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Microfilming Your Church's Records

Bill Sumners

"I never believed it could happen to us," said a pastor of one of the oldest Baptist churches in the West as he related the events of a tragic, accidental fire that had struck the church's building. "We kept the church records in a fireproof cabinet, but the cabinet was in the hottest part of the fire. Almost all of our church minutes were destroyed. I wish we had copies now or had microfilmed those that we lost."

Church records should be carefully preserved and protected against the ravages of time and disaster. One of the most effective ways to protect these records is to microfilm them. Besides preserving valuable church minutes and other records, a microfilm print also allows others to read the materials without fear of loss or damage to original record books.

Membership records, financial records, special documents (charter, constitution, deeds, covenant, confession of faith), bulletins, church publications, church minutes, minutes of deacons' meetings, minutes of church committees and organizations, and other records are valuable resources of your church which should be preserved by microfilm. Include a church history, even if it is rather short, with the records of your church when they are microfilmed. Microfilming is an inexpensive and simple procedure to protect these important materials. Other methods of preservation are uncertain. Usually, a fireproof vault will protect treasured documents against fire or storm but not against the loss created by human carelessness in removing them from the vault and failing to return them as planned.

Values of Microfilming Records

Microfilm, which is produced by a photographic duplicating process, is valuable for a church as a convenient and inexpensive method of preserving church records. A church may choose to place its minutes, records, and other historical documents on 35mm microfilm, which can be read on a microfilm reader. Most schools, colleges, and public libraries are equipped with these machines and make them available for public use. The microfilm unit of the Southern Baptist Historical Library and Archives, 901 Commerce Street, Nashville, Tennessee 37203, is equipped to handle the microfilming of your church's records. Some state Baptist history agencies also offer microfilming services. See the article in the Archive Helps list “Preserving Church Records: Comparison of Microfilm and Digitization Options” concerning the advantage of preservation microfilming over digitization.

This method offers reasonable and practical means of duplicating and protecting your church records. With a microfilm print for church use, a print on file with your state Baptist historical collection, and another print on file with the Southern Baptist Historical Library and Archives, the records are assured of adequate protection from loss by fire, deterioration, damage, and carelessness. Plan to film your church's records at least every five to ten years. This procedure will keep the cost to a minimum and assure preservation.

An especially useful value of duplicating the records of your church is that it makes them easily available to individuals engaged in historical research. Many records of some churches are in such a condition that further handling will destroy them. In other instances, some records are incomplete and time may lead to further destruction or misplacing of them so that they may never be of use to researchers. If, however, all available minutes and records of the church are microfilmed, they are protected against further loss or damage.

Microfilming both protects and preserves church minutes and provides a way to share them with others. Seminaries, colleges, and universities which offer degrees in history, as well as state and local historical societies, need valuable primary sources such as the minutes of churches.

The Cost of Microfilming

The cost of microfilming church records, minutes, deeds, charters, newsletters, and other vital items is usually about fifteen cents per page or thirty cents per exposure. This requires only a few dollars per year for church records that insures the preservation of historical information. When microfilming is completed, a positive print or digital copy will be sent to your church. The negative of your microfilm will be preserved with professional care in an environmentally controlled storage area. If your church should lose its copy or if you should desire an additional copy, the microfilm unit of the Southern Baptist Historical Library and Archives will supply an extra copy from the negative at $60 per roll of microfilm.

The microfilm unit will also film associational annuals and records and other books, pamphlets, and manuscripts. Do not hesitate to write or phone if you have specific questions you need answered. The microfilm unit is prepared and willing to work with you to preserve Baptist and other religious records and materials.

The cost of microfilming is fifteen cents (.15) per page when two pages of materials can be microfilmed in one camera exposure. This is most often the case. Sometimes large pages may have to be filmed one page per exposure; this is also necessary when there are loose-leaf pages. When materials are filmed one page per camera exposure, the charge will be thirty cents (.30) per page. The minimum charge for microfilming any project is $50.00.

Digital copies can be provided when requested. Contact the SBHLA staff for a cost estimate.

Steps in Microfilming Church Records

Follow these steps as you prepare to send your church records and other valuable items to be microfilmed:

  1. Recommend to the church that the records be microfilmed and that the church finance the project. The church history committee and/or the church clerk can prepare and present this recommendation.
  2. Organize the records and prepare a general inventory list of all items to be sent. Arrange the materials so that similar types of items are together. Place all minutes (bound volumes or loose pages) together in one group, all bulletins in a separate group, and documents such as charter, constitution, and deeds in another group. Also arrange each group chronologically or in a logical sequence. Identify each volume or section of materials clearly by name and location of church, dates, volume number, and number of pages, e.g., Minutes, Spring Hill Baptist Church, Hazlehurst, MS, May 4, 1896-April 30, 1920, Book II, 176 pages; Sunday Bulletins, Spring Hill Baptist Church, Hazlehurst, MS, October 4, 1956-September 26, 1965, Section 2 (unbound), 2,160 pages; Deacons' Minutes, Spring Hill Baptist Church, Hazlehurst, MS, January 6, 1942-July 3, 1964, Book III, 480 pages.

    Type or print a description of each item and place inside the cover of the specific item. Make a note of any pages or dates which are missing from the records. Put loose pages in chronological order in a file folder or large envelope. Prepare a typewritten or printed inventory list of all items and place this list inside the container in which the materials are shipped.

    Please remove paper clips, staples, and other fasteners from pages of records. This, and following other directions given in this paper for preparing records, will help to avoid make-ready charges of $10.00 per hour (in addition to regular microfilming cost). Extra make-ready charges are added when more than one hour is required to prepare materials for microfilming. These charges will be unlikely when preparation has been done prior to our receiving the materials.
  3. Pack the materials carefully. Wrap each individual book or group of items in heavy-duty paper. Number the packages in the chronological order in which they are to be microfilmed, and include a typed list describing the desired order. Place the packages in a strong cardboard box and surround them with ample padding. Pack the items firmly so that they will not slide in the box. Be sure to put the mailing address on the box itself before you mail it. Tie the box securely with strong nylon twine or use reinforced tape.
  4. Ship the records to be microfilmed via insured parcel post or United Parcel Service to the microfilm unit at the address of the Southern Baptist Historical Library and Archives, given in this paper. Send a letter under separate cover to the microfilm unit to indicate the exact date when you shipped your church records and the exact number of boxes sent and to authorize the microfilming of your records. The microfilm unit will return your records and your positive microfilm print as soon as possible after the filming is completed.

    Original materials will be returned to the address given in your letter authorizing the microfilming via United Parcel Service unless other instructions are given (and if a location address is provided for shipping by this service).

    Please be sure to include your street address as well as your mailing address (if different from street address). If the address to which the materials will be returned is Rural Route, please give adequate information about the location of the church or office to assist UPS delivery personnel.
  5. Allow adequate time for processing. The minutes and records will be kept in a safe area until the microfilming process is completed. It usually takes about six weeks to complete the microfilming, to develop the negative, to check it to make certain that all the materials were photographed completely and accurately, and to prepare a positive print for you.
  6. Follow a schedule for having your records microfilmed on a regular basis. It is recommended that your minutes and records be filmed every five to ten years.

"Yes," said a happy pastor, "we do have a copy of the church records that were destroyed in the tornado that hit our church building. We had all of them filmed last year by the microfilm unit of the Southern Baptist Historical Library and Archives."

Order Your Microfilm today!
Southern Baptist Historical Library and Archives
901 Commerce Street, Suite 400
Nashville, Tennessee 37203-3630
Phone: (615) 244-0344 FAX: (615) 782-4821




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