When you search your family history you will definitely be faced with looking through religious records.
The vast amount of religious records available online can be viewed as a daunting, impenetrable mass of information. You may feel like you are searching for a needle in a haystack.
However, if you know what information you are hoping to find then it gives you a better chance of knowing where to look.
Religious records can be a great source of information about people from your family history. The details often go beyond the basic birth, marriage and death records.
Generally religious records were created by officials in whatever was the local religious organisation of a community. That may have been a Catholic or Protestant Church, or representatives of another religion.
This data can contain all sorts of information about your family history
The depth and reliability of the sources will vary. This data can contain all sorts of nuggets of information about your ancestors.
You may know the birth and death details of a member of your family but think you know little more about them as an individual.
This is where the more detailed religious records can shed some light on to them as a person.
If you know the location of your ancestors’ birth and death. Then you can assume they may well have spent their lives living in that local community. Although always be careful when making assumptions. Be prepared to be proven wrong at any given turn.
In some areas, the local religious body would have had influence over social issues. These could have been things like providing education and poor relief to the local population.
There would have been records of individuals who belonged to a congregation. They may have accessed the support available.
Local laws can reveal more information about your family history
Knowledge of the local laws at a given time (which is usually available within these religious records) is so helpful.
They can often tease out further pieces of information about a member of your family.
One such law would be the local authority’s ruling over the responsibility of a newborn child. If there was an acknowledged father, then the child could not become the responsibility of the parish. Instead the child should be supported by his or her father.
This can also help to find information about individuals in your family tree. It will give indications to the type of character they may have been.
Religious records are also likely to include the details of the local clerk’s duties and appointments. There will likely be more information about the larger overall goings on of the community.
Records of parish leaders visiting the sick, leading pilgrimages and attending local court hearings can all throw up more pieces of information.
Religious records give a great perspective of the life and times of your ancestors
You may not find any information about the person you are hoping. However, the stories in these appointment records can still be shocking and fascinating. They will offer a better overall perspective of the times and living standards of the period.
Religious records were typically handwritten by officials of the local organisation.
There are examples of clergys preparing printed forms for their officials to fill in. However, generally there was an emphasis to get as much information onto one sheet of paper to save costs.
Many times clerks would be required to provide their own ink and paper. Unfortunately, this meant that their records have not been preserved through time as they would have been using the cheapest materials available.
When searching through your family tree it is always useful to consider if there was an established religion in the region and era.
It opens up a whole new source of information that can shape an individual as a character.
Religious records show churches had much authority
When the local religious group held authority and influence on a community there would be records of legal documents. These may cover things such as proof of land ownership that may have been provided in a family dispute over inheritance.
Also remember that membership of the local religious group may have been a requirement for individuals to reach certain levels of status in life.
Opportunities such as access to legal landownership, the ability to undertake higher education, the right to marry legally and so on. All have been dependent on being a member of the local religious body.
For example, a series of penal laws in England post-Reformation meant Catholics were not allowed to transfer land, hold military or government offices. They also suffered a wide range of restrictions on their religious activities.
Key points to take away
- If you know what information you are hoping to find then it gives you a better chance of knowing where to look.
- Always be careful when making assumptions. Be prepared to be proven wrong at any given turn
- When searching through your family tree it is always useful to consider if there was an established religion in the region and era.