Who Joined New Religions?
Sometimes we forget that every newly created church or religion had to start somewhere, at some time, with some group of people. It is the group of people I would like to explore to demonstrate some genealogy principles. I want to detail who the early memberships were for some historically important movements.
Throughout history, new religious movements rise to reform, revitalize, or even replace older ones. Putting dissatisfied people in the right place at the right time, under the right social conditions and entirely new movements are created.
Below you will find a very short discussion of some key movements. From a genealogy perspective, knowing what kind of people merged into a new movement, clues you into what records you should be exploring to uncover more about these earliest converts.
Adventists: The Millerites would spread from the last revival fires in Upstate New York. Millerites would separate from local Baptist, Christian Connexion, Congregational, Methodist and other denominations in 1843/44 in expectation of Christ’s Second Coming. After the “Great Disappointment” of 1844, the post-Millerite Adventists would separate into Sunday and Sabbath keeping denominations. The emerging Seventh-day Adventist Church, organized in 1863, would attract many post-Millerite Adventists who had already transitioned, and stabilized, with the Shakers and Spiritualism.
Disciples or Christians: Although rooted in the Cane Creek, Kentucky Great Revival of 1801, the Disciples and Christians of the movement would unite as one force in 1832. Scholars refer to them as the Stone-Campbell Movement. Their message of restoring the ancient church as described in the pages of the New Testament found fertile ground on the American Frontier of the Mid-West and South. It drew from all Protestant denominations, especially the Baptists. In the 1830s, a good percentage of the Baptist congregations in Kentucky and many in Tennessee would switch over to become a congregation known as the Disciples of Christ, Christian Church or Church of Christ. The name was more of a description than a church name.
Latter Day Saints: Founded in 1830 in Upstate New York, the early membership was drawn from seekers caught up in the last revival fires of the Second Great Awakening. Early Mormon membership would attract former Baptists, Universalists, Unitarians, Methodists, Quakers, Presbyterian and Congregationalists. They would also attract those involved in frontier folk-religion and folk-magic from the period. Although there were Mormon missions in Ireland since 1840, most Irish converts would join in Scotland and England, where they had already immigrated. They were of Protestant background.
Methodists: The Methodist would officially emerge out of the Church of England in 1795 and Church of Ireland in 1817. They had been functioning as study groups. In Ireland, some study groups had also been functioning within the Presbyterian Church. The first independent Irish Methodist congregations were in North America.
Plymouth Brethren: More appropriately called the Christian Brethren, Gospel Hall Brethren or just Christians, this Irish-born movement, provided a systematic approach to doctrines which are now associated with fundamentalist Protestantism. Their earliest membership, from the 1830s would draw from the Church of Ireland. They would later draw from conservative Protestants of all denominations, especially in Ulster.
Society of Friends: Drawing its early membership from the Church of England, Quakerism would spread to Ireland by the 1650s. There, English settlers would convert to the new radical faith. While strongly English, the Irish Quaker records do have many Gaelic and Scottish names on the membership rolls. The Quakers have a long history of immigration to North America.
Spiritualists: Officially recognized as a new religion in 1848, this new Upstate New York faith would draw from the reform minded people. In this aspect, they were similar to the early Millerites. This would include New England Transcendentalists, Congregationalist, Universalists, Shakers, post-Millerite Adventists, dissident Quakers, Suffrage and Abolitionist, and later reform-minded Utah Mormons.
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