the town of German birth. This information is usually not in the cemetery records. The cemetery records usually don't contain any more than death date, burial date, place of last residence and grave location in the cemetery. Other people buried in the same lot or plot are often members of the same family. Most cemeteries will only respond to written requests for information and many charge a fee to search their records for genealogical information. It is best to write or call ahead to inquire about the fee policy before requesting information.
The German Evangelical Lutheran Cemetery, commonly called Wunder's Cemetery, had it's first burial in 1860. The remains of many Lutherans were re-buried there when the old City Cemetery (now Lincoln Park) was closed. This 14.5 acre cemetery was founded by First Saint Paul and First Immanuel Lutheran Churches, at the time the only two Missouri Synod Lutheran Churches within the city limits of Chicago. The Chicago Genealogical Society published a headstone transcription of this cemetery in 1985 (F548.61 W85.) The book is available at many libraries and the transcription itself can be searched at Ancestry.com (membership required.) However, many graves were never marked or the markers were lost over time and sometimes more than one body was buried in each grave. Also, at the time the cemetery was first opened, burials were in pine boxes that decayed away along with their contents in several years. These graves were then used again once the original contents had "turned to dust." The cemetery's own records indicate over 28,000 burials yet there is only space for 15,000 graves! The records for 1867 to 1944 are available on microfilm at the Newberry Library in Chicago (Film No. 1261.)
3963 N. Clark Street
Chicago, IL 60613-4038
ph. (773) 525-4038
Concordia Cemetery had its first burial on July 7, 1872. It was founded by the congregations at First Saint John's, First Saint James, First Bethlehem, First Trinity and First Saint Paul's. First Immanuel and Saint Matthew's joined two years later. Over 1,500 graves in Concordia Cemetery had to be relocated in the 1950's when the Eisenhower Expressway was built through the south edge of the property. The cemetery currently covers 100 acres and has over 80,000 burials.
7900 Madison Street
Forest Park, IL 60130-1406
ph. (708) 366-0017
Bethania Cemetery was founded by seven southside congregations: Holy Cross, Saint Andrew's, Saint Martini, Saint Stephen's, Bethlehem (Colehour-South Chicago), Saint Mark's and Saint Paul's (Grand Crossing.) Bethania covers 114 acres and had it's first burial on July 22, 1894.
Bethania Cemetery Assn.
7701 Archer Road
Justice, IL 60458-1145
ph. (708) 458-2270
Saint Luke Cemetery (or St. Lucas in German,) had it first burial on October 29, 1900. Founding congregations were Saint Luke and Christ (Logan Square.) They were later joined by Saint Phillip's, Concordia and Saint John's (Mayfair), all from Chicago's north side. The cemetery at one time owned over 70 acres but currently covers 40 acres for it's 25,500 burials.
Saint Luke Cemetery
5300 N. Pulaski
Chicago, IL 60630-1704
ph. (773) 588-0049
Concordia Cemetery in Hammond, IN was co-founded by two far southside Chicago congregations: Immanuel (South Chicago) and Trinity (Hegewisch.) Also included were St. John (Calumet City, IL), St. John (Hammond, IN), St. Paul (Hammond, IN), Trinity (Hammond, IN), and St. John (Whiting, IN.) Congregations that joined later were Bethlehem (Chicago, IL) St. John/Grace (South Holland, IL), Redeemer (Highland, IN), St. Paul (Munster, IN) and St. Paul (Whiting.) Concordia Cemetery covers 28 acres and had it's first burial on May 8, 1903. There are over 9,000 burials in Concordia Cemetery.
6551 Calumet Ave.
Hammond, IN 46324-1345
ph. (219) 932-7437
Ebenezer Lutheran Cemetery is a little known cemetery just south of Chicago in the town of Oak Forest. The cemetery property was purchased by the Lutheran Welfare Society for the purpose by burying members of Ebenezer Congregation which was comprised of the Lutheran inmates at the Oak Forest Infirmary. At the time, the infirmary was the county poor farm where people could go for food and shelter when they had no other place to go. It later included a tuberculosis sanitarium. The first burial in Ebenezer Cemetery was on June 23, 1921. Unlike the previously listed cemeteries, Ebenezer is no longer in use with the last burial being on August 12, 1958. Ebenezer covers 5 acres and has approximately 2,300 burials. The exact number is difficult to determine as many graves were used for more than one burial and some remains were later moved to other cemeteries. The records of Ebenezer Cemetery are available on microfilm through the South Surburban Genealogical and Historical Society. They will provide a free look-up in their master index. Information is available at: http://www.rootsweb.com/~ssghs/cemeteryfilm.htm
If you are trying to locate information on a current Lutheran church, first try using the
following church locators. Keep in mind that some churches have closed and some have changed location over the years.
Evangelical Lutheran Church of America (ELCA) Congregation Lookup
Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod (WELS) Congregation Locator
Evangelical Lutheran Synod (ELS) Congregation Locator
The Congregations of Lutheran Church - Canada
If you are having trouble locating the Lutheran church of your ancestor, it may be that they were not Lutheran at all. When looking for the old records, the Lutheran Church is sometimes confused with the Evangelical (or Reformed) Church. While not wanting to get into the individual beliefs of various denominations, it is important to know exactly which group your ancestor belonged to since that is the key to locating the congregation and their records. Before 1817, the Kaiser (King) of Prussia, who belonged to the Reformed Church, was ruler over a people that were predominantly Lutheran. In that year, a law was passed in Germany that merged the Reformed Church and Lutheran Church into the United Evangelical Church of Prussia. This was not received well by those that were originally Lutheran and many were harrassed for clinging to their faith. By 1837 they began to immigrate to America and formed a core group of what was to eventually become the Lutheran Church - Missouri Synod (as well as the Wisconsin Ev. Lutheran Synod and others.) Many of those who went along with the merger eventually immigrated as well and they formed the Evangelical Church in America. The Evangelical Church in America merged with the Reformed Church in America and eventially the Congregational Church, too, to form the United Church of Christ. A "Genealogy of Churches" chart that may help you understand these relationships can be viewed by clicking here. (My thanks go out to Dr. David H. Koss, Religion Professor Emeritus of Illinois College in Jacksonville, Illinois for allowing me to use his chart.) So if you think your ancestor may have been associated with the German Evangelical Church you need to perform your research in the United Church of Christ (http://www.ucc.org) records and archives.
If your Lutheran ancestor was from Scandinavia (Sweden, Norway, Denmark, etc.), try the Evangelical Lutheran Church of American (ELCA) archives at
http://www.elca.org/os/archives.They have a very good list of Lutheran Churches in Chicago (ELCA, LC-MS and more) available at:
Some Lutheran Church - Missouri Synod (LC-MS) History Resources:
Much of the information for this site came the book "The Lutheran Trail" by Louis J. Schwartzkopf published by Concordia Publishing House in 1950.
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