For the past few months, I've been adding new entries to our necrology index database from a series of books called Biographical sketches of the Congregational pastors of New England by Emerson Davis.This five-volume set contains brief histories of both the churches and the ministers from the first British settlements in New England through the mid-19th century. They are a unique resource that has proven invaluable to historians and genealogists alike. Now that they are part of our database, finding the information you're looking for is even easier.
These books were never published. In fact, the bound copies that we sent to be digitized are typewritten transcriptions of Davis's handwritten notes. Because they weren't intended for public consumption, some of the biographies contained in these volumes are surprisingly juicy. There are accounts of ministers dismissed from churches over everything from salary disputes to intemperance (i.e. drunkenness) to "violating the 7th Commandment" (adultery). There are also many gruesome tales of clergymen dying after falling from their horses or defending early settlements against Indian attacks.
Of course, Davis also included reports of glowing admiration, especially for esteemed ministers like the Mathers, Whitfield, and Edwards. However, the vast majority of the biographical sketches are just that -- brief sketches of the ministers' religious service and education, and sometimes their families.
The trickiest part of the process emerged from the fact that so many ministers' sons followed in their fathers' footsteps. Like today, children in the 17th and 18th centuries were often named for their parents or other family members. Combine those two factors, and you end up with three different people named Rev. Phillips Payson, or four named Rev. John Whiting, or six named Rev. John Cotton. (The famous one is John Sr., if you're looking for information about him.) In order to keep the various individuals straight, I ended up drawing several family trees and checking off the names as I added them to the database. I also gave them numbers in the suffix field (Sr., Jr., III, IV, etc.) in order to make parental lines clearer.
The listings from these volumes brings our grand total of entries in the database to just over 29,300 and expands its scope back to the early 1600s. If you're looking for information about a Congregational minister or missionary, it's a pretty good place to start.