Montana Church Records
This entry was originally written by Dwight A. Radford for Red Book: American State, County, and Town Sources.
Church records in Montana vary according to denomination. Many churches transferred memberships, thus making it possible to trace the migration of a family. Before 1900 the largest religious groups were the Roman Catholic, Methodist, Episcopal, and Presbyterian churches. Each group arrived during the territorial period to proselytize among the Native Americans and the miners. Minority faiths included various Latter-day Saint movements, Baptist, Brethren, Hutterites, Lutheran, and Disciples of Christ.
Many denominational histories are on file at the University of Montana, Mansfield Library, Missoula. These include Assemblies of God, Baptist, Brethren Church, Catholic, Disciples of Christ, Episcopal, Hutterite, Methodist, Latter-day Saint, and Presbyterian faiths.
Patricia M. McKinney’s Presbyterianism in Montana: Its First Hundred Years, 1872–1972 (Helena: Thurbers, n.d.) provides a list of churches in Montana including Native American congregations both extant and defunct.
There are two Roman Catholic dioceses in Montana and records can be obtained by contacting the diocese. These include the Diocese of Great Falls–Billings, 121 23rd St. South, P.O. Box 1399, Great Falls, MT 59403 and the Diocese of Helena, 515 N. Ewing, P.O. Box 1729, Helena, MT 59624. They will advise as to the location of parish registers.
Latter-day Saints living in Idaho crossed into Montana to obtain employment. They began freighting goods and produce from Idaho and Utah into Montana in the late 1870s. As early as 1880 Montana politicians took advantage of popular prejudice in trying to eliminate the Mormon vote in some precincts. Montana was not an official church missionary field until 1896. All ward, branch, and mission records are on file at the FHL.
Also on microfilm at the FHL are branch records from the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (RLDS Church, now Community of Christ) with original records at the World Church Archives in Independence, Missouri. A now-defunct Utah Mormon sect was the Morrisites, who migrated to Montana. Their history can be found in C. Leroy Anderson’s Joseph Morris and the Saga of the Morrisites (Logan, Utah: Utah State University Press, 1981).
The first Mennonite mission was established on the Northern Cheyenne Reservation at Bushy in 1904. In 1906 the Lame Deer mission was established eighteen miles away. Other Cheyenne communities asked the Mennonite missionaries to preach to them, and over 500 Cheyennes were baptized when the missions first opened. The Montana Mennonite congregations are part of the General Conference Mennonite Church. A history of this movement is found in Lois R. Habegger’s Cheyenne Trails: A History of Mennonites and Cheyennes in Montana (Newton, Kans.: Mennonite Publication Office, 1959).
The Methodist Church reached Montana in 1864 as miners brought their faith to the gold mines. For a history of Methodism in Montana, see Doris Whithorn’s Bicentennial Tapestry of the Yellowstone Conference (Livingston, Mont.: The Livingston Enterprise, 1984). A major records repository for the United Methodist Church is located at the Montana Conference Depository, Paul M. Adams Memorial Library, Rocky Mountain College, Billings, MT 59101.
In the last quarter of the nineteenth century, members of the Church of the Brethren began to settle in Idaho and then moved up the Snake River Valley into Montana. Many congregations were established in Idaho and Western Montana between 1895 and 1910. The history of this settlement entitled The Brethren Along the Snake River: A History of the Brethren in Idaho and Western Montana (Elgin, Ill.: The Brethren Press, 1966), by Roger Sappington, should be referred to when searching and identifying congregations in western Montana.