Often overlooked are the numerous resources connected or relating to a family’s church or religion. It not just the fact if a family was Presbyterian, Baptist, Catholic, etc, but more what valuable bits of information can be contained by checking the family’s church.
First is to see if there was a family Bible, here is where the generations’ of births-marriages and deaths were recorded-names and dates. Check with other family relatives (aunts, cousins, etc) to see what they have.
Then is to locate the church in the family hometown to see what records the church still has. Church records cover baptisms, weddings, and funerals. Listed at such events can be the names of other relatives, grandparents, uncles, or other siblings. The older established churches were very good at keeping detailed records. Look online, some of those early records have been placed on the Internet. Of course contact by mail or phone the church also. If specific family members were active in the church – elders, choir directors, etc. there will be information in the church records for sure.
See if you can locate in the courthouse of where the ancestor died a final Will. It was quite common to leave money or property to the local church.
The newspaper obituaries will state which church the decease was a member of and for how long many times. This will help if you are unsure of the name of the church your ancestor belonged to.
If your ancestor lived in two to three or more locations, do check each place. Usually joining a local church was one of the first activities a person did when resettling.
Don’t be surprised if your ancestor changed church affiliations over the years – another common event. Changes could have been made for many different reasons, such as there were no Methodist church in the new town so they attended the Presbyterian Church. What can be very interesting is to see a person baptized in one church, confirmed in another, married in a third, attend a fourth and have their funeral in a fifth.
Learning more about the family or individual religious heritage does give a clearer understanding about that ancestor.
Photos: The Community Church in Stuart, FL in 1890s used by numerous denominations. The original Community Church in Stuart moved three blocks and converted to St. Mary’s Episcopal church in 1932, and the Baptist Church in 1964 in Stuart.
Related FamilyTree.com article:
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