An “Easter Egg” in Some Pittsburgh Church Records

Sometimes in computer software we find an Easter egg–“an intentional inside joke, a hidden message, or a secret feature of an interactive work (often, a computer program, video game or DVD menu screen).1 Apparently they occur in online genealogical databases too.

I have been researching my husband’s Clark family, whose trail until recently originated in Ohio in the 1840s, with hints pointing to unspecified birthplaces in western Pennsylvania. This summer I found records tying the family to a specific location in Allegheny County, near Pittsburgh–five of the children were baptized there in 1842. But that’s not all–the baptismal records directly confirm the identity of the children’s father. I found the records through Ancestry‘s hinting function in the “Pennsylvania, Church and Town Records, 1708-1985” collection, a very large set of indexed entries and images sourced from collections at the Historical Society of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia and the Methodist Church Commission on Archives and History in Valley Forge.

The baptism entry I found underlines several important lessons–look beyond an indexed entry, always verify source information, and always examine the source thoroughly. The manuscript page where the baptisms appear is image 138 of 321 of the records for the First Presbyterian Church of Duquesne, Allegheny County, Pennsylvania. (Or is it?) Actually, thorough examination of the source reveals that, no, the Clark family records are not from the First Presbyterian Church of Duquesne! They are from the Bethel Church located in present-day Bethel Park, one of the early Presbyterian churches in the Pittsburgh area.

Image 1 of the record set is a microfilm target for First Presbyterian Church, Duquesne, Allegheny County, PA, 1889 to 1902. This was my first hint that something was not quite right–the baptisms I had found within that set of images do not fall within the time period indicated on the target. Image 2 of the set indeed shows the title page of a printed Presbyterian Church register for the Presbyterian Church of Duquesne, PA. The images continue, showing the printed pages of the register with handwritten entries for Pastors (image 4), Elders (image 5), Communicants (images 6 through 39), Baptisms (images 40 through 46), Marriages (image 47), and Deaths (images 48 through 50). Image 51 is another target for the same church, but the dates change to 1909 to 1914. Image 52 is a note from the church elders about the completion of the second book. Image 53 shows the printed title page of the second register. Entries for Pastors (image 55), Elders (image 56), Communicants (images 57 through 88), Baptisms (images 89 through 91), Marriages (image 92), and Deaths (images 93 and 94) follow.

At image 95, however, the images change completely to a different church book, from a different church, covering a completely different and much earlier time period! This church book is a manuscript register with a title page headed “Church Register 1837, containing an early history of Bethel Church, its organization Elders Minister persons admitted since the settlement of the present pastor…” In this register we have

  • Early history of the church from the 1770s, including biographical information about such early pastors as Dr. John McMillan, the “apostle of the West,” and John Clark (!) and the early elders of the church (images 96 through 102)
  • Several lists of families in the church (some undated, some dated 1839, 1848, 1851, 1852, 1853, , and 1854) (images 103 through 115)
  • Family visitations conducted by the pastor in 1857, 1858, 1862, and 1863 (images 115 through 118)
  • Elders ordained in 1875 (image 118)
  • Congregational statistics, including number of members, salary paid to the pastor, and missionary contributions for 1857, 1855, and 1832-1845 (images 119 to 121)
  • Deaths (continued chronologically from a later portion of the book, starting with 1869 and continuing to the 18870s, with several entries from 1911 and 1912 (images 122 through 126)
  • Marriages from April 1 1833 to 1872 (images 127 through 134)
  • Baptisms of adults and children from 1837 to 1873. Birth dates are included for some children, and entries are not necessarily in order (images 135 through 149).
  • Dismissions, starting with 1869-1872, then circling back to 1833-1868 (images 149 through 160)
  • Deaths from 1833 to 1868 (images 160 through 182).

At image 182, the images shift to a printed churchbook for Bethel Pres. of Pittsburgh covering the 1870s through the early 1900s, starting with Elders (images 185 through 187), Deacons (images 187 through 190), Communicants (images 191 through 218), Baptisms (images 219 through 226), Marriages (images 227 through 231), Deaths (images 232 through 235). On the pages of the register of deacons, is written a different and more extensive version of the early history of Bethel Church compiled by Rev. George Marshall in 1839, extending to the 1870s (images 188 through 190).

At image 237, the images shift to another churchbook, not labeled with the name of the church, but apparently (based on the list of pastors and elders) still from the Bethel Church. The images continue with Pastors (image 239), Elders (images 240 and 241), Deacons (image 241), Communicants (images 242 through 295), Baptisms (images 296 through 311), Marriages (images 312 through 317), and Deaths (images 318 through 321). Dates covered overlap the churchbook imaged from 182 through 190.

Those interested in the Bethel Church records between 1870 and 1906, as well as the early history of the church, should read the images of the two overlapping printed churchbooks, along with the manuscript!

For the purposes of researching the Clark family, I was glad that I paged through all 321 images! Had I simply grabbed the 1842 baptisms at image 138, I would have missed the 1841 baptism of an older daughter (Mary (Clark) Reed) also at image 138, the 1839 membership entry for Nancy (Emery) Clark (but not her husband Thomas) at image 107, and the 1843 dismission of Nancy Clark and her daughters Mary and Elisa to the presbytery of Wooster in Ohio at image 155. I would also have missed the several versions of the church history detailing the pastorate of John Clark (whose indirect connection to the Clark family I am researching is very interesting). The Bethel churchbooks, with their tie to geography and community, may be the gateway to uncovering the earlier history of this common-name family.

  1. “Easter egg (media),” Wikipedia (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Easter_egg_(media) : accessed 9 October 2017).
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