Question of the Week: What religions did your ancestors practice?

+18 votes

What religion or religions did your ancestors practice? Please tell us here or use the question image to answer on social media. Thanks!

in The Tree House by Eowyn Langholf G2G Astronaut (1.5m points)
recategorized by Jillaine Smith
My ancestors were followers of the Religious Society of Friends, a.k.a. "Quakers". The religion was founded in 1630and my  oldest discovered male ancestor, Robert Ellis,  was born in 1650 in Northern Cymru. By 1670 he had resettled at the Quaker controlled manor of Tyddyn y Garret in Merionshire, Cymru, where he met Ellin Doe. During 1690 the couple and their children relocated to the "Welsh Tract" in Pennsylvania because of religious persecution at the hands of the English n their homeland. "We" became known as "the family of Robert", or "Robert's". Over time some the family members became Kirksite Quakers and started  the family's westward movement  in the United States where some became Mormons, or, as in my branch, chose other religions.
My oldest paternal ancestor emigrated to America with the Puritans in 1630, but he was a not a Puritan, rather a reformist dissenter who still adhered to the Church of England.  Around 1665, he and most of his family converted to Quakerism, and they were prominent Quakers in Long Island when the sect was not well tolerated by the local authorities. Quaker meetings were held in their homes and the Quaker influence spread up the Hudson River. After the Revolution, Quakerism seems to have been replaced by the Episcopal Church, later Methodism, or whatever church happened to be closest to home and farm.  That lasted until the mid- 20th Century.  Other branches of my family were German Lutheran and Irish Roman Catholic.
Puritan, Dutch Reform, Swiss Brethren, German Brethren (anabaptists), Calvanist, Lutheran, Church of England, Huguenot, Baptist, Presbyterian, a few Society of Friends. Most of my ancestors were persecuted for their religious beliefs and it was a major factor in their immigration to America.
many presbyterian scots chose to move from their homes rather than convert to the religion of their landlord or superiors in the 1800,s
Paternal side is Baptist (Protestant).

My Maternal Great Grandfather who came from Northern Ireland to Eastern Ontario in 1873, was Presbyterian and my Grandmother followed her father's path.  She married a member of a militant Irish Protestant group. There were often comments made regarding an uncle who had married a Catholic.  When I began researching the family upon arrival from Ireland in 1818, I discovered that my 3rd and 4th Great Grandparents were very involved in the Catholic Church, including being founding members * of the first Catholic Church in Eastern Ontario (circa 1825). It was only when my Great Grandma met her husband in the 1870's that GG converted and married in the Presbyterian church. It is my belief that my Grandma never discussed her family's religious origins in an effort to maintain Peace in her own home.

*Another interesting tidbit is that my Birth Family were staunch Methodists and are on record as trying to Stop the building of this very Catholic Church! My Birth Family VS My Adoptive Family!! It was amazing to read.
My paternal ancestors followed some form of Protestantism.  They originated in The Netherlands but were German  My maternal ancestors followed Catholicism as residents of southern Germany.
My adoptive mother never knew her maternal grandparents as Her mother Annie was disowned when she , the daughter of a staunch Orange man  married a Roman Catholic ( who as also older than her father!)

Sadly Annie's husband  died just after the 8th child in 9 years was born and she was dependent on Poor Law Aid. The Poor Law Board asked if she had any relatives and she informed them about her father saying he had disowned her. Shortly afterwards she was awarded 10 shillings a week to bring the family up on and pay the rent.

When the oldest boy passed to go to Grammar school he was told he could not go as there was no money for the books and uniform he would need.He wrote to his grandfather c/o Staffordshire Police ( as he as a Police officer) and the grandfather Alfred Hall got in touch through a solicitor. Upon finding that Annie was only getting the 10 shillings he was paying weekly he told the Poor Law Board to leave matters to him and thereafter paid a guinea a week until the youngest reached 21 years of age.

He gave the princely sum of £5 to Bill who had written to him to  ask for a loan pay for the uniform and books.

He refused to ever see Annie and her children and when he died many years later they were not mentioned in his will ( he left a considerable estate)

As a child growing up  I became aware of the harm that religious bigotry could do
Your info and research is terrific. Thank
My paternal grandfather was a Pentecostal  (Assembly of God) Minster.  He found his calling at a tent revival in California, he then started ministering to people on Skid Row in the 1930's then he and my grandmother were Home Missionaries.  They built and started several church's in Bartlett,  Beloit,  Olathe  and  Girard   Kansas.
My father is the (if I have this worked out right) 2nd great nephew of Charles Haddon Spurgeon, he was a Baptist Preacher in the UK in the 1800s.

My Quaker ancestors Thomas Thomson and Elizabeth Wharton married in England ca, 1635.  They raised two boys ( it seems a third died) and after the boys married they all migrated to Ireland probably to escape the persecution of the Quakers in England.  After about 12 years the two boys, John and Andrew and their families emigrated to .colonial America arriving in West New Jersey on the Mary of Dublin in 1677.

WikiTree has a file on them.  It goes to an Andrew b. 1677 who married Isabel Marshall.  They had a son Andrew (2) and the WT file ends there. I have more info on his descendants taken from Quaker files.

Andrew (2) about 1696 married Rebeckah Pedrick.  Their children are:
     Jonathan, b. 1697; Hannah, b. 1699; Isabel, b. 1700; Andrew, b. 1704.

He married 2nd Grace?.  Their children were:
    Sarah, b. 1709; Abraham, b. 1710; Joshua, b. 1713; and Thomas b. 1715.

Thomas b. 1715, m. 1st Mary Hanes and 2nd Deborah Oakford.  He and Mary had: Daniel, b. 1737; John, b. 1741; Joshua, b. 1743; Thomas, b. 1745; Sarah, b.. 1747; Mary, b. 1749.

Thomas b. 1745 d. 1798 age 53 probably Phila. m. Sarah ?.  Children:
    Martha b. 1770; John, b. 1772; Rebecca, b. 1773; Susanna, b. 1775; Thomas, b. 1777; Peter, b. 1779; Sarah, b. 1782 d. 1786 age 4 yrs; Mary, b.  1784; James, b. 1786 d. 1786 age 3 weeks.

    Sarah the mother, Sarah the child and James all died in the summer of 1786.  Thomas married again Amy? b. 1756 d. 1811.  One child Joshua b. 1790.

    (I have more on this family but will put it elsewhere.)

Martha, b. 1770,  is my 3rd ggm.  She married first a Davis. It was a short marriage of only a year.  2nd she married Roland Cromwell, Capt of a ship that went between Puerto Rico and Phila.  Although Martha had been disowned, she and Roland had a “friendly wedding” officiated by John Wilkins Justice of the Peace Gloucester NJ. Sept 18 1793.  I inherited letters from Martha, her father, Thomas Thomson, and her husband and the original wedding document.  I donated them to the Quaker Library at Swarthmore Colege for safe keeping.  They were all written in 1793.  There was also a string bound notebook in which was written the names of the children listed above.

Martha’s’ daughter married John Hanley Lyons and the Lyonses were Scotch Presbyterians, however the Quaker heritage was so strong that therir granddaughter Martha Frances Lyohs was educated in a Quaker school.

The Thomsons are on my mother’s side.  On my father’s side were also some Quakers but I know little more than the name Hayhurst.  I do know that a family by that name came to PA colony 1682 on one of William Penn’s ships but the name of it is not given. My Hayhursts lived in Bloomsburg, PA and I can only assume that they are connected.

Continuing my father’s side we have the Ungers who were Methodists from Eastern Europe, Hungary/Germany depending who you ask. There is a family story that these people were farmers and had little education.  However one of them, Daniel Pierce Unger, could read and expound the Bible so they “apponted” him pastor and raised a small log church on one of the famlily farms.  After he married he moved to Bloomsburg and joined the Medthodist church there.  When the pastor could not be in the pulpit Daniel would be asked to fill in.  His daughter and my grandmother, Jessie, told me stories of how the family had to be quiet and reflective and not engage in any amusement on Sundays.

Another story Jessie told me that when the "Cakewalk" dance fad came along she and her brother in law won a prize ifor doing it the best in a dance contest. She got a searing letter of disapproval from Quaker Grandma Hayhurst.

My parents did not follow a religion, in fact, my father was a confessed atheist.  However, as a child, my mother sent me to the nearest church so that I could walk there.  It was Baptist.  As I grew up I developed my own ideas on religion and spent 20 years in the Catholic church.  When the Charismatic Movement hit the Phila area I attended a local prayer meeting where I met the Lord and from then on it was not a religion but a relationship with God.

I moved to VA in 1997 and after some time joined a small undenominational church which actually was established by some distant Garrett cousins related to ones in PA from whence I came. Now I just call myself a Christian.

Spurgeon was a great man and well known to this day! You are blessed!
I think this went to the wrong thread,  I do not know who Spurgeon was.

Barbara Hays

64 Answers

+12 votes
My maternal ancestors from Norway, were Lutheran, as was my paternal grandmother from Germany.  Some of my paternal grandfather's tree twig, which were in NC area back to 1600's show up on 1700's Quaker Meeting records, but leave no religion clues, in 1800's as they migrate west.
by Patricia Roche G2G6 Pilot (378k points)
Exploring this weeks connection to Emma Smith, daughter of Joseph Smith, see that the Quaker tree twig connects to them.
+12 votes
My parents and everyone I have found so far up the tree were roman catholic. But secularisation happened in the Netherlands so  we have almost no practicing family members anymore and most of my still living relatives my generation and further down are not members of a church anymore.
by Eef van Hout G2G6 Mach 5 (53.7k points)
+15 votes
I ended up doing a color-coded fan chart a few years ago to answer this very question.

Out of my 30 closest direct ancestors, 20 were Lutherans, one was born Roman Catholic but converted to Lutheran, three were Roman Catholic, and six were Reformed (aka thick-necked Calvinists). So that's 70% Lutheran, 20% Reformed, and 10% RC.

My spouse's ancestors were more varied: on one side, 6 ancestors were Jewish, one was a Jewish-to-Reformed convert, 3 were Reformed, 2 were Unitarians, 2 were Roman Catholics, and one (my father-in-law) was born and baptised Reformed but was actually a very devout atheist. On the other side, there were 7 Lutherans, 6 Roman Catholics, and 2 Jewish-to-Catholic converts. So that's 33% RC, 23% Lutheran, 20% Jewish, 13% Reformed, and 10% other.

Oh, and all 60 people were born in what was then Hungary.
by J Palotay G2G6 Mach 4 (46.9k points)
edited by J Palotay
I love the idea of the color-coded fan chart on this topic! I'm going to have to try that.
I love the color-coded chart also to determine religions of my ancestors.  Thank you for sharing!
I also love the idea of color coding religions. It'll look like the color strips you get at the Lowe's paint dept, every shade imaginable.
I love this idea as well. Do you have any recommendations about how to do this? How did yo do it? I'm thinking that this is a fantastic visual way to look at distributions of all kinds of things including religion and I'd like to set it up. Did you use a program? Groupings? Is there anything that you would say made it harder or that you wouldn't do again?
Hi, I just picked up on the idea so am now in the process of trying it.  My Family Tree Maker software has it built into the program where I can use my existing tree ancestors using their information.  I have also printed a fan chart for medical information and was pleased with the results.
What a good idea!
+13 votes
My maternal ancestors were 99% Catholic.

My paternal ancestors were varying flavors of Protestant.

Pretty unexciting.  ;)
by Dorothy O'Hare G2G6 Mach 1 (15.3k points)
We’re 8th cousins twice removed through the Babcock lineage
Cool!  Please to meet you, Cousin.  :)

It’s amazing how connections go especially when it’s certain. I love the Babcock genealogy. We have the Babcock One name study here

+12 votes
All of my ancestors were Southern protestants - Methodists and Baptists. How many ways can I say "Almost no records"??

Conversely, my husband's ancestors, being Acadians, are ALL Roman Catholic. I hardly have the space to store all the religious records on them!
by Virginia Fields G2G6 Pilot (301k points)
+16 votes

Doing genealogy, I have found my family belonging to several different religions. If I go to my early Pennsylvania relatives, they are mainly Presbyterians and one line of Quakers. With my maternal family, I have found that my 3rd great grand aunt, Hannah Ford Driggs, and her husband and children were part of the Mormon Church that made the trip westward. Hannah unfortunately died on the way and is buried in Iowa. Among her children are Samuel and Shadrach Driggs, who are considered pioneering members of the Church of Latter-Day Saints. I love that I have been able to find these religious discoveries through doing genealogy. 

by Alexis Nelson G2G6 Pilot (166k points)
+12 votes
My ancesters have been a mixture of catholics, mothodist, lutherin and quakers.
by Jennifer Robins G2G6 Mach 3 (33.8k points)
+13 votes
My 2 X grt Grandfather Charles Richards born 1839 and his ancestors had been Church of England since records were first kept in the local church. Yes it was very lucky the records are intact back to 1659.

In 1891 Samuel Richards his son married and moved house. It turned out that the local Catholic Church was very close to the new house. Samuel and his Martha his wife were so entranced by the hymns that they converted to Roman Catholicism, named their 7th child after the parish priest, which must have raised some eyebrows in 1897. The rest of the very large family hardly spoke to them for many years. Even after Samuel died unexpectedly in 1902, leaving his wife with 11 children under the age of 14, one of whom was only 3 weeks old, the family begrudged supporting the widow and her young family because they gone over to 'the other side'.

The descendants of Samuel and Martha are still Catholic and the descendants of the other sons are still Church of England
by M Ross G2G4 (4k points)
+10 votes
Nearly all my life, I believed all my ancestors were Protestant Christians, including a large number of colonial Puritans.  That came to an end when my parents decided to become Unitarians, who most people regard as Christians, but they are not.

Only in the last few years, as I got deeply into genealogy, did I discover I had a significant line of Catholic ancestors in the one branch of my tree I had known little about, and a number of Quakers also, back among my sixth great grandparents and earlier.
by Julie Kelts G2G6 Pilot (226k points)
edited by Julie Kelts
It appears we’re 10th cousins
My 2nd ggf was a leader in the Unitarian movement.  Most considered themselves Christians up through my childhood, when we attended a Congregational/Unitarian congregation.  The Unitarians had many Puritan ancestors, with many non-clergy becoming Quaker or even Mormon, but records are scant.  My Mormon ancestors are those who returned to their previous faith..
Tim, it looks to me like you and I are about the same age.  I went to years of Unitarian Sunday school, and the one and only piece of dogma we were taught was that Jesus was a great teacher, but he was only a man.  At least at one time (although I don't find it now in a quick Google search), I thought a Christian was someone who believed in the divinity of Jesus Christ, and Unitarians, just as Jews, did not.  I was taught that Unitarians were Deists as opposed to Christians.  Of course many Unitarians believe in basic Christian values, as do many atheists.

Thanks for the comment.
You are correct that Unitarian teaching in my childhood took Jesus as the Great Prophet, not Son of God, and invoked Jewish tradition.  Rejection of the full dogma of Trinity from the beginning distinguished Unitarian from Christians in the mind of others, but not in theirs (where I came from).  Just across the border of my officially "rural" area, the Unitarian congregations now are officially Unitarian Universalist.
Interesting.  Where did you come from?  I guess I'm (or was) a California Unitarian!
As Unitarians, we were in Mass.  By the time we lived in CA, we were Episcopal.   One of the closer congregations was combined United (on the liberal side) and Episcopal.  Now I'm firmly in the bible belt where Baptists are proud of it, and we have all-city (still referred to as town) musical celebration combining everyone but catholics.  So there aren't consistent differentiations.
Julie, many of those "basic Christian values" far predate Christianity.
Of course I know that.
+11 votes
My relatives have all been Protestants except for one gggrandmother who was Catholic.  Many were Protestant orangemen from Northern Ireland
by Kathleena Elston G2G Crew (630 points)
It appears we’re 9th cousins lol
It sure does Andrew!  Hi!  I’m pretty confident in my connection to Claude.  It gets a little harry around Abraham DeGroff because there is more than one around the same age.  How about you are you pretty confident?

I’m confident mostly the Delamater side has some good sources. This is distant but I think it’s highly confident lol

I see Abraham does need a few sources to sure it up better. Maybe I can help add to his profile when I get a chance : )

+10 votes
I knew I would find many Catholics on a few branches, and Anglicans and Methodists on another.  What I didn't expect was to stumble across generations and generations of Quakers!  I discovered that one of my grandmothers had come from very long lines of Quakers and that seemed to have ended only when her grandparents moved to a very unsettled part of the west which likely did not have any Friends Meetings.  But when I learned this, I thought back to my grandmother's demeanor and thought - "oh, this explains so much!"
by Roxanna McGinnis G2G2 (2.3k points)
+11 votes
On my father's side: Anglican/Episcopalian, Presbyterian, Baptist. On my mother's side: Quaker (a line that supposedly includes some Lollards further back), Catholic, Methodist, Huguenot (French Calvinists), Baptist, Presbyterian.
by C Handy G2G6 Mach 7 (78.1k points)
+7 votes
My sad was raised as a Methodist.  Some of my more distant ancestors were members of the Society of Friends. I'm sureI had Roman Catholic and Orthodox ancestors as well as Jewish ones.
by David Hughey G2G6 Pilot (763k points)
+8 votes
My maternal grandmother was Methodist I think, but my maternal grandfather didn't care much about religion and was not church-going. He used to say, "When you die, they put you in the ground and that is where you stay."

Some of my ancestors were Baptists, and at least some on my McFatter line were Presbyterian.
by Jessica Key G2G6 Pilot (133k points)
+8 votes
The Luxembourgers were all Roman Catholic, and most of the English in my lines were Anglican. It's the ones who ended up in the U.S. who add a little variety. There's a Methodist minister, Presbyterians, Baptists, and more. All Christian as far as I've found.
by Amber Brosius G2G6 Mach 1 (19.6k points)
+7 votes

My maternal lineage is Protestant my maternal grandfather Rev. James E. Gibbs was a Full Gospel Non-Denominational minister; his father Rev. John Charles Gibbs Sr. my great grandfather was a Methodist “Standard Church of America”. My great great grandfather Ell Banard Gibbs had Holiness Camp meetings Methodist religion “Standard Church of America” which is mentioned in newspaper entries of his era see links on his profile to read about the meetings. NEW YORK 1800’s! My Civil War grandpa John C. Gibbs was M.E. Methodist Episcopal as was his wife!

My paternal side is French Catholic some conversions to Protestant faith. The Trombly side were French Catholic! The Simpier side from what I was told is that great grandpa John Clephus Simpier was Methodist and was married by a M.E. Reverend to Sarah Alice Nissen whose Danish father was 7th Day Adventist’s which is found in newspaper clippings 

I am trying to research this aspect of their lives as religions had many break off denominations. Anyone with a better knowledge of religious history is welcome to add more info

by Andrew Simpier G2G6 Mach 4 (46k points)
edited by Andrew Simpier
+7 votes
Where I have evidence, mostly Christian of one flavor or another. Lots of Lutherans and Baptists in modern times. Going further back, enough Quakers to make things interesting. Also followers of Anne Hutchinson and other colonial religious controversies.

The most intriguing person I know of and I can't remember the name offhand, but it was on an Iowa state census, 1885 or 1905, the religion question was on the census, and rather than a denomination, or just generic "Christian", or just leaving the question blank, my ancestor explicitly answered "none."  Unexpected!
A religion question on the census! I never knew any had those... not long ago, I spoke to a young man who had come to the USA from Egypt. According to him, in Egypt your religious affiliation is indicated on your identity card, and as he's part of the Christian minority in Egypt, it was almost impossible for him to find a good job because of this. Of course, I imagine your first name will give it away a lot of the time (not many Christians named Muhammad, for example).

I vaguely recalled what record it was on; picked it out first try! It's on the 1895 Iowa state census. William Ebaugh (my 2nd ggu), at the bottom of the page. Image at FamilySearch

Having one's religion / race on an identity card was not that rare.  It sounds appalling to those of us in the US, but Denmark (where I reside now) keeps very close records through the Ministry of Ecumenical Affairs about Lutherans life events, assigns people to a community church and during peak attendance on Christmas, will schedule which service you are meant to go to.  The Danish Lutherans also pay a church tax of 0.7% of their salary to get this access.  Denmark doesn't have ID cards though for citizens, so where this is recorded is somewhat unclear to me - probably in the tax office - they know absolutely everything about everyone (but not in a bad way).  Israel used to indicate a person's race and religion on their ID card, and I know that Singapore did as well.  Interestingly, being Jewish in Singapore is consider a race (since they don't capture religion on their ID cards).  I've also heard that this was done in Russia, but I am not 100% sure.  Israel abolished this practice > 30 years ago, to try and avoid discrimination.   And although this part is slightly off topic, China has a number of recognised religions (Judaism is not on the list).  Chinese nationals may not practise or attend services of a non-official religion.  Synagogues, used by expats only, are monitored to ensure compliance.
+7 votes
On my mother's side they seem to be Church of England back to the Reformation (though there may be a few Quakers in colateral lines).  Before that they were presumably Catholic.

My father's side is more complicated.  His parents were both atheists, though they were practicing Buddhists in the 19 teens, and were involved in Theosophy, Golden Dawn, Aleister Crawley, Arthur Waite at the turn of that century.

His mother's family seem to be Church of England back to the reformation.  His father's family, however, contained a large number of Non-Conformists, Congregationalists, (English) Unitarians  (who ARE Christians), Quakers, Puritans, and so on.  One n'th removed cousin was a Puritan leader in Monmouth's Rebellion. An n'th grandfather emigrated to the Massachusetts Bay Colony, as a Puritan, in 1635, but returned to England about 1650.
by Janet Gunn G2G6 Mach 7 (71.3k points)
+7 votes

Broadly speaking, they were Church of England on my father's side, Catholic on my mother's side.

However, my Knighton family were Quakers for a few generations, and discovering that broke quite a hefty brick wall.

Also, my 5x great-grandparents William Dack and Sarah Bilham were Mormons later in life, as their son Philip Dack had converted and moved from England to Utah, then brought his parents over once he was settled there. My branch of the Dack family stayed in England and did not convert, however.

by James Knighton G2G6 Mach 2 (21.1k points)
+7 votes
On my fathers side we were Protestant's from England. After they came to America it became a mixture of Quaker and Baptist.  My mothers paternal side came from the Netherlands.So I do not know for sure what religion they were. I would think Protestant. When they came to America they became Mormons.Same for my mothers maternal side.
by Teresa Davis G2G6 Mach 3 (31.5k points)
My dad was a staunch Southern Baptist; my mother, Esther Jackson LeMay,  a member of the Christian Church. But my sister and I grew up in WW II years when my dad, a railroader, had to work 7 days a week so we just went with Mom and both became baptized in the Christian Church and I became a minister. When Dad-James Autie LeMay-retired he helped start a Southern Baptist church in Prescott and was the treasurer when Baptists started Grand Canyon College. My mother's brother, Elvin Jackson, had married a Texas lady with the church of Christ [non-instrumental] and they started a church of Christ in Prescott. Both of their sons became ministers with the church of Christ.

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