Church Records: A Gift from Above, Part I
When Private Homer Rayson of Co. G, 308th Infantry, 77th Division, was killed on October 19, 1918 during the Meuse-Argonne offensive, he was mourned by two families – his birth family and his church family. Homer was a member of the First Presbyterian Church of Pittsford, New York. A newspaper article stated that Homer’s church had erected a plaque in his honor. Intrigued, I contacted current Associate Pastor Carrie Mitchell for more information. Ms. Mitchell directed me to First Presbyterian’s Historian, Dick Crawford. Mr. Crawford graciously offered to meet me at the church to show me the plaque which still hangs in a place of honor.
A week later, we met and discussed the reason for my visit. After photographing commemorative plaques bearing the names of the men and women who had participated in both World Wars and being given a tour of the church by Mr. Crawford, we ended up in the administrative offices. It was there I saw the records.
First Presbyterian Church of Pittsford, New York, has been in existence since the mid-1820s. During that time, the church endured two fires; first in 1861 and then again in 2004 when it was struck by lightning. The resilient churchgoers, with the assistance of the community, rebuilt both times. Despite these trials the church records, dating back to 1825, miraculously remained intact and untouched by the flames. It was these record books that Mr. Crawford showed me.
My excitement grew as I perused the records. The names of many of my Civil War boys were recorded in the older books. Wiltsie. Light. Shepard. COOK. Finally! The Cook family that no one seemed to remember was listed in the records of the First Presbyterian Church. It served to validate the fact that they were real, and not just a figment of my active imagination.
The records of the First Presbyterian Church have given me a fresh insight into these families. In them, I have discovered the middle name of the missing Cook boy, Edward. Information about W. Miller Shepard’s death and surviving family members were listed. Who knows what other nuggets of information will be gleaned from them as I read from page after page? Time will tell.
Special thanks go to First Presbyterian Church of Pittsford Historian Dick Crawford and Associate Pastor Carrie Mitchell for allowing me access to these local treasures.
Coming soon: Church Records: A Gift from Above, Part II, a visit to St. Paul’s Lutheran Church.