Monday, February 22, 2021

Researching in Abstinence & Temperance Society Records

Abstinence & Temperance Society &Genealogy?
In researching in the small town of Washington, Clinton County, Iowa, I stumbled upon the St. Patrick’s Total Abstinence Society information which held records that I was unsuccessful in locating elsewhere. The St. Patrick's Total Abstinence and Benevolent Society, founded in Montreal, 23 Feb 1840, was reportedly the first Roman Catholic temperance society in North America, but it soon found its way across America. 

Membership, membership withdrawal, transfer records from one society chapter to another should not be overlooked. In 1836 alone, the American Temperance Society had over 170 thousand members. Presumably over a million members were recorded in less than two years. The St. Patrick’s Total Abstinence Society, with overwhelming Catholic members is just one type of an abstinence society or union that researchers may find between 1866 - 1884. The Clinton County St. Patrick's Total Abstinence Society located in Center Grove, IA came about in 1875. 

The Pioneer Total Abstinence Association of the Sacred Heart (or PTAA) is said to be an Irish organization for Roman Catholic teetotallers. This present day organization as founded in 1898.  (Genealogical note: the term Pioneer was often used synonymously as teetotallism among Irish Catholic in the 20th century).  

From Ireland to USA - Touch Not, Taste Not, Handle Not

From The Glasgow Story Website

The goal was to practice total abstinence from alcohol and  spoke against imbibing and highlighted the medical issues. According to the History of the Total Abstinence Union of America, published by Penn Penn Printing 1907, pg. 11, the US temperance movement began as early as 1676 in Virginia when the first prohibitory act was passed.  This Irish Temperance movement was initiated in Cork, Ireland, April 1838, by the "Apostle of Temperance" the Franciscan priest Father Theobald Mathew (1790-1856).  Yet, the first temperance society was found in the USA, 1780, Litchfield, CT. As mentioned, active societies were filled with our ancestors not only in rural Iowa and small communities; but it spread across America, Ireland, Scotland, England, etc. 

American Memory Collection, An American Time Capsule, Library of Congress

The Catholic Temperance had a national scope. In 1865 there were twenty two temperance organizations, mostly concentrated in New England. Some suggest this a drop of membership due to the Civil War (one may have needed a drink?) It is found that the popularity of these societies was not consistent. In 1872 Massachusetts had "twenty-two societies devoted to temperance, and New York twenty four that year. Read more: The Organization of the Catholic Total Abstinence Union of America, 1866 -1884, James Green.

Not Just Irish Catholic
Unassociated but also targeting the same membership, mostly Irish Catholics, were the Shamrock Society, The United Sons of Erin Benevolent Society and the Fenian Brotherhood. 

The Temperance Meeting did not stay confined in the Irish communities. Groups and societies served all people. For example, there was the Rochester Colored Total Abstinence Association, 1841 and many others, especially in the New England states.  

There was also the Protestant Episcopal Church Temperance Society established in the U.S. A. in 1881. 

5 Starters to Finding Records
Researchers must keep a keen eye for ancestors in church records, state and county archives, and local genealogical and historical societies to unearth ancestors in this collection. Members of the Temperance Societies took an oath. In addition to membership, members also withdrew membership leaving a record trail. Although these records are not centralized researchers will want to scour state and county repositories. 

  1. State Historical Societies. The following Wisconsin's Sons of Temperance member, Frederick Beermein, was issued his 1857 stating he had asked to be withdrawn.

  2. Obituaries. These obituaries not only provide ancestral information but it may also define community. 
    In memory of George Farrell It is with feelings  of the most profound and  sincere regret that we pen the following tribute in memory of our departed friend, George Farrell, who died on Friday morning, March  24th, age fifty-two years,  after a long and painful illness from which  he suffered much, but  bore it with christian fortitude and resignation,  declaring himself resigned  to the will  of the Most High. George was dearly beloved by all who knew him.  Previous to his death  he was attended  by the Rev. Father Garland,  and received the last rites of the church, of which he was a devoted member  during life.  He was a  member of St.  Patrick's  Catholic Total Abstinence Society, of  Center Grove,  which  turned  out  in  full regalia  to  attend the funeral  on Sunday.  
    (History of Clinton County, IA, 1879 Chicago: Western Historical Company, pg815, Washington Township). 
  3. Newspapers. Local newspapers often provided names of officers and members. The 27 May 1875 Intelligencer newspaper of Anderson South Carolina posted the following:

    Anderson, SC,

  4. Church Records. Some parishes still hold society membership books.

    Hastings Museum, NE

  5. State and County Archives and Museums. Be sure to search regionally.  Your ancestor may have had a transfer from one "chapter" to another. 

Be Historically Correct 

Kathleen Brandt
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