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Lesson 2: Clues from Church Records

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.

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