20 March 2012

Tuesday's Tip - Catholics, Protestants and Agnostics, Oh my!

Blessed Ostara everyone! Ever heard of it? I hadn't either until about 20 years ago, and then I learned a lot more about it as I was taking a religious studies course as part of my Art History studies. Ostara is the pagan name (although there are other spellings) of the festival of the Vernal Equinox...Spring! Anyway, I could write a lot about what I learned about the origins of the fun things we do at Easter, like coloring eggs, the hiding of the eggs, the Easter bunny or many others, but I'll save that for another time. 

My Tuesday tip might be a tad bit uncomfortable, but I learned through my own research that sometime going out of our comfort zone is a good thing. This tip has to do with our assumptions about our fore-bearer's religious affiliations. And, of course, it echoes what I've said a number of times before here: make no assumptions. 

Here's how I learned this lesson. When I first started researching my Wersel line, I knew my great grandfather Henry and his three siblings, George, Agnes and Estella (yes, I'm still waiting on records from California...I may be a really old woman before they get here!). They were, to my knowledge, the extent of my great grandfather's family. My great grandmother, Laura Louise Richards, was Methodist, as was my great grandfather. Or so I assumed

The wonderful cemetery websites hadn't been created at the time I'd started my research, so I couldn't simply plug a name in and uncover the truth about this family. It took first discovering the name of a living relative with whom I had a brief but elucidating conversation. When asking about a possible burial location for our relatives, he suggested the Cincinnati Catholic Cemetery Society. I asked aloud, "Why would I do that?" and his response, "We're Catholic." 

I was a bit stunned. I grew up as a Methodist, my parents were Methodist, my maternal grand parents were Methodist...but I had family that was Catholic. To be fair, my cousin was as shocked to find out he had Protestant relatives as I was to find my Catholic side. What's more, I uncovered through the CCCS three more brothers my great grandfather had, all of whom were Catholic.

In later conversations with several relatives, it would appear that the religious switch happened in my great grandfather's generation. When, why and how are still unknown to me, but I know that my Henry's siblings George, Agnes and Stella are buried in Calvary Cemetery in Los Angeles, California. It's a Roman Catholic Cemetery.

I'm still working on unraveling who is whom in this family. I have overlapping lines with family names that are all the same: Nicholas, Frank, George, Charles and William. I'll tease out all the details, soon enough. For now, I've learned to make no assumptions regarding the religious affiliations my families have, because you just never know. And, knowing that we have Catholic roots helps me narrow my search as I return beyond three generations of this family.


  1. Very good point, Laura. Sometimes the knowledge we have doesn't SEEM to be assumptions, but... Excellent learning, excellent post. Thanks.

  2. Actually, your discovery about the Catholic connections may help propel your research. There are a lot of well-kept, thorough Catholic records going back a long way before any state governments thought about taking notes.

    Like you, I was raised Methodist, though I'm not one now. People change their minds. We have that luxury now. And there wasn't always a Methodist church, either. The farther back you go, at least in European heritage, the more likely it will be that you will find yourself searching in Catholic records.

  3. Thank you Jacqui. Your point's well taken and when the time comes to research the European part of my line, I'll be certain to check Church records!

  4. Thanks for discussing this. I always knew that I was the product of a "mixed marriage" (Catholic married to a Protestant), but I had no idea of the religious diversity of my ancestors. We are/were Catholic, Presbyterian, Episcopalian, Methodist, Muslim, Lutheran, Jewish, and I'm sure many more I can't bring to mind. It's a fascinating topic.

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  6. I enjoyed reading about your discovery of Catholic ancestors, Laura. You might enjoy stopping by The Catholic Gene (http://catholicgene.wordpress.com/) a blog I co-author that is dedicated to Catholic ancestral research.



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