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The original content for this article was contributed by The National Institute for Genealogical Studies in June 2012. It is an excerpt from their course Canadian: Religious Records by Brenda Dougall Merriman, CG, CGL. The Institute offers over 200 comprehensive genealogy courses for a fee ($).
Secondly there are financial records. These will include information on the fiscal health of the church, but for genealogical purposes the interesting parts are those which list individuals’ offerings. A picture of your ancestor’s monetary status can emerge from these, in much the same way as it can from the agricultural census, or local assessment and tax records.
Many large or urban churches produced yearbooks which include a copy of the church constitution, reports of activities and financial reports. Very often these include printed versions of the records of individual givings, with names, addresses and amounts. They can be accessed more easily than the handwritten versions of the same. For instance, the Allen County Public Library (with a genealogy collection second only to the Family History Library in Salt Lake City) in Fort Wayne, Indiana, has a long run of these printed yearbooks for the Presbyterian Church in Orillia, Ontario.
It may seem unusual to us that something now considered as private as church givings would be published publicly. This record, which dates from as recently as 1957, shows that attitudes were different in the past. By finding our relatives on this list we could determine how much they gave, and compare it to others; by going through several years of these annual reports, we could see if their givings remained constant or changed. This might be an indication of their financial fortunes during this time, and would be interesting for the family history.
The accounts are very general and provide information which may not appeal to you as being worth the effort required to plough through the masses of information. As you progress in your genealogy and become more particular, you may well decide to come back to them. Other lists might very well be more rewarding.
Regional or Association Reports
Another location for financial records in some denominations is a regional or association report.
An example is from the Twenty-second Report of the Executive Committee of the Diocesan Church Society of Nova Scotia, 1859 and concerns the givings at various Anglican churches. Persons or families are listed with the total of their givings, in some cases very small amounts which is all people could afford. It is interesting that sterling was still being used at this period rather than dollars.
If you are having trouble with locating the baptism of your ancestor, try looking in the local church for a confirmation record. This assumes, of course, that your ancestor’s religion had confirmation (Lutherans and Anglicans do; Roman Catholics call this ‘first communion’).
Confirmation was seen as the step beyond baptism in affirming church membership. In infant baptism, as we know, the parents or sponsors spoke for the small child in making vows about living a Christian life and following the teachings of the denomination. At a time when the young person was felt to be old enough to make their own public statement, they were asked to confirm the vows made at the font on their behalf. As John Humphrey puts it, “Confirmation is seen as the completion of baptism.”
The confirmation ceremony was often conducted by a bishop, who would lay hands on the candidate’s head and indicate that they were now fully fledged adult members of the church. Confirmation was often a prelude to the commencement of full participation in the Eucharist.
If you can find your ancestor in a confirmation record, you may not be able to establish an exact age, but you can made an educated guess based on the usual age of confirmation for that church in that era. It was usual for children to be confirmed at an age which every era thought appropriate, but the age has varied considerably over the years, according to the view of children and their ability to make judgments. For example, in the Victorian era confirmation often waited until the age of sixteen or so, and in fact was linked to puberty (which occurred later in those days than now). It has become younger as time went on. Also, in more recent times children have begun to participate in the Eucharist before confirmation, and researchers who are used to this practice should not be confused. This was not usual in past times.
In addition, the age of confirmation and first communion varied from denomination to denomination, and may have done so even in different geographical areas, if the presiding bishop had unorthodox ideas.
To discover the usual age of confirmation at any period in the church which interests you, ask the denominational archivist, who is sure to have some idea of church practices in other times.
The discovery of a relation’s name on a list of confirmands also locates the family in the area at that time.
The confirmation list from St. Paul’s Evangelical Lutheran Church in Berlin (Kitchener), Ontario from 1904, is very informative. The child’s name is given, with father’s name, birthdate and place, day of confirmation and place of baptism. The birth information is especially useful if this was lacking earlier. The day of confirmation, Palm Sunday, is a traditional day for the event (as Easter Eve is for baptism). We can see from this list that 14 is a traditional age at this time for confirmation. Most of the children listed are born in late 1889 or early 1890.
Information in this Wiki page is excerpted from the online course Canadian: Religious Records offered by The National Institute for Genealogical Studies. To learn more about this course or other courses available from the Institute, see our website. We can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
We welcome updates and additions to this Wiki page.
- This page was last modified on 15 March 2013, at 16:13.
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