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The freedom of religion in North America, which has existed in some form or another since the early 1600s, has encouraged many persecuted churches to establish congregations in America. Although individual colonies may have been intolerant of certain denominations, generally a church would be welcome in at least one of the many colonies established in the New World.

Colonial America was perhaps the most religiously diverse place on earth at that time. During the Revolutionary War, you will find dozens of different denominations were already well-established, some having been in North America for five generations.

Understanding the Situation

  1. Who was the immigrant?

The difficulty in researching immigrants from this time period is determining who the immigrant was. Often, when we run out of records showing our surname, we assume that the first person of our surname mentioned in the records is our immigrant, when, in reality, we have simply been the victim of the scarcity of records during this era.

  1. The scarcity of records.

There were fewer records kept: no census, no government vital records, virtually no newspapers, few immigration lists, etc.

Small wonder then, that church records need to play a more prominent role in our colonial research. This is particularly true when trying to track the origins of British colonial immigrants. However, even after finding an immigrant in a colonial church record, you may not find any reference to his or her home town. Generally you can expect greater success with non-British immigrants.

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