The Baptist tradition is so interwoven into American history that it cannot be separated out. This alone makes Baptist Studies an important part of your family history research. For your Irish Studies, vast numbers of Scots-Irish and their descendants joined the Baptist Church in America as did many Irish Catholics after immigrating.
What Kind of Baptist Church Did Your Ancestors Belong
In documenting a Baptist family, the first question to ask is: What kind of Baptist? Today, all Baptists combined comprise the second largest religious grouping in the country; with the Southern Baptist Convention being the largest Protestant denomination.
Baptists congregations range from militantly independent conservatives on the right to socially oriented and ecumenically minded on the left. There are those who worship on Saturday or Sunday; small groups in almost compound-like settings and mega churches hosting tens of thousands of worshipers at a time. Congregations also can change their allegiance to a larger convention or association or establish their own governing body or none at all.
The Roots of Baptists in America
The earliest Baptists came from England with the first congregation founded in Providence, Rhode Island in 1639 by William Rogers. If you do not find an ancestor, for example, in the predominant Congregational Church in New England, then they may have been Baptists.
During the Second Great Awakening (1790-1830), Baptists would spread into new areas and people. It was also the Baptists, along with the Methodists who would win the hearts of African Americans. So whether you are tracing a white, black or even a mixed-blood Indian lineage; chances are you will come across Baptist ancestors along the way.
In Part 2 of this blog, I will discuss the major Baptist denominations in the United States as they all left behind records from which to document an ancestor.
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