One of the most overlooked sources for immigrant origins
are the records of the immigrants' churches. The vast majority of immigrants
were closely connected to a church in North America. They had come from
a culture where the church was one of the focal points of society, and
often the strongest glue that held together their local society. It
was a tradition in most of our immigrants' home countries to participate
in the key sacraments of their religion. This tradition carried over
to their new country.
In part, the new church in North America represented
a connection to the old country and, in that way, eased the transition
to a new life in a new country. Ethnic churches represented a key part
of an immigrant's society.
North America was more religiously diverse than any
home country of our ancestors. There were many more churches, and a
wider variety of denominations in North America, than in their home
land. Over time, the descendants of these immigrants affiliated with
any number of different denominations. Sometimes they changed churches
when the pastor changed, or when the family moved to another locality.
However, the ancestral religion, itself, was still
a strongly felt conviction for most of the first generation immigrants.
If it was at all possible, they generally affiliated with a local church
representing both the denomination and ethnic group to which they belonged
in their ancestral home.