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Starting U.S. Religious Records Part 1

This entry is part 1 of 5 in the series U.S. Religious Records 1
The ruins of Glastonbury Abbey photo by Shannon Combs-Bennett. Used with permission.

The ruins of Glastonbury Abbey photo by Shannon Combs-Bennett. Used with permission.

By Shannon Bennett, Student

Religious records are used frequently in genealogy research. Baptismal records can verify a birth date and parent’s names. Burial records can give an estimated death date. Then there are the marriage records, the fantastic marriage records. Needless to say records from religious institutions can give you amazing information. That is, if you know where to work.

I know my ancestors were religious. Well, at least I know they were moderately active in their local churches and participated in the typical things; you know baptisms and marriages. A few of them were involved with community church projects and others simply attended because that was where their parents, and their parents, and their parents, and so on all attended.  However, how do you find those records?

For my family I know I have a large number of Catholics, followed closely by the Presbyterians, then Methodists, and finally those who identified themselves at Protestant but I have no idea what flavor. I have to admit I was surprised by the Catholic lines. No one I personally know actively practiced Catholicism but it seems that my paternal grandmother was Catholic as well as her entire side of the family. On my maternal side, my grandfather was the first to be baptized Protestant. His father’s family were all Catholic all the way back to their roots in Maryland, but his mother was not. Can you guess who won the religious war in that family?

The course US Religious Records – Part 1 is required for the American Certificate and covers religions in America up to 1800. According to the course description from our instructors, Kyle Betit and Beverly Whitaker, CG, we will be focusing on Catholicism and Protestant denominations.  Looks like I will find this very useful. For my husband’s side, I will learn more about German Lutherans as well.

Through the course’s six modules a lot of information is covered. History of various religions, timelines, record locations, and additional resources. Yep, lots of information. I am really looking forward to it!

See you online!


The History of Religions

This entry is part 2 of 5 in the series U.S. Religious Records 1
St. Martin’s Catholic Church, Whitfield, Indiana.  Photo by Shannon Combs-Bennett. Used with permission

St. Martin’s Catholic Church, Whitfield, Indiana. Photo by Shannon Combs-Bennett. Used with permission

By Shannon Bennett, Student

I love history. Really, I do, and if you have followed this blog for any amount of time you probably have figured that out. So guess how excited I was when Module 1 of US Religious Records – Part 1  was all historical background. That’s right, I read it one sitting and went back for more.

Ok, I will admit I knew most of it, but it was really good information. If you really don’t have historical context for common Christian religions it is a must read. Seriously. Knowing how and why religions developed in relation to historical events can be a real eye opener if you have never studied it before.

Of course, I am sure everyone is familiar with the story of Henry VIII and his infamous divorce. You might also know who Martian Luther was. How about George Whitefield?  Maybe, maybe not? Well he was a leader during the “Great Awakening” which was America’s first significant religious revival which occurred in the 1730s-40s. Many of the religions that formed out of it are still around today, along with their philosophies and their records.

To be honest, while the history lesson was great I particularly looked forward to Module 2 which covered the Roman Catholic Church exclusively. I wanted to know more about the records for those members of my family and how I could find them. The first section covered the history of the church in the colonies from Spain and England.

The module goes through each state that has a significant Catholic presence beginning with Florida and the colony of St. Augustine. Each state has a history section, books you should read, and a repository listing.  I love timelines and at the end of the module there is a timeline of events for the Catholic Church showing all the significant dates.

I particularly like how the instructors went through each type of record. If you are not familiar with what is recorded and kept in the Catholic Church this was incredibly useful.  Everything from birth to death was covered in detail with a description of the record, what information is typically found in it, where you can locate documents, and a listing of repositories that you should check out. The listing of archives and repositories is three pages long!

In the next two modules we are going to look at Southern Anglicans, Lutherans, Reformed Churches, and English Quakers. I know one of those religions are in my family for sure, but maybe I will be surprised and discover that I have some of those others too?!

See you online!


Uncovering my Religious Heritage

This entry is part 3 of 5 in the series U.S. Religious Records 1
Trinity Church, New York, New York. Photo taken by Shannon Combs-Bennett. Used with permission

Trinity Church, New York, New York. Photo taken by Shannon Combs-Bennett. Used with permission

By Shannon Combs Bennett, Student

Well color me surprised but there was more than one religion in the next two modules of US Religious Records – Part 1 that my family could have been. My Virginia lines were most likely Anglican and Episcopal. Plus, since I had ancestors in New Netherland I paid particular attention on the sections on the Dutch Reformed Churches. Now, that is not to say I didn’t learn a lot about the Lutherans, Unitarians, and the Quakers because I did. Plus I bet one of these day I will find those religions in my tree too.

Since I do quite a bit of Virginia research because I, well, live in Virginia I really tried to internalize the information presented in the course.  I learned that the Anglican Church, whose roots are with the Church of England, was the colony’s official church written into the incorporation papers. It was also fascinating to read how the Methodist Church formed out of the Anglican and Episcopal Churches. I knew there was a connection but did not know how it began.

Thankfully for me a lot of the Virginia church records are just down the road in Richmond at the Library of Virginia. In my future I see another record set that I will need to investigate for my distant relations. Genealogy road trips are always so much fun.

Then there were the Reformed Churches. Ever since I learned that I had ancestors in the New Netherland’s colony I have read and studied as much as I can about it. It became a near obsession. Most likely because they were different from the colonial English, German, and Irish ancestors that are the bulk of my family tree.

According to our course the Dutch Reformed Church was the official church of the colony. It was interesting that even though they had an official church they welcomed all religions into their colony.  Even after the English took control the church still has a presence which makes me hopefully I may find records.  Oh, and I learned I need to check out the Holland Society of New York since they seem to have to largest collection of records on this topic.

Needless to say these two modules were very enlightening and I enjoyed every minute of it. Sometimes courses like this make me sad that I never finished that Religious Studies minor in college. It sure would have come in handy with my new chosen field!

See you online!!

Colonial America Minority Sects

This entry is part 4 of 5 in the series U.S. Religious Records 1
Half-tone reproduction of drawing by G.W. Peters in "Among the Dunkers,"  Scribner's Nov. 1901. Library of Congress. LC-USZ62-54917

Half-tone reproduction of drawing by G.W. Peters in “Among the Dunkers,” Scribner’s Nov. 1901. Library of Congress. LC-USZ62-54917

By Shannon Bennett, Student

Ah, Presbyterians, finally the module in US Religious Records Part 1 near and dear to my husband’s family .  I shouldn’t  leave out the Methodists though because that was one whole branch of my grandmother’s family.  Unfortunately, even though I found Module 6 fascinating, so far I don’t have any connections to the Amish or Mennonite sects.  From a historical perspective though (and culturally since I grew up in an area full of Amish and Mennonites) it was a great section to read.

Since I knew almost nothing about what the instructor called the “minority sects in colonial America” I was very excited to read Module 6.  Of course I know who the Mennonites and the Amish are.  I mean, anyone growing up in Indiana, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and a few other adjacent states know who these people are.  Those communities always fascinated me growing up in a rural Indiana.

At this point I could go on and on about the horse drawn buggies on Main Street, watching the families work their farms as we drove by, or the Mennonite children I went to grade school with.  Even though I knew who they were and the basic premise behind why they looked different than myself, I didn’t really know why they were different.

Reading about those two sects as well as who the Moravians, Huguenots and Brethren were was enlightening.  The Huguenots were familiar to me from history classes and my Virginia research.  There was a colony of Huguenots at Manakin in Henrico County.

I couldn’t help but be moved by the way they overcame the forms of persecution inflicted on them.  It makes perfect sense that they would flee to the American colonies, particularly ones that tolerated other religious beliefs. While they may have started small here these communities grew and in some cases prospered into the 20th century.

An interesting fact I did not know was that the Moravian Church encouraged members to write memoirs about their life and church service.  If you have an ancestor who was a member you may have a wonderful document waiting for you!  According to the instructor these memoirs are similar to eulogies, and  were either written by the person or by the minister after the person had died.  Makes me want to have an ancestor in the Moravian Church!

Off to take my exam. See you online!

Finishing Up US Religious Records Part 1

This entry is part 5 of 5 in the series U.S. Religious Records 1
National Cathedral. Official standard prayer book of America, 1892. Library of Congress LC-H814-T-C04-249

National Cathedral. Official standard prayer book of America, 1892. Library of Congress LC-H814-T-C04-249

By Shannon Bennett, Student

US Religious Records Part 1 was a bit mind blowing for me.  Let me explain why, because it might not seem like it should have been.  Let’s start with the fact that my parents are not religious and my grandparents were not either.  In fact only a couple of my great-grandparents even attended church regularly.  It’s just not a thing in my family.  While some people find that odd, it was a decision made a long time ago that I never really thought about.

I know that basic tenants of major religions.  My parents felt it was important for me to experience and learn as much as I wanted or could. They didn’t want to force religion on me but thought something that important was my decision.

It’s not like I have never gone to church, I have, but it was always as an intrigued outsider looking in.  When I was in elementary school my best friend was Jewish and the two of us would spend hours talking about Christianity vs Judaism much to the displeasure of her mom.

Just because religion isn’t a part of my life doesn’t mean that it wasn’t a part of my ancestors’ lives.  Which is why I was excited to take this course.  The three courses I took in religious studies at University helped lay a lot of historical basis for me, but of course they didn’t prepare me for what I need to know as a genealogist.

Records, documents, memoirs and so much more are waiting for us in these religious records.  Since a majority are not digitized this is a great example of how there could be information just waiting for us out there.  Waiting for us in a room and the only way we can break down our wall is to go there.  Sounds like a lot of fun to me!

Don’t be misled that this was easy.  There was a lot of information and I know this is only part 1 of 2 so there is more coming.  It makes me anxious to start the next section.  Wonder what I will learn in those pages?

See you online!

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