Category: Religious Professionals

+12 votes
Since I know a bit about religious professions, I volunteered to help with this topic for the Categorization Project.  I personally am conservative in using categories -- in contrast to "cemeteries" which I consider "directly useful" for genealogical purposes, I would consider religious professions as "somewhat useful" in helping one learn more about an individual and his/her family.  But that's me personally.  Others may think they are more useful or less useful.

After some discussion back and forth among project members, I think we're ready to get feedback from the broader G2G community.  Here are some principles that have been discussed already:

1.  The broad category should be Religious Professionals, focusing on the people, rather than Religious Professions, focusing on the profession.  From the top of the category tree down, this would be Categories --> Professions --> Religious Professionals.  (We have created the new Religious Professionals category and as an interim measure, subcategories that fit have been moved to it, while subcategories that need work are still in the old Religious Professions category).

2.  The next category title below Religious Professionals should be two words combining the broad faith-community title and the role, i.e. Catholic Priest, Muslim Imam, Jewish Rabbi, or in my case Methodist Minister.   (The categorization principle is that both words should be capitalized).  

2a.  At this level and below, the usage of particular faith groups is used.  Trying to make it generic would leave out important information.

2b.  These are still broad categories, however.  There are different denominations that call themselves Methodist or Baptist or Presbyterian, and there is confusion within groups as to which word best describes the role, i.e. "Priest" is clear for Catholics, but "minister", "preacher" or "pastor" are used interchangeably among various Protestant groups.  We'll consult members of groups for advice, but might have to be arbitrary if they really are used interchangeably!

2c.  Ultimately, categories like "Methodist minister" and their parallels will be higher-level categories to which profiles are not attached.  But on an interim -- and it will be a long-term interim basis -- profiles can be attached to them.   In the long run a category like "Methodist minister" will have too many people in it to be useful, so there need to be subcategories that profiles are actually attached to.  But for many profiles "Presbyterian Minister" or "Episcopal Priest"  may be all that one knows, so it's better to attach the profile to that category initially and then move the profile to a lower category when one has the information.

3.  There would be two additional levels of subcategory.  The first would be the whole denomination and the role, and the second would be the denomination's regional division and role.  In my case, the tree would be Methodist Ministers --> United Methodist Ministers --> Baltimore-Washington Conference United Methodist Ministers.  

3a.  Identifying the specific faith community is important information.  It is also important historic information because these names change over time (and that is an additional means of keeping the subcategories small enough to be useful.  My great-great grandfather was in the Methodist Episcopal Church and helped found the Methodist Protestant Church.  The Methodist Protestant Church only existed as a separate entity from 1831 to 1939, so only profiles in those years would be so categorized.  

3b.  Identifying the faith community's own regional grouping is important because very often THIS is the place where biographical and genealogical information may be archived.   It parallels secular geography but is not the same thing -- in my case, the Baltimore-Washington Conference is roughly in Maryland, but excludes the Eastern Shore counties and Garrett County, and includes the District of Columbia and two West Virginia Counties.  I considered using secular geography, but that doesn't really add useful information -- other categories on my profile will show my connection to Maryland, but as a religious professional, my faith-community's geography is important.  

3c. This is the level that ultimately profiles should be attached to -- but it's not the easiest thing to know what regional body of a faith group someone is a religious professional in.  Yet since research is important in putting together a good profile, once you know this, you have important information that may give important additional clues for genealogical research.  

4.  As we look at each faith group, how that faith group itself works is the most important thing.  I know, for instance, that the Mormon church has bishops, these are a church office and not a person's professional occupation.  So should Mormon Bishops be a category of religious professional?  That really should be for the Mormons among us to decide.  And if so, I would want to know from Mormons what the most reasonable subcategories and their titles -- Mormon or LDS? should be.  And I haven't got a clue -- at the moment -- on how one would subcategorize Muslim Imams.  

5.  The preference would be to have these subcategories in the language of the specific faith community.  The subcategories for clergy of the Church of Sweden would be in Swedish.  At higher levels they would link to both the English language and Swedish language category trees.   

6.  There would be no effort to create all possible subcategories at once.  The preference would be to identify the best logical structure for creating subcategories and then create them as they are needed to help categorize specific profiles.

As you can see, this will need to be an evolving set of categories, but I wanted to put together a logical framework within which the evolution could take place.  And the reason now for posting this is to ask -- do you think this is on the right track?  What improvements would you make?  How would you do it differently?  And -- would you like to help?  

Also, since nobody has time to work on everything at once, if you have a religious professional you'd like to categorize in the most useful way, contact me and we'll make that person's category tree the next top priority!
in Policy and Style by Jack Day G2G6 Pilot (478k points)
edited by Jack Day

 I wonder if  trying to subdivide to smaller and smaller categories is likely to cause a lot of problems without adding to much useful data for a genealogist.

  I have a feeling that even the names of the broadest of categories could  cause controversy eg using the term Catholic priest rather than perhaps Roman Catholic  and  then where do you start? If you start with priest, you miss ordained deacons that did not continue to priesthood, far more common in the past than today. Historically there were other minor orders.

As to the subdivisions within the protestant churches my mind just boggles! (technical term!) Sorry, I hadn't meant this to be as negative as it sounds . It's just the hugeness within Christianity alone.

Here's an example for you, if I were to categorise him then I would just use  Anglican priest or even clerk in Holy orders (that's what he called himself on his children's baptism entries); perhaps a missionary in Basutoland but as you can see regional grouping is difficult since he worked in three countries, England, South Africa and Basutoland) all within the umbrella of the Anglican   Church.

In this case Catholic priest would not be an alternative to Roman Catholic priest.  Of course Roman Catholic is by far the largest group of Catholics, but there are actually some other groups that follow Roman Catholic practices that are not affiliated with the Roman Catholic Church.  So under "Catholic Priest" you would have the subcategory "Roman Catholic Priest, and under that you would have the category you would really want the profile to be attached to, namely "Diocese of Newark Roman Catholic Priest."

This suggestion is a compromise between those who like you thought that there was too much subdividing going on, and others who were worried that "Catholic Priest" could end up with ten thousand profiles linked to it.  My suggested compromise is to do the detailed subcategories when possible -- it does add information -- but to make simply "Catholic Priest" OK to link the profile to on a long term interim basis.  When research led you to the more detailed information, then you could recategorize easily.

Since every Catholic priest is ordained deacon before being ordained a priest, I would not recommend them being categorized as deacons as well.  But the increasingly large group of Permanent Deacons who function as religious professionals would warrant a category.  I would put recommend a category "Catholic Deacons" right under Religious Professionals, so it would alphabetize right above Catholic Priests and right below Catholic Bishops.  

Beyond the very broad structure suggested here, it seems very important to have people from a specific faith involved in the decision making on how those in that faith are structured.  Should you have a category Catholic Nuns and another category Catholic Monks, or combine them in a category Catholic Religious?  Not matter how much I may actually know about Catholic structure and terminology, I'm not Catholic and I'd prefer not to be making those decisions.

Since this is a topic that will only interest some, I think it is really important to make decisions that reflect the degree of interest and effort people are willing to have, and reflecting an interest in specific people.  So with Canon Ford;  Anglican Priest would be the obvious category to start with, but then as you further researched his already VERY WELL WRITTEN biography, you would definitely categorized him as a Church of England priest, where he started out, and then research history to see if his service in South Africa was still under the Church of England, or whether an independent body had been formed.  If he were alive today, he would be in one of the 25 dioceses of the Anglican Church of Southern Africa.

4 Answers

+4 votes
Good, I've got at least three ancestors who would fit the category and maybe more.  I also wonder about some who have the title "Elder".  Nowadays this doesn't rank very high but I'm not so sure in some of the older church bodies.  Is this going to include church Musicians, and if so, only ones who work full time for a church or what?
by Living Dardinger G2G6 Pilot (449k points)
Dave, I pondered use of the word "elder".  In the Methodist Churches, one is ordained a deacon or elder;  I prefer "pastor" to describe my own role, but in this case bowed to "minister" as the most frequently used common title.

I put up the G2G post knowing it could not cover everything and that a lot depends on discussion among people who know more than I do about specific situations.  You could make a really good case to include church musicians.  They aren't necessarily clergy (thought they might be) but their work often (though not always) is a source of income.  Why don't you suggest a particular profile and let's see where the logic described above would take us!

Also, while recognition is nice, it's even better if in thinking things through we can answer the question, "is there a way of doing this that will promote better knowledge of genealogy?"
+4 votes

I am not skilled in this area but one thing that is start happening is that as we today link between pages on the web we will also start to link between data ==> we identify data with URI in an unique way....

The whole concept is like World Wide Web is today loosely coupled ==> you select what you think is worth using ==> if you create a structure that match something like Wikidata/Wikipedia then you can in the future link to them.... 

Example how Wikipedia and Wikidata is connected has a connection Q5353927 inside Wikidata

See video 

I have asked about getting a Wikidata property so that a Wikidata object can be connected to a wikitree ID ..... and I think we should also connect the other way not just by using URLs.... ==> in the long run we could use the information we add in Wikitree in new interesting ways...


by Living Sälgö G2G6 Pilot (305k points)
Magnus, can you think of specific changes to the proposed category hierarchy that you would make at the moment to make future connections such as you propose easier?  

The illustration you gave does indicate some of the difficulties.  The Wikipedia article uses the title "Elder (Methodist)"  That is quite correct, but I think it is confusing compared to "Methodist Minister" for three reasons.  First, Minister is the more commonly used word, so it will be more useful to those on WikiTree who are less familiar with the designations.  Second, "elder" is used with great difference across Protestant denominations -- as the official title for a religious professional in Methodism, and as a temporary, elected lay role among Baptists.  And among Presbyterians, the "teaching elder" is the religious professional while the "ruling elder" is the elected lay head of the congregation.  And third, the reason we preferred to put the faith group first rather than the title first is because it is the faith group that defines the title, not the other way around.  

Wikipedia, like WikiTree, is always a work in progress, with nothing as well done today as it will be tomorrow -- but in this case, the Wikipedia article you cite is clearly incomplete and in need of improvement;  It cites the Discipline (rule book) of two different Methodist Groups but does not give a date;  the groups, however, change the Discipline and its definintions every 4 years, so citing the year is important.  So I would not hesitate to link a WikiTree write up to "see also" the Wikipedia article, but I would hesitate to have an automatic link that suggests that the WikiTree side is the same as the Wikipedia side, because there are important differences..  




Sorry I have no skill at all telling you how a religious category structure should look like...

The illustration you gave does indicate some of the difficulties.  

Yes and therefore you can have a lot of different relations...
See example how someone is describing Moses and they also stell that this Moses is the same Moses as Dbpedia Moses

Its not easy but I think we will see new possibilities in the future linking data as we do with documents today and when creating a structure its good if it match the world outside Wikitree...

because there are important differences..  

Yes and that is the great benefit with loosely coupled data that you select what sources you trust and as you say Wikipedia is not the whole truth but its good enough for some people.... and then you can create your own source...

  • Ted lecture about putting the data on the web by Tim Berners-Lee 2010


+5 votes

I'm assuming that you're talking about the Category Religious Professionals Formatting page.

In that case, I'd like to suggest a fifth exception to dividing people up into faith groups: namely, Evangelists. I see that somebody has marked that category to be retired, but there are a large number of itinerant evangelists who either don't push their connection to a particular denomination, or don't even have one. I would imagine that most people would expect to find Billy Graham, for example, under "Evangelists", and might not even think to look for him under "Southern Baptist Ministers". Many, if not most, evangelists try to be non-denominational in their work, yet classifying them as "Non-Denominational Ministers" seems to be forcing them into a box where they don't really belong.


by Greg Slade G2G6 Pilot (713k points)
Greg, I have no problem with that.  Certainly if anyone qualified to bye viewed first as an evangelist, it would be Billy Graham!  Since I'm the one working on Religious Professionals, I moved "Evangelists" back under "Religious Professionals".  I would see it as a supplemental category, i.e. if you know that an evangelist is also a Southern Baptist minister, he would get both categories.
I use to do bookkeeping for a non-denominational Evangelist and he has no ties to any church or ministry, like me as a non-denominational Pastor so I can see a definite need for the Evangelist Category. Glad you moved it back.
Do you think we need a non-denominational stream of categories under Category: Christianity for the non-denominational Christian churches, clergy and evangelists?

I can add a comment to the religious categories principles indicating what should be done when someone is ready to add any of these.
+2 votes

I've been putting off bringing this up, partly because I've had a ton of other stuff to do, but mostly because this topic is huge and complicated, and dealing with it properly is going to take a bunch of time, which I don't have a whole lot of right now.

Nevertheless, in my work organising the Occupations categories, I've come across several messes, and unfortunately, the Religious Professionals category is part of one of those messes:

For one thing, strictly speaking, only 19 occupations actually count as "professions". Those 19 occupations are listed on Wikipedia, and reproduced in the Professions category. However, over time, a ton of occupations which are not professions in any sense of the word (and some things which are avocations or hobbies, rather than anything anybody has ever been paid to do) have gotten lumped into the Professions category. (And, in addition, a bunch of occupations have been listed under various subcategories under Industries and never put into the Occupations hierarchy at all.) So, part of my cleanup work has entailed moving occupations out of the Professions category to the Occupations category (or subcategories under it). What complicates that work is the Religious Professionals category, which contains many subcategories which do qualify as professions under the category Wikipedia calls divinity (namely, the assorted varieties of ordained clergy, theologians, and, if there were any listed, things like seminary professors), but also contains categories (like Catholic Religious Orders, Hymn Writers, and Missionaries) which don't. So, at the very least, for the sake of making the Professions category meaningful, we need to distinguish between Religious Professions and other Religious Occupations. As it happens, there is already a Religious Occupations category, so what I would recommend is that all the occupations under Religious Professions which aren't ordained clergy, theologians, or seminary professors be moved into the Religious Occupations category.

by Greg Slade G2G6 Pilot (713k points)

On a related note, I see a number of populated categories listed under the Religious Professionals category in a Categories to be Retired category. I don't believe that those categories should be retired at all. For one thing, as I said in a different (but still occupation related) thread,

What I have found, as I've been reorganising the occupations categories, is that there are a lot of synonymous job titles. When I came across the first few, I thought of moving all the profiles into one "official" category for that job, and then putting in text something like "Also called..." But then I realised that, when people are adding a category, they're not going to want to put in a bunch of work trying to find the "official" title for that job. They just want to add whatever the title is that they found in a census, marriage record, death record, or whatever. So I decided to leave all the assorted synonymous categories intact, and nest them together under some higher level category.

So, for one thing, when people see terms like "Clergyman", "Minister", "Preacher", and "Priest", they're going to want to use them as categories, so even if you managed to empty out all those categories and delete them, people would just recreate them. 

For another thing, I have long been of the opinion that, when you're arranging things in categories, you need to provide multiple paths for people to drill down to find what they need, because people come to categorise with different data available to them: one person might have a job title and a place, another might have the name of the church, but not the denomination, still another might know the denomination, but not the church or the place. So, when it comes to the religion categories, I would recommend building in ways to drill down to what people need as many ways as possible. By denomination, absolutely. That's a big job, but it's essential. But I would also come to it from the occupations/professions perspective, and argue that there should also be the option to drill down by job title, so that hierarchy might look something like this:

  • Religious Occupations
    • Religious Professions
      • Clergy
        • Bishops
          • Anglican Bishops
          • Catholic Bishops
          • Lutheran Bishops
        • Ministers
          • Baptist Ministers
          • Congregational Ministers
        • Priests
          • Anglican Priests
          • Catholic Priests
      • Theologians


(Of course, under Clergy, there would similarly be categories like Anglican Clergy, which would include Anglican Bishops, Anglican Priests, and so on, and down through all the denominations.)

Greg, I won't go too deeply into this because I'm working on other things at this point and Mary Jenson has a categorization proposal up for discussion on WikiTree which includes religious professionals; although it includes much of my thinking, she's taken it farther and that should be respected.

Having said all that, however, I'm not happy about being too strict in distinguishing between "professions" and "occupations."  There is an implied status difference between them, and therefore there has been contgroversy about which jobs get the high status term and which get the lower status term.

So if you want to group a major category like "butchers" or "food service workers" under "occupations" rather than "professions,"  well and good.  But I don't think it is helpful to split something which could as easily be "religious occupations" as "religious professions" into two, so you have to look under occupations to find one set and under professions to find another.  

It's almost as if there's a choice -- one can have a clear concept which is messy in implementation, or a messy concept which is easier to implement, but not both.  

My thoughts for the evening!

Greg, I discovered the Religious Occupation group as separate from Religious Professions during my study of religious categories and again during the very beginning of my work to implement the religious categories principles last night.  This morning I followed your wikipedia link looking for the list of 19 professions and could not find a list in the linked article. I realize now, its spread throughout the article. I recognize the traditional 3 of law, medicine and divinity, but outside that area I can only identify professions through my family knowledge which now includes accountants. Even by Wikipedia's own definition, though, my experience tells me the list of 19 is incomplete.  My niece, who is studying to be a Jewish Cantor, will certainly be a professional by the Wikipedia definition but cantors are not on the list. Maybe they fit in divinity. But where are architects and types of engineers other than mechanical and civil, like petroleum engineers and bio engineers?  What about physical therapists, physician's assistants and licensed professional counselors? 

I consider myself to be reasonably educated (3 post secondary degrees, including a masters in library science and a law degree - so two professional), and reasonably knowledgeable about religions, as well as reasonably knowledgeable about Wikitree categories, and I could not tell you without a lot of research which religious occupations qualify as professions.

This separation adds a level of thought to the categorization process and I wonder what it gets us.  There are clearly a lot more than 19 subcategories to Category: Professions, and if we combined professions and occupations, there would be a lot more than 50 subcategories to occupations which is sort of my rule of thumb on when subdivision is a good idea based on numbers alone. In fact there are already 135 subcategories to occupations.  But what does a split between professional occupations and non-professional occupations get us?

Like you, I'm a fan of multiple paths and industry is definitely one path I favor for occupations.  But at present, there is no religion industry path that includes all the religious occupations in a list. I think we need that.  I think we need one by religion as well and the religious categories principles just adopted provide a place for that. There we abolished the intermediate level of Protestant versus Catholic on the theory that it didn't provide much benefit for the extra level of thought.

In working with the religious principles, I purposefully did not tinker with, and often incorporated the structure from other streams.  So I did not tinker with the occupation versus profession split in the occupations line. I left that for later consultation.  But since you are working with it, I thought I'd weigh in with my opinion.

By the way, I don't see religious orders as an occupation at all.  Priest, monk, minister, nun, mother superior and abbot are occupations, but religious orders are organizations or affiliations.  Yes, there ought to be a path into some occupations from religious orders, but I would not make them occupations.

As for people recreating categories we empty out, we have a way to handle that now with the misnamed categories and edit-bot process. If an emptied out category is marked as misnamed, any future profiles put in it will eventually get moved to the correct category.

If we are to keep the professions division, I would tend to simplify it to clergy, theologians, and professors.  It would take too much research to figure out the ordained / not ordained distinction.  Some religions like Quakers do not ordain at all but some branches do have special ministers called recorded ministers. Others like Southern Baptists have both ordained and non ordained clergy and leave it up to the local congregation to decide when to require ordination for a specific position.

If we are to keep the professions division, I think we should define clergy as Merriam Webster's Learners Dictionary does, slightly modified for our Wikitree category structure - "people  who are recognized as the leaders of a religion or spiritual tradition and who perform religious services or rites."  

Jack, it's true that the term "profession" has become associated with higher status, so a lot of people will call what they do a "profession", even when it doesn't actually qualify as one. But there needn't be arguments about it at all. Wikipedia offers us a list, and we can just use that. Anybody who wants to argue that this occupation or that occupation should qualify as a "profession" can take that up with the editors on Wikipedia, not us.

To give some wider context to this discussion, here's part of a message that I posted in the thread on professions a few months ago:

Okay, I have started working through the Professions categories:

  • I created a new category called Occupations. Once it's been fully built out, this should replace the Professions category as the top-level category in this particular hierarchy. "Occupations" has a couple of advantages over "Professions" as a category name:
    • First, there is the old (and short) list of occupations which have been considered professions since the Middle Ages (according to Wikipedia, those were divinitymedicine, and law), followed more recently by surveyingactuarial sciencedentistrycivil engineeringlogisticsarchitectureaccountingmechanical engineeringpharmacyveterinary medicinepsychologynursingteachinglibrarianshipoptometry and social work.) Using the term "occupation" neatly sidesteps the argument over whether a particular job counts as a "profession" or not. (Although I can see keeping the "Professions" category, with reference to the elements which go into defining a particular job as a "profession".)
    • Second, using the term "occupation" also lets include things that people do, even full-time, but don't actually get paid for doing them. (I figure, if it occupies your time, it qualifies as an occupation, right?) Okay, no, seriously, there are people (like monks and nuns) who have spent years of their lives doing work, but not actually getting paid, and listing those things under "hobbies" just because they don't get paid doesn't seem right to me.
  • I'm moving existing groups of related occupations into the Occupations category (like Academics), and where occupations haven't already been grouped together, I have created new groups (like Building Trades).
  • I also created a new category called Occupations by Name, which is a flat list of all the occupations we have listed on the site. That way, people can either drill down through the groups, or they can just look through the alphabetical list, as they prefer.


Neither the Professions category nor the Occupations category is a particularly good measure of the number of occupation categories in use on WikiTree, since both of them have subcategories under them. The best measure is the Occupations by Name category, which has 757 entries as I write this, although that number is guaranteed to rise as we finish working through the Professions and Industries categories.

On people recreating categories that we empty out, I'm afraid that the Misnamed Category template is of limited use there. The impression that I get is that most people, once they see a category show up as green rather than red, will assume that everything is okay, and not actually check the category to see what it says there. Editbot is more useful, in that we can catch it when people recreate categories that we have emptied and removed (like, say, "Police Officer" rather than "Police Officers"), but with categories like "Minister" and so on, Editbot can't sort profiles automatically by denomination, only a person could do that. And even then, they could only do it if the profile actually says what denomination a person was. I can easily cases where people find occupations in census records like "Clergyman", "Minister", "Preacher", and "Priest", with no indication in the records available to them just which denomination that person was part of. Granted, that's something that may be discovered with further research, but (as I have learned with my own ancestors) some people lived pretty obscure lives, and barely appear in the records at all. Expecting people to be able to sort every single member of the clergy that they down to the denomination before they can enter any occupation information at all strikes me as pretty restrictive. Especially when using those same terms to nest more specific categories under would be so helpful.

I do agree with you that clergy need not be ordained, so we can just leave that out of the definition.

Greg, I do not expect people to completely research a profile and be able to categorize it in every way when they first categorize.  That just isn't practical or even desirable.  But how they categorize depends a great deal upon what information they are working from. If they are working strictly from a  U.S. census, they are not going to know denomination.  My guess is that in general if they are working in the American West outside the Catholic or Latter Day Saints, they aren't going to have a lot of denomination information no matter what records they are working from. But if they are working from church records or from a Danish census or some of the other censuses outside the U.S. that I've been using lately that track religion or have a state religion, they will know.  Areas like early French Canada and Scandanavia and other parts of Europe.  And if they are working from old religious institution records as some of the projects related to religion or to European aristocracy and pre-1500 are, they may have more information about church position. If their minds are are on religious records and organization when they build profiles and categorize, there will be a place for those categories under the Religious Categories stream and there will also be a place there to fit in paths to whatever gets worked out for religious occupations and professionals.

All I meant to refer to with Misnamed Categories and Edit-bot is the fact that if you empty a category and mark it misnamed with a direction to another category is that if someone uses the old category, Edit-bot can move it to the new one. So if you eliminate professions and move them all to occupations and someone puts professions back, edit-bot can handle that if the eliminated category has a misnamed template on it. That alone is a great help in reorganizing a category structure and keeping it the way it is reorganized.  Its not perfect, but its a long way from where we used to be.

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