Throughout history, religious organizations have provided strength, stability, and support in their communities. Beyond the spiritual aspects of their activities, they also have provided a focal point for social interaction. Members formed strong common bonds with one another, often resulting in marriages between families.
Sometimes you may find that large numbers of a congregation’s members relocated to other geographical areas or split from their original group to form a new congregation.
Your family may have been part of a religious group that migrated from one area to another. One of my own ancestors came from Scotland–through Ireland–to America in the early 1700s and settled in Cecil County, Maryland. He came with his parents, two of his brothers and their families, his minister, and at least twenty other families. These Presbyterians migrated through the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia and to Mecklenburg County in the southern part of North Carolina in the late 1740s.
They settled and established a new church in that area which, over time, produced other Presbyterian churches in the vicinity. These people went on to build a community and to become active in civil affairs, including the organization of resistance and rebellion against the English crown. Published histories of the congregations detail the founding of these churches and recount the activities of its members throughout the centuries.
Not every church or synagogue has a history filled with extraordinary events, but the role it played in the community is no less significant. A book titled “Pressing Toward The Mark,” written by Bill Page, was published in 1991 by the First Baptist Church of Mebane, North Carolina, on the 90th anniversary of the founding of the church. It contains a history of the church and its place in the history of that area. It provides membership statistics, detailed biographical information about every pastor, the names and details of a number of prominent members, the names and terms of pastors, clerks, treasurers, Sunday schools superintendents, and directors of the Women’s Missionary Society/Union, as well as the names of all members at the time of publication.
In addition, there are photographs included of pastors, groups, individuals, and significant events in the church’s history. I found my own grandfather in a photograph of the 1947 groundbreaking ceremony for a new building. As a result, I was able to conduct some additional research to learn more about my grandparents’ membership and activities in the church, as well as details about my mother and her sisters.
Locating the Histories
Some congregations’ histories may be formally published in book form while others may only be typed and photocopied. You are sure to find a copy in the church or synagogue library, and chances are good you will find a copy at the local public library. Other sources for such histories are the national or regional administrative locations for the religious group, the state archives or state library, and genealogical or historical societies. Continue reading