Whether or not you are a religious person or attend any religious service on a regular basis, it is a known fact that our ancestors’ religious views shaped our heritage. Persecution due to their views concerning God, Christ, Buddha, Nature, or Atheism defined where they lived, where they traveled, how they dressed, who they married, what they celebrated, and even how many or how few children they had.
Everyone who has attended a U.S. History class in high school or college knows some of the reasons the Pilgrims chose to leave King George’s England for the shores of the New World. They wanted to practice their own brand of religion – not one dictated by the King. We all know the atrocities committed during WWII against the Jewish people because of their race and their beliefs. During the Cold War we heard the stories of how people were fleeing their homes from behind the Iron Curtain in order to continue to practice their religion. We also know how divided the country has become over the right to prayer in schools, the right of some members of religions to stop work and pray several times a day, and what exactly our forebearers meant as they worded the Constitution and the Bill of Rights.
If you have traveled through Lancaster, Pennsylvania or any of the Amish or Mennonite communities in the Midwest, you’ve seen the men driving their horse and buggies, perhaps tasted the bounty of their harvests in the Farmer’s Market, or heard the stories of “rumspringa” when the Amish teens are allowed to live amongst the outside world for a period of time.
Maybe you’ve taken a trip and followed the “Mormon Trail” and heard the stories of the difficulties Joseph Smith’s followers had as they set up their homes at each new place before finally moving farther west and transforming Salt Lake City into their own. All because they believed in their religion so passionately.
How we celebrate holidays certainly extends from traditions that we were accustomed to as we grew up. Christian church services on Christmas Eve? Good Friday Mass? Passover Seder? Fasting for Ramadan? There are other traditions as well – arranged marriages, bris for newborn male children, a menorah lit during Hanukkah, sitting “shiva” upon a death, not eating meat during Lent . . . all of these are a part of our vastly different heritages and ancestry.
When you are doing your research, make sure to learn what you can about the places of worship your ancestors attended (or didn’t attend), what type of community they lived in (melting pot or one made up of similar race and culture), what their celebratory or holiday traditions were, and also if they converted to a different religion (Christian/Jew; Catholic/Protestant; Christian/Atheist; Wicca/Christian; etc.) and why. Did they emigrate from their home country to America for religious reasons? Did they migrate from one place in America to a different one – such as the Mormons did?
This information will give you a little more detail into your ancestors’ lives and the ideals they had. What beliefs and traditions are you passing on to your children or grandchildren? Do they reflect your religious beliefs or non-beliefs? Do you want to allow your children to grow up learning and practicing all different forms of traditions and beliefs so they can choose for themselves where they fit in the grand scheme of things? Do you have relatives or ancestors who were “cast out” of their parental home due to a religious conversion? Dig deeper to see if you can grasp the bigger picture.
My next post will reflect my ancestral religious roots.