Tuesday, April 21, 2015

R is for Religion

so many religions and faith traditions - hopefully you see yours here
Have you included your ancestors' religion in your Legacy family files? Oftentimes where our ancestors originally came from dictated what religion they were and the extent to which they practiced their religion. This is where a knowledge of world history comes in handy. One's professed religion may change based on conquest, political machinations, migration, missionary experience, personal study/reflection of a competing religion, the decision to take up a spouse's religion, or some other unstated reason.

Our ancestors' religion provides us the opportunity to find certain records and follow their life progression. In the Roman Catholic faith tradition the sacraments of baptism, reconciliation, first communion, confirmation, marriage, holy orders, religious life, and burial are all well-documented on the parish and diocesan level. In the Lutheran faith tradition, the Swedish and Norwegian churches kept excellent records on all members of their congregations. When the State was involved (as in Sweden or England) and maintained registers, we have centuries of records we can use to trace our families back several generations. Where a census includes religion as one of its queries (as in Canada or Ireland), we have an opportunity to learn how our ancestors identified themselves. Where political struggle and persecution existed based on our ancestors' religion, we learn how they adapted and/or suffered based on their faith and their oppressors' response to it (as in Germany or Ireland).

In addition to finding and recording the religious milestones, we can also take advantage of the local place of worship's* histories and directories. Perhaps there are schools and social organizations affiliated with your ancestors' religion. Our ancestors' faith traditions oftentimes affected their migration, employment, and personal activities or choices (where to settle, how to dress, what is acceptable to eat and drink, and how to pray, are just a few examples).

add or modify the events so they fit with your family's history

some examples from my family's events include
religion, first communion, and religious life 
The Irish and Slovenian branches of my family tree are Roman Catholic (as far back as I have researched). The Swedish and Norwegian branches were Lutheran (from the records I have found to-date). When my Slovenian grandmother married my Swedish/Norwegian grandfather, my grandmother's religion won out (the result of a few home visits by the Irish parish priest, a direction to enroll my mother in the parish school, and the wide-ranging discussions about religion between my grandfather and the priest which resulted in my grandfather's baptism in the Catholic faith).

What are the faith traditions in your family? Did the choice of religion change over time in your family's history and, if so, why? Have you found any religion surprises in your family tree? If a religion is unfamiliar to you, have you taken the time to learn more about it and incorporate any parts of it into your family traditions? Is religion more or less important to your family today than it was to your ancestors?

* The term "place of worship" used here is meant to include a chapel, church, meeting hall, monastery, mosque, synagogue, temple, or any other place of worship. 

Tomorrow we move on to the letter S.


  1. I was thinking of writing about this subject myself Tessa. The more recent census questions have made a bit of a mess of the subject. I'll ignore the "Jedi" issue but the UK & IE questions don't make a distinction between your parent's faith -- including whether they baptised you -- and your own faith. Even faith can be split into spiritual beliefs (more of a personal thing) and religious practices (actually going to a church). The so-called "people of no faith" (which is a rather daft description) are just as complicated. Maybe all this would complicate the non-narrative, "database approach" to family history, but without the extra information the associated governments would not be able to interpret the data meaningfully or accurately.

    1. Would love to read your post on this subject. I do find religion (and a person's choice to embrace, ignore, or choose another religion) fascinating. And deciding to be agnostic or an atheist is also interesting - why do we make the choices we do and how do those choices affect us. The simple entry is one thing but then we need to follow up with activities and fleshing out the story!

    2. Yes, and I wonder how many of the supposed conversions were just a ruse to allow two people with different backgrounds to get married in the same church. My wife and I have very different religious views, and even in modern times it was hard to get our marriage organised. Churches generally weren't interested unless you were both from their parish and both upheld their faith. As an atheist then that was something of a show-stopper.

  2. Just about all of the above happened in my family! Even recently, my brother was buried in a Catholic (on church grounds) cemetery, because his wife was a long-time member of the congregation and the priest was a friend from his car club and had been after him for years. :-) It's a sweet story in our Irish-Anglican-Presbyterian-Lutheran-Methodist Episcopal-Catholic-Christian Scientist....family. I really should write an anecdote about it for our family story.


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