What is an Amish church directory? Why do Amish publish them? What kind of info do they contain? In the early days of this website, I did a post on the subject, with a look at my 2002 northern Indiana directory.

Don Burke is here to explain further what these guides are, and why you’ll find them in many an Amish home.

At last count I have been to something like 50 Amish communities in about a dozen states, with stays ranging from less than an hour to most of a week. And over the nearly-a-decade that I’ve been doing this I’ve picked up a few tips.

For one thing, I make sure I have plenty of gas in my vehicle, because gas pumps are often not in big demand in horse-and-buggy areas. Another tip is to bring some extra cash, in small bills.

I enjoy stopping to buy – and hopefully visit – at Amish bakeries and other stores, and few of them take debit cards. And when I buy with cash I don’t want to deplete their usually small supply of $1’s and $5’s by paying for a $2.50 loaf of homemade bread with a twenty-dollar bill.

But the biggest tip of all is to first do my research on a community I’m visiting in an Amish Directory.

What is an Amish Directory? An Amish Directory covers all kinds of information for all the settlements in a given region. Many times that region might be a full state.

For less-densely-populated areas the directory can cover several states.

And in more-populated areas the information on just the local community might fill up a book. I recently saw the directory for Adams County, Indiana, and it was as large as the one for the whole state of MO.

The directories are updated and republished semi-regularly. It has seemed to me that they may try to do this like every five years of so.

As I was writing this post I asked a once-Amish friend just what exactly, from the Amish perspective, are the reasons for having the directories. Her response went like this (somewhat paraphrased):

The directories allow the Amish to keep track of everyone. Being related or knowing who is related to who or who married who ultimately allows you to have conversation with most any Amish person you meet. That’s one of the first things they talked about when they discover you have a plain background. If they can find someone that you both know, you instantly have a connection. Also, a lot of older Amish people are into lineage and such, and the directory is a great resource for that kind of information. It helps keep the close-knit-community mindset. It helps you know the latest happenings. You can know who the lady’s first cousin’s son is who had triplets in 1996. <ha> It’s an interesting way for the Amish to connect to each other. Without internet there is no way of keeping track of others, so the “book” is equal to five years of “Facebook updates and statuses.

To this I would simply add that it can also help the Amish and their drivers find places as they visit others in areas they are not familiar with.

The directory contents are submitted by individuals selected within each local community, then all of these are compiled by an editor or publisher. Entries for the various locations do not always have the same content, but typically include some or all of the following:

    • The origin and/or updates of the community history. These entries may show connections with other settlements that the group originally came from, and occasionally include some of the personal hardships and struggles experienced within the community.
    • A listing of all the men, past and present, who have served as ministers in the community.

Jamesport Middle church district

  • A map of the whole community (often hand drawn or traced).
  • Similar maps of the individual church districts within the community, with markings where each family lives, and possibly where schools and cemeteries are located.
  • A listing of each family in the district, with full names and birthdays of each member of the family. The listing also gives the parents of both the father and mother. Occupations are also usually given.
  • Sometimes there is also a map and/or listing of businesses, either on the community or individual church district level.
  • Various indexes in the back may include listings of all heads of households in the whole book, list of wives, seniors, widows & widowers, etc.

With a community’s map(s) I can quickly see where to find most of the Amish homes in that settlement. I can tell far more about a community in 20 minutes of driving around looking at their buggies and their homes than I likely could find out in far more time spent talking to someone.

For example, a settlement’s degree of conservatism is often readily visible in just seeing how homes are constructed and maintained, the routine items around the homes, or from taking quick pictures of three of four buggies to be more closely examined later.

For me one of the most interesting parts of visiting a community is to see how it is different from others I’ve been to. In one settlement I noticed that many of the Amish homes and a school used three-tab shingles as a form of siding on the exterior walls.

And you can imagine the great surprise when I discovered (on two different occasions) an Amish group which drove tractors instead of horse-and-buggies for their day-to-day traveling.

Or the group on the other end of the conservative-spectrum which refused slow-moving-vehicle orange triangles and electric flashers on their buggies and wagons, but instead used kerosene lanterns to (hopefully) be visible to traffic at night.

An Amish Directory can also let you discover Amish communities that you didn’t know about. Just a quick scan through the table of contents and you can find where the various settlements are in the area.

I’m a sucker for Amish baked goods, and as I’ve noted before I think they should be the foundational (read: largest) layer in a revised food pyramid. <ha> If the community’s directory entry has a listing or map of businesses you can bet that I’m scanning for fresh goodies! And if there is no business map/listing, a quick scan through the families’ occupations might still find me the precious morsels I so enjoy.

Yet another benefit a would-be visitor can glean from the Directory is identifying businesses where you can shop and possibly strike up a conversation with someone from the community (such as the shop owner).

Naturally many businesses are geared more to Amish needs (e.g., a tack shop), and the people working there might be less used to just visiting with a non-Amish who drop in (however, I once enjoyed a particularly long conversation with an older Amish gentleman at his tack shop). But some businesses, like a bakery, nursery, vegetable stand, and even some bulk food stores might be more used to non-Amish customers.

And a quick side note here:  Remember that while we might just be out enjoying a day off, the Amish person likely isn’t. If you take up their time visiting with them at their shop, consider showing your appreciation by buying something you can afford and use. Or at least show some genuine interest and appreciation for his or her work. I’ve found myself in a couple of woodworkers’ shops, and to have someone show an interest in their handiwork seemed to mean the world to them. In short, be sure to try to give as well as receive.

So, where can you get an Amish Directory? If you only have a rare need for information on a single location, as strange as this might sound, you might find some help with a quick online search. Communities which are a bit more visitor-friendly sometimes have maps or business listings online (simply do a web or an image search using “Amish,” “map” and the community’s location as keywords.)

But to get an actual Amish directory your best option is to find a store in an Amish community within the region and see if they have one for sale. Sometimes a store in one community might even have directories of other regions. The Adams County (Indiana) Directory I mentioned earlier I found in an Amish store in Missouri, because many of those who originally settled in the Missouri community had moved there from Adams County, and still have connections back in Indiana.

And don’t be surprised if the directories are not cheap. I would expect to pay at least $20-30 for one, and maybe more. But for those who even semi-regularly venture out into new territory, it will be an investment well spent.

So, let’s see….

  • Jeep gassed up – check
  • $20 in singles – check
  • Camera batteries charged – check
  • Amish Directory packed and within arm’s reach – check

…Looks like I’m all ready for my next visit.

Publisher Credit

  • Central Plains Amish Directory published by Enos & Freda Yoder, Inola, OK, 2012
  • Missouri Amish Directory compiled by Lester Yoder, Windsor ,MO; printed by Pilgrim Book Printing, Medina, NY, 2016.

See more of Don’s Amish photos on Flickr or Facebook

You might also like:

Get the Amish in your inbox

    Question on the Amish? Get answers to 300+ questions in 41 categories at the Amish FAQ.