Episcopal Diocese
Western New York

Why Have Archives

The Importance of Archives

What Records are in the Diocesan Archives?

Parish Archives

An Outline for Parish Archives

Historic Photographs

Taskforce on the Status of Women in the Church

Episcopal Church Women and Charity

Closed Churches

To Contact the Archives


Churches have good precedent for preserving their records and historical materials for future generations:
The Lord said to Moses . . they shall make an ark of acacia wood. . . and you shall put into the ark the testimony which I shall give you.(Exodus 25:1, 10, 16)

...the ark of the covenant . . contained a golden urn holding the manna, and Aaron's rod that budded, and the tables of the covenant (Hebrews 9:4)

We Christians are a history-centered people. We cherish the Bible as an historical record of God's mighty acts over thousands of years. Our faith in Jesus Christ is grounded in the four historical accounts of his earthly life and ministry preserved in the Gospels. We rely on the Book of Acts and the Epistles for much of the history of the early Church. Since that time thousands of Christians have faithfully recorded the manifestations of the Holy Spirit in their own lives.

The Holy Spirit, of course, is still inspiring us today, but we seldom think of our own experiences as part of the long history of the Church. Events in the past are revered for their age and for the traditions they have produced, but what we are doing as a Church today or did yesterday is often considered transient and hardly worth recording.

The fact is that we are all a part of that long Christian heritage. The work that we are doing as Christians in the world today is the beginning of a new chapter in the Church's history, and a record of that work deserves to be preserved.

Of all religious groups in America, none is more historically rooted than the Episcopal Church. As early as 1804, only fifteen years after the organization of the American Church the General Convention approved a canon prescribing the preservation of certain vital records, and in 1820 the House of Deputies passed a resolution to provide for the collection and permanent deposit of the church's historical records. In 1835 the General Convention appointed the first historiographer, and in 1841 the House of Bishops appointed the first registrar, who was to act as the official archivist of the house. In 1853 the House of Bishops created the Standing Committee on Records, and in 1865 the Convention created the Joint Commission on Church Archives. The Church Historical Society, now the custodian of the church's archives, was organized in 1910.

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The Importance of Archives

The preservation and the use of archives and records is an often neglected but nevertheless extremely important task in the local church

The church's past helps it understand itself now. Its stance on various issues, its commitment to the goals of the Kingdom of God, its willingness or lack of willingness to adopt new procedures and programs are all rooted in its history.

The church's heritage may enrich and stimulate its present membership to deeper commitment and, more profound service. This is an essential matter for every generation, but especially so in these years when the sense of meaninglessness has pervaded so many lives.

A knowledge of the church's past may help it to avoid the mistakes of earlier years.

Every Vestry has a responsibility to keep and preserve the parish registers of baptism, marriage, burial, and registers of services.

Archives have a value beyond the church. Interest in local history and family history has never been stronger than today. Church records have a unique value for many people. At a personal level such records may help to provide some people with a sense of identity and belonging. The registers of baptism. marriage and burial have a high value for genealogists and family historians. Registers record important events which have religious significance both for the persons involved, and for the congregation. Also the events to which they point may express a sense of belonging and corporate unity, for they focus the community identity shared by the family and friends of the individual persons concerned. Even brief entries in registers identify high points in family life, the importance of which increases rather than diminishes with the passage of time.

The survival of some of these unique resources is threatened by time, poor storage procedures, and overall neglect. Papers to brittle to handle, crumbling newspapers, books damaged by mold or insects represent threats to access by future generations. The loss of any records, whether national, diocesan, or parochial, undermines our religious heritage.

The Archives of the Episcopal Diocese of Western New York is committed to acting as an information source for Church agencies seeking assistance in preserving their records for posterity.

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What Records are in the Diocesan Archives?

The Sacramental Registers of the closed churches of the Diocese

Journals from the Diocesan and National Conventions back to the early 1800s

Histories of the Diocese and congregations in the Diocese



Bishops' journals and memorabilia

Some records of closed institutions such as the DeVeaux School and the DeLancy Divinity School

Organizational records such as the Women's Auxiliary to the Board of Missions (now the Episcopal Church Women)

Copies of Prayer Books and Hymnals


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Parish Archives

The rector of every parish and mission should appoint a parish archivist for the preservation of the parish's historical treasures, for out of today's records will come tomorrow's diocesan and parish histories. Of course not all written records should be preserved permanently. There is already enough pollution in the world without contributing to it by saving every canceled check, used pledge envelope, and parish supper grocery list. What records, then, should be preserved?

FIRST, a distinction between archival and non-archival records should be made. Parish archives are those materials, made or received by the parish in pursuance of its legal obligations or in connection with the transaction of its proper business and preserved or appropriate for preservation by the parish as evidence of its functions, policies, decisions, or other activities or because of the informational value of the data contained therein. Non-archival records are all other materials preserved to document the parish's history, such as parishioners' scrapbooks, rectors' sermons, and memoirs. The outline below is suggested for guiding the parish archivist in selecting material for permanent preservation.

The parish archivist will not be directly involved with these records until they become noncurrent, that is, until they no longer have any use in the day-by-day business of the parish. At certain times, perhaps annually, the parish archivist should collect these records and place them in the parish archives; the annual parish meeting would be an ideal time to collect many of them, especially papers of parish organizations before they are lost. Of course, many of these records will be current parish records for several years after their creation (e.g., parish registers)

The proper preservation of archives is as important as collecting them. A special storage area either a filing cabinet or, better, a vault or special room with shelving for boxes should be provided. And it should be locked! Probably no one using parish archives would deliberately violate the eighth commandment but carelessness produces the same consequences as theft. It helps if an archivist is a little paranoid! The archives should never be removed from the parish building where they are deposited; if they are removed they will seldom find their way back. Parish archives should not be loaned out as are books from a parish library

Records should not be stored in areas subject to extreme heat, marked fluctuations in temperature, or high humidity. A temperature range of 70 to 75 degrees Fahrenheit and a relative humidity of 50% to 65% is ideal. Papers should be periodically inspected for atmospheric and vermin damage and adequate protective measures taken. Really vital parish records, such as baptismal registers, should be photocopied.

Transparent mending tape should never be used on archival records; tape already found on records should be carefully removed, as should steel paper clips, staples, and rubber bands. All papers should be unfolded. Acid-free filing folders are worth their cost. All folders and boxes should be labeled. All newspaper clippings and photographs should be identified and dated. Nothing should be pasted into scrapbooks. Series of Sunday bulletins and newsletters may be bound for convenience and security. Blueprints and other oversized documents should not be folded but carefully rolled around a tube.

No attempt should be made to arrange parish archives by subject. Archives are not books. Records should be arranged according to their origins in an organic body or activity. This system of arrangement known as the provenance principle, or respect des fonds is one whereby every document is traced to the body or office (rector's, vestry, treasurer, guild. etc.) by which it was created or received and to the files of which it last belonged when these files were still in the process of natural accretion. In other words, the principle demands that documents be arranged, not like books according to their subject matter but with reference to the organic relations of the papers, the files of each body or office being kept by themselves.

Consideration should be given to depositing parish archives in a diocesan archives. This would (theoretically) provide better preservation than a local parish could give and would also make the records more readily available to researchers. But such a transfer would not relieve the parish archivist of his responsibility for collecting and initially preserving the records of the parish.

 The Archivist and the Diocesan Historical Society are available to assist congregations evaluate existing records and find a place for the historic material they no longer wish to keep in their own church. We are actively seeking any primary historic material created by any organizations directly related to the diocese such as listed above in what is in the archives. An official deed of transfer will be issued by the archivist upon receipt of such material.

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A Suggested Outline for the Organization of Parish Archives

 Rector's Office:
1. Parish registers-
a. Baptismal
b. Confirmation
c. Communicants
d. Marriage
e. Burials

These are legal documents and should NOT under any circumstances be thrown out or disposed of in any other way
2. Correspondence
3. Reports to bishop, parish, vestry
4. Communicant lists
5. Parish directories
6. Newsletters
7. Service bulletins
8. List of memorials
9. Letters of Transfer- again legal documents recording who is a communicant of the Episcopal Church
10. Office memos

11. Annual Parochial Report


1. Correspondence
2. Reports
3. Minutes
4. Constitutions & bylaws


1. Reports to vestry & parish
2. Budgets
3. Pledge records
4. General financial records

Parish Organizations (for each organization):

1. Correspondence
2. Reports
3. Minutes
4. Constitution & bylaws
5. Financial records
6. Programs


1. Reports submitted to Annual Parish Meeting
2. Reports submitted to special parish meetings
3. Architectural drawings, blueprints
4. Rector's sermons; addresses
5. Photographs- identify the people and the events
6. Members' memoirs
7. Members' scrapbooks;
8. Newspaper clippings- photocopies are best for preservation purposes
9. Previous parish histories
The Episcopal National Archives is at
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To Contact the Archives

At this time the Diocesan Archives are a closed archive, open by appointment to serious researchers.
Requests for information may be sent to the attention of the archivist at the address below.
Sacramental certificates from the records of the closed churches will be issued as soon as possible.
Genealogical searches will be done only if sufficient information is given at the time of the request.
We cannot do searches of a general nature with only the name provided.
Nominal fees are charged for research and copying.

This information was derived
from the archives of the
The Episcopal Diocese of Western New York
by Nancy Piatkowski, former Diocesan Archivist

To contact the Archives:

1114 Delaware Avenue
Buffalo NY 14209

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All photographs and documents are from the
Archives of the Episcopal Diocese of Western New York

Web page designed by Nancy Piatkowski, former Diocesan Archivist

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