23 September 2013

Do you know the history of the church(es) your ancestors belonged to?

Image which accompanied referenced article

Did you know that like people, churches often have “family trees” also?

I was reminded of this when I read, Many prominent Longview churches part of First Baptist Church family tree.  Some congregations are formed from scratch while others evolved as populations grew, while still others disappeared as the population shifted (population movement, change in the dominant religions of the area, etc), or conflicts in religious tenets spurred some new congregations which then  subsequently (often decades later) re-joined, etc.

Some churches are long lived while others are not so.

Just as we research state, county and town/city formations, we also need to be aware of church history and how the presence of congregations has changed through time in the community we are researching.  And, as reinforced by the article about Longview Baptist churches, it’s important to know what congregations were possibly formed from a parent church.

For example, you are researching a family where the parents have lived for decades in a certain community.  You find that they are buried in the cemetery of a church that was “created” 10 years earlier.  Unless they joined the “faith” late in life (which is possible), odds are that they were members of another church.  Sometimes, individuals do change faiths (my gran in England seemed to join a church of a different faith each time she moved – what was most important to her were the preachers and how well she identified with them), though more people probably stick with “one” faith.

Was the church where they were buried “created” from some parishioners of an “older” church? 

Why is this important?  Just as with government records, in many cases the records will be associated with the “entity” which created them.  Records of baptisms, marriages, deaths, and more will be with the church where these events were recorded in real-time.  Yes, these records might be in an ecclesiastical archive somewhere and again, you still need to know “which” records to look at.

So, if you find that a church your ancestor was associated with was not as old as your ancestor, try and learn its history.  This history might suggest other churches with which your ancestor might have been associated.  This might then lead you to some neat records.  Knowing the religion of a person and then the history of the churches (of that faith) in an area has allowed me to work backwards through the person’s life in parallel with corresponding church records found in the predecessor churches they were associated with.  And, if you are really lucky, there might also be a mention of “where” they came from and when or of family members.

Have you successfully used the history of a church to identify predecessor churches relevant to your research?

Are there other family trees of churches that have been created and will be helpful to researchers?

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