Friday, September 9, 2011

Religion Influencing Genealogy

Using Religious Migratory Paths to Follow Ancestors
Mennonites in the Vistula Delta and river valley (Northern Poland)
Bethel College,

There are so many patterns of migration that we follow as family researchers: migration patterns due to wars, due to famine, due to plagues and epidemics, but what about politics and religion.  Politics and religion have always had a reciprocal causality effect, where the events in religion (or history) are either a result of ancestors' action; or ancestors' actions are the result of a religion, political or historical event.  By determining your ancestor's religion, you may be able to trace the family to a particular country.  You may even be able to develop a migratory route of immigrants, especially if they followed an expected path following religious persecution or in search for religious freedom.

Where Are the Records?
Did your ancestors come from the Netherlands before arriving in the New World, Plymouth, in 1620 instead of a direct route from England? Perhpas you should be researching Pilgrim migratory paths. It has been confirmed that the Pilgrims had a 12 year stop-over in the Netherlands.  Does this explains why you cannot find the British records expected?

In the FGS (Federations of Genealogical Societies) session "Religious Migration History and Genealogy, David Ditts, AG of the Family Search Track gave a detailed outline of religious impacts and migrations to the New World.  Using religious history and timeline references of early American history, genealogists have a useful tool to tracing an immigrant ancestors.  

Narrow Ancestor's Settlement in New World
So. Baptist, Congregationalist, Puritan/Pilgrims
Often researchers use religious migrations to narrow ancestor's settlements.  Recently I followed a Southern Baptist family.  As expected this Texas family was located in Baptist records in Pennsylvania, and in earlier Congregationalists records after the Puritan and Pilgrims merged. This is the expected religious evolution of traditional Southern Baptist families. Knowing that most Baptists followers were early Congregationalist allowed me to follow this religious family back to Europe. Ditts mentions that there were more than 575,000 Congregationalist in 1775, like the Congregational Church of Connecticut. The New England Historical Society and other new England genealogical societies hold many diaries, letters and reports of these church records. 

History of Huguenots
Much is written on the Huguenots and Moravians, but many fail to understand their religious evolution.  In the New World, early Huguenots settled many towns. It's not well known that many Huguenots that left France about 1562, moved to Germany (Netherlands or England) and later settled Jacksonville, FL (1562-1565).  For more information visit National Huguenots Society.

Following a Presbyterian ancestor of the Appalachian, a family researcher may be able to trace his Scottish or Irish roots.  In 1775, there were an excess of 310,000 Presbyterians according to Ditts. For my family we found the John Morris, Irish family in Rutherford, NC. 

Catholic Ancestry
We easily make and association of Spanish or French Catholics, but did you know Maryland can boast the largest settlement of early English Catholics (1634)?  I have located records at the Maryland State Historical Society.  Perhaps your ancestor can be found in these early settlement records.  For more information visit Family Search Wiki, England Nonconformist Church Records.  

Kathleen Brandt


  1. This is my single favorite aspect of research. The impact of religion on family migration - and the impact of historical events on the religious movements.

  2. I'm with you Susan, it's an exciting way to trace ancestors!