Part 3 in this series focuses on how to identify a nineteenth century Spiritualist. It is a largely unexplored topic from a genealogical perspective. A Spiritualist could range from a professional medium, to those who quietly attend séances, or privately consulted the planchette (forerunner of the Ouija board). Some clues exist which may help.
If an ancestor had an interest in Swedenborgianism, Shakers, Transcendentalism, Universalism, dissent Quakerism, Theosophy, Christian Science and New Thought, they may have also have been involved in Spiritualism. The first five contributed the earliest members to Spiritualism (1848-1870s) while the latter three drew their earliest membership from a declining Spiritualism (1870s and 1880s). By the 1860s, many Universalist congregations and a large percentage of dissident Quakers had merged into Spiritualism.
Some post-Millerite Adventists looked at biblical texts from a spiritualized position to explain why Christ did not come in the clouds on 22 October 1844. By spiritualizing the message, they could say that Christ came in their hearts. Hundreds of these spiritualizers came to seek emotional and spiritual stability after the “Great Disappointment” of 1844 in the Shaker communities. These same post-Millerite spiritualizers, due to Shaker celibacy, would transition into Spiritualism after 1848, and then into Sabbatarian Adventism (Seventh-day Adventist Church).
Spiritualist tombstones often record, rather than death, the date the deceased “entered the Summerland” which is the Spiritualist heaven. Other tombstone terminology includes “awakened to the newness of life the Spirit World,” “Passed to the Spirit Land” or “Translated.” Another clue on tombstones is that many Spiritualists still observe “Spiritualist Time” which dates the calendar year from 1848.
If an ancestor lived or associated with a community with Spiritualist ties, then you may have a connection. This would include the many Spiritualist towns and seasonal camps, former Fourierist communes and other experimental communities. American towns such as Auburn, New York were hot beds for Spiritualism.
All of these are valuable clues from which can help you determine if an ancestor had an interest in Spiritualism. At that point the records can be examined.
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