Friday, April 16, 2010

Cradle Rolls

Was your ancestor's name on the Cradle Roll?
Dr. Bill of Dr Bill Tells Ancestor Stories had a Cradle Roll Certificate when he was just two months old. Whereas Cyndi, of Mountain Genealogists, displayed her aunt’s Cradle Roll from 1924 when baby Dorothy was only a few months old. Based on the comments, lots of people were enrolled as members of a Cradle Roll. As I was not enrolled in a Cradle Roll, I went to search for more historical information on these beautiful ornate certificates that my peers cherished.

Purpose of the Cradle Roll
According to a Elizabeth Williams Sudlow’s series of Religious Education written in The Miami News October 24, 1935, the first recognized Cradle Roll was established by the [Central] Baptist Church in Elizabeth, NJ in 1877. 

Sudlow goes on to explain the purpose of the cradle roll: “that group which takes care of the tiny child from birth till up to four years.” According to The Cradle Roll of the Church School, written in 1920 by Lucy Stock Chapin, the Cradle Roll enlisted these young children making way for church members to visit them at the home, especially remembering birthdays, and when they were sick. When the children became of age they attended the “infant class” of Sunday school. As the cradle roll spread to other denominations and communities, and the little ones became the “watch-care of the church” it was strongly believed that the baby was “the strongest link that binds that home to the church.” [1]   

Who Was on the Cradle Roll?
Children up to the age of four could be “enrolled” as a member of a Cradle Roll. Cradle Roll certificates were generally issued by the church, but it appears in recent years, other community organizations have adopted the basic theories of “membership of a Cradle Roll.”

The popularity of the Cradle Roll spread across the nation. According to Marian Wright Edleman in an April 2010 article Creating A Community Cradle Roll for the Huffington Post, the Cradle Roll was “especially strong in Black Churches.” The history of the AME Zion and AME churches enrollment of Cradle Roll members is covered in the pages of Documenting the American South.

From Controversy to Certificates

Cradle Roll enrollment originally required the mother’s consent, plus a .10cent annual fee or a $1.00 life time fee. The first wall roll was initiated by the Tabernacle M. E. Church in Camden NJ in about 1884. Around 1893 Cradle Roll hand made certificates became a reality.

With the help of religious periodicals the Cradle Roll became more widespread; it also become a bit more controversial. The Sunday School Times in 1897 wrote “We fear the encroachment of the Cradle Roll because it seems to say to the parents, “The Sunday school claims your child.”[2]

Amidst the brewing controversy, Mr. W. C. Hall of the Tabernacle Presbyterian Sunday school in Indianapolis, not only created and printed the first certificate in 1896, like that of Dr. Bill and baby Dorothy, he also explained “The Cradle Roll tends to make parents feel their responsibility the more. Every Sunday school has a right to have and ought to have a Cradle Roll.”

Turn of the Century Popularity
By 1914, at the International Sunday School Convention representing 46 states, it was reported that over a million babies were enrolled on over 44, 268 Cradle Rolls in North America. This convention was also used to set the 15 recommendations that outline The Cradle Roll Standard.[3]

Genealogy and Cradle Rolls
This is just one more reason to visit the community church of your ancestors. Can’t find a birth record, perhaps they were enrolled as a member of the church Cradle Roll. Maybe your ancestor’s name is adorning the church wall.

For More Information
[1] The Cradle Roll of the Church School, Lucy Stock Chapin; 1920;
[2] The Encyclopedia of Sunday schools and Religious Education; Pgs. 312 – 314;
[3] The Cradle Roll Department;

Accurate, Accessible Answers


  1. Another excellent report. Hope you get more sleep tonight! Rest easy, you did very well!! ;-)

  2. Kathleen, your posts are always so informative! Thank you for sharing this. I'd never heard of the "Cradle Roll" before this. Great post!