Where religion helps

Considering that my genealogical obsession (let’s be candid) was prompted by the mention of unanticipated Quaker ancestry, I’m nonetheless amazed at the central role religion has played in understanding my paternal grandparents’ roots. Arising in two distinct streams – Quaker and Dunker – theirs is far more focused and unified than I’ve found on my mother’s side.

Because both the Quakers (or Friends) and the Dunkers (or Brethren) lived within unique, disciplined faith traditions that relied on lay ministry, simple lifestyles, pacifism, intense honesty, and the like, there’s much I can say about each generation even when I lack specific materials from within the family itself, such as letters or portraits. They were part of distinctive community and its folkways. For that matter, they embodied what we’d now call a counterculture. (Gee, I never would have thought that back in my hippie days!)

This has also given me a unique understanding of Friends and Brethren history. For instance, typical Quaker accounts tend to focus on Philadelphia or London, yet many modern Friends are surprised to learn of the vitality and witness of the Carolina wing of the denomination, even if they are vaguely familiar with the Indiana (and other Midwestern) strands – that is, the lines my family followed.

Sometimes, when I sit down in Quaker worship or committee work these days, I’m comforted or strengthened by insights gleaned from these genealogical perspectives. Some of my ancestors were downright cranky, as I’ve seen, even in the face of church reproof. Ahem.

In many ways, then, this blog is as much about Friends and Brethren as it is about my particular ancestry.

It’s wonderful seeing how the bits I have fit into a larger whole, and not just family.


In doing your own research, are you finding religion plays a similar role in your personal understanding? Or does some other factor take on a central role – military service, for instance, or social position? Where have you found insights for a clearer understanding of your ancestors’ lifestyles?


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