It does not take too much searching through family history before you start learning about the religion of your ancestors. Religion has played a large part in migration patterns over the centuries and you may find that at one time or another your ancestors moved because of their religion. Religion also may have had a great influence on who your ancestors married, their occupation and many other aspects of life. It is not easy to discount the fact that the religion of your ancestors has helped shape who you are today?
Studying how religion has influenced your family can help you better understand your own religious beliefs. The cumulative passing on of morals and religious beliefs through the generations helps make us who we are today.
Many of you know that I have Amish heritage. My Grandfather’s parents left the Amish church shortly before he was born. My Grandfather was raised as a Mennonite and went to a Mennonite school. Today, I still have many relatives who are still Amish or Mennonite. However, the Amish/Mennonite or Anabaptist heritage is only part of my family history. I also have Quaker ancestry on the other side of my family not too many generations back.
Of course, Amish and Quaker are just two of the many religions that have played a part in my family history. Scotch Presbyterian, Puritan, New-Light, Christian Church, church of Christ, Congregational, Seventh Day Baptist, Apostolic Christian Church, Dutch Reformed Church, River Brethren, Hoosier Brethren and many others also played a part in my religious heritage.
It is fascinating to study the different religious organizations that I run across when researching my family history. Studying the religious practices of my ancestors has helped me learn about changes in religious thought throughout the history of our country.
Several of my ancestors and close cousins have also played important roles in the development of religious thought in our country. Richard Mather, Christian Yoder, Henry Ward Beecher and other early American religious leaders are included in this group. The brother of one of my ancestors was a noted hymn writer and conducted singing schools in early America. Some of his hymns are still sung by Sacred Harp singers.
I also have several preachers in my family tree, including both my Father and Grandfather. My 4th Great Grandfather Absalom Leeper preached near Mt. Pleasant, Iowa. I have also discovered several early colonial preachers in my ancestry.
Many of my ancestors came to America because of religious persecution. This is especially true of my Amish/Mennonite ancestors. However, the migration did not stop once they reached America. Many of my ancestors then moved on to other places because of further persecution or the influence of religious leaders such as John Winthrop.
Does religion still have an effect on where we live today? Of course. Many of us make decisions on what job to take based on whether there is a sound congregation in the community where we are moving. Students who attend Bible colleges often end up meeting and marrying someone from a different area of the country and then moving to a new place. My parents met when they both attended the same Bible college. My family moved from Iowa to Kansas when my father took a preaching job there.
Religion has played an important role in my Family History. Studying religion and how it has affected my ancestors has given me a greater understanding of who I am today.
Original composition date – July 2009 – revised – June 2012