John Newmark wrote about about religion and genealogy recently at TransylvanianDutch. I agree with him. I am wholly Roman Catholic (holy? alas, no); wholly American. I am not the sum of an ancestral equation or even sprouted from ancestral roots. Way too hybrid for that. If there is a metaphor, perhaps its a recipe - something new (and yummy) created out of a cup of this, a pinch of that. I may have to change the name of this blog... Nolichucky Soup?
That said, my passion is researching those ingredients - or roots - or equations. Only in adulthood did I match Carpatho-Rusyn, Scots-Irish, English and German ethnic labels to my Greek Catholic, Presbyterian and Baptist grandparents and ancestors. (I suppose the Germans were Lutherans at one point, but by the time they landed in Tennessee they were somewhat casual Baptists.) Many of the family stories revolved around their churches. Certainly their lives did. We visited their churches as regularly as we visited their homes.
My husband's family is of English and German ancestry, centuries removed from their immigrant forebearers. They might label themselves as Marylander or western rancher, if pressed. The German heritage is still mentioned over beer. But they, too, define themselves by their church.
Perhaps the religious labels are so strong because each of us came from "mixed" marriages of Catholic and Protestant; marriages not universally celebrated by our parents' families. Perhaps it's because our families did have real roots in their respective Churches. My Baptists have been Baptists since the Great Awakening, preaching and building churches as they moved with the frontier - defining their communities by their churches. My husband's Roman Catholics maintained their faith despite more than a century of oppression in this country and full-blown war in England before that. My Greek Catholics clung to their traditional church when they came to this country, fighting numerous court cases against the Roman Catholic Church (and each other) to worship with their married clergy in this country, as they had in Europe. They finally broke their ties to Rome in 1938. Each family devoted as much, if not more, energy to their religious identity as to their political, racial or ethnic identity.
So, when I research our families, I study their churches as much as any other part of their lives. I get my thrills from the itinerant preacher and missionary priest, the merchant who sent his nephews and nieces to Catholic schools, a long ago Salem witch (alleged) or a hint of Jewish ancestry.