Chattering Mind

Chattering Mind

Do You Know Your Religious Family Tree?

You may know that your Grandpa Frank hailed from Missouri, or that your Great Aunt Angie cooked Italian, but do you know your religious genealogy? Have you researched the religious beliefs and development of your forebears?

I’d love to get a good conversation going on this. It is great fun to interview relatives to get the low-down on who was who religiously in your family tree, especially if you yourself have been searching, have converted from one thing to another, or have a partner whose spiritual backdrop differs from yours.


Both my paternal great-grandmothers were Episcopalians in the late 1800s when they married outside their faith. One married a Roman Catholic despite the fact she forever seemed biased against Catholics (typical of a certain elitest segment in America at that time). The other great-grandma married a Presbyterian named after a minister in Scotland. This grandfather went along for the ride, and “yielded to my grandmother on the Episcopalian stuff,” says my 92-year-old dad, who has been a great source of family information generally.

In the early 1920s, my paternal grandfather, a journalist, (son of the Episcopalian and the Presbyterian) came down with fullblown tuberculosis, a disease that had no cure at that time. He and my grandmother became Christian Scientists since prayer seemed to offer better hope for his recovery than mainstream medicine. They had five kids. They went on to found a Christian Science elementary school on Macomb Street in Washington D.C. But by 1926, my twelve-year-old father was being taught how to work the household furnace since his father was inevitably going to die. And when he did pass on, my dad’s Episcopal grandma, who had money, did little to help support her widowed daughter-in-law, Dad, and his siblings due to the resentment caused by the religious schism, Dad thinks.


He loved his Episcopal grandma and even today doesn’t want to speak ill of her. Chances are great she thought Christian Science was hooey. Dad’s mother never wavered in her devotion, and later became went on to be a lay healer in Boston, where she moved to be close to the mother church. My father’s sister Jane, who never married, edited the Christian Science Monitor’s religious testimonials for many years.

When my father (Christian Scientist) met my mother (Southern Baptist), they were united by their disenchantment with the faiths of their past. Once married in the late 1940s, they briefly attended a Dutch Reform church in Greenwich Village where they heard positive thinker Norman Vincent Peale preach five or six times.


My parents eventually found happiness in a suburban Chicago “Union” church, which was mostly comprised of liberal Presbyterians. I sang in the choir there. Then I married someone who was Jewish.

I hope I haven’t tired you with my story. Now tell me yours! Even if every relative adhered to the same faith label, chances are great there were wrinkles and variations in how that faith was interpreted. So what’s your religious genealogy? Does it makes you YOU?

Comments read comments(20)
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posted February 6, 2007 at 1:16 am

Why no comments? Is anybody there?

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Bill Parker

posted February 6, 2007 at 12:35 pm

The word is “genealogy,” not “geneology.”

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posted February 6, 2007 at 2:11 pm

Well, my ‘rents were non-practicing Catholics. Which, considering the CC’s long and horrendous history of child abuse, and systematic concealment of that abuse, I suppose that is something I should be thankful for. Even now I dislike Christianity and find Buddhism more relevant and refreshingly non-divisive. So I guess I am planting a new “religious tree” for myself. I would like to hear from people who are who they are IN SPITE OF the religion they were born into.

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posted February 6, 2007 at 2:39 pm

I’m a practicing Catholic and as far as I know Catholism is solid in my family backgroud. Now, I may not agree with everything that goes on in the Catholic faith but it is my solid foundation. I consider myself more spiritual as opposed to religious. I’m open to all faiths and their beliefs and like exploring them all.

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posted February 6, 2007 at 5:15 pm

My parents are both Jewish and their ancestors are jewish as far back as we know. The interesting thign is that they seem to alternate, generationally, between secular and religious. My grandparents rebelled agaisnt the superstitiousness of the “old country” and were quite secular. My parents mostly followed that, with a few steps toward the religious, and my generation is becoming ever more religious.

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Anonymous Also

posted February 7, 2007 at 12:49 am

“I would like to hear from people who are who they are IN SPITE OF THE religion they were born into.” — 360 02/06/07 9:16 am I was raised by non – observant evangelical parents. I went to Sunday school as a child, (Evangelical Baptist), and can remember many a Sunday hiding behind a building hoping the teachers wouldn’t find me in time for class. (Sometimes they didn’t ;)). Today, I follow a Humanist / New Age path and am perfectly content.

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posted February 7, 2007 at 2:04 am

Four of my great-aunts were nuns. Actually at least two left the nunhood, though. Just an interesting little family fact of mine. :-) Catholic on both sides, but my maternal grandmother (despite four nun sisters) is now Pentacostal. My older brother is now, as I call him, “the Pat Robinson of Atheism” (apparently the Christian school my parents sent him too wasn’t that effective), and I’m…something. My parents raised me and my six siblings non-denominational Christian. God bless.

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posted February 7, 2007 at 2:24 am

Father: Non-observant Jewish, the grandson of Russian immigrants. Mother: Both of her parents were Jews who were born here, but her mother converted to Christian Science. My mother raised me as a Christian Scientist. My father was very tolerant of the religion, but he did insist I get medical care as a child. He never went to either synagogue or church. I became a devout Christian Scientist and even had “class instruction,” the advanced level of teaching, until I saw it was not helping and in fact was harming my mother. She had cancer and felt horribly guilty turning to doctors–so guilty that it created a mental illness. At that point I left the church and went for years missing that “something” in my life. My husband (originally Jewish) and I now go to Unitarian Church, and that’s how we raised our kids. It’s not terribly spiritual, but does give us a sense of community and a humanist faith. Strangely, most of my immediate family converted from Judaism to something else–mostly Quaker.

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Bob Campbell

posted February 7, 2007 at 2:25 pm

My mother was raised as an Episcopalian in East Providence by parents who came from casual (or lapsed)Catholic backgrounds. My father was raise Methodist in Memphis by faithful Methodist parents. His brother became Episcopalian, but his sister remained Methodist. The uncle’s children are Episcopalian, but his sister’s children and descendants are mostly out of touch, the one we are in touch with, though, is Episcopalian. I found a moth ago that my mother did not get confirmed as an Episcopalian until after I did when I was 12, (she waited until 41). My wife is Episcopalian, brought up by Episcopalians, no children. My mother and stepfather and two sisters are very casual Episcopalians, returning to the observance of our maternal grandfather and his sister, who were non-observant. So, a boring story.

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posted February 7, 2007 at 3:25 pm

My Mother converted from catholic to Luthern when she married my Dad. Her Mother didnt speak to her for 3 months and some relatives didnt speak to her for years. This was a really big deal in the early 1950’s. She felt guilt for many years and is now a Congregationalist and happy. I tried almost all mainstream Christian Churches at one time or another. Raised my Kids in a non-denominational Church. Now I dont attend Church. I read alot of spirital books and web sites like these. I enjoy finding a good program on TV, like breaking the DE-Vinci code or was Judas really a traitor, stuff like that. My Kids are college age and not into anything yet. My oldest thinks he might be an atheist but hasnt really decided of course I try to discourage that. I love this site, CM you always have really interesting blogs. Thanks

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posted February 7, 2007 at 8:26 pm

I have a long history of Disciples of Christ churchgoers and ministers on both sides of my family. But sadly I don’t know more about the indivudial religious thoughts and beliefs of my ancestors. I’m an avid genealogist and would love to explore this topic more. In response to to the question about being are in spite of your religion – I would say that I’m not sure that is how I would describe myself. However, I did feel, as the daughter of a minister, that Jesus was more of a sibling to me – someone with whom I vied for my father’s attention – and that caused some issues for me as an adult exploring religion. I attended Catholic church for 8 years and still do occassionally with my kids but find myself really enjoying the Quaker philosophy and services these days.

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posted February 10, 2007 at 6:15 pm

Raised a Methodist in the north, grandchild of a Methodist minister and Gt. Grandchild of a Methodist minister who traveled on horseback with his Bible in one saddle bag and his assortment of medicine bottles in the other, also practicing physician/healer. All in family were brought up as believers, read the Bible and to have faith that what ever will be will be. After autos invented, the family motto seemed to be that ‘going to church did not necessarily make you a Christian anymore than going to the garage made you a car’. Silly, of course, but there Are many hipocrits in church and Many Christians who are not in church but worship in nature, or in their own way~and many not even of our beliefs who actually lead more holy lives!! Your heart and soul will tell you if your life is right and good with God, and I believe in the end of this life as we know it, the promise made will be kept for us erring humans.

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Marilyn Johnson

posted February 12, 2007 at 11:43 am

I am also a genealogist, and faith has played a major role in my family history. I have two Freewill Baptist ministers on my tree on one branch, and devout Methodists on another. Still another branch descended from the Salsburgers who were dispossessed in their native Germany, and came to GA under Oglethorpe. They were Lutheran. I was orphaned very young, and came to live with my mother’s sister who had married a Catholic. I went to Catholic school where I was told I was going to hell if I knew the true religion and ignored it. I am still searching for it! Help!!

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posted February 12, 2007 at 1:38 pm

This is really interesting. I was raised Methodist, but married a lapsed Roman Catholic in an Episcopal church, and we worship there weekly. Our kids are “cradle-Episcopalians”. My father’s family was Lutheran in Germany in the 1800’s, then became Methodist when immigrated to Indiana. Mother’s mother was Christian Scientist. My mom’s sister and some of my cousins still practice. My mom “converted” to Methodist when she married my dad. My brother and his wife were both raised Methodist, but now attend a big non-denominational church with tv cameras, a band, and a coffee bar instead of ‘coffee hour in the parish hall’. Not my thing, but thank heavens they’re at least going to church. This is interesting. I’ll have to write to my mom’s sister who is still alive and find out what her family was before becoming Christian Scientists. Good topic for a blog!

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posted February 12, 2007 at 5:54 pm

I have no idea what my dad’s faith is because he left when I was four. While we have since reunited, religion isn’t discussed. I know his mother was very active in the Lutheran church, but one of his brothers is a Methodist and the other a nominal Baptist years ago (and may no longer be since the divorce, since his ex was the religious one of the family). Grandpa died when I was just six, so I didn’t get to know much about him except he was a loving, big bear of a man. :) I’ve never known Aunt Anna to ever attend church, although I think she may be Methodist, also. Aunt Bettie Mae is religious, but I don’t know what church she attends, just that it is small and Protestant. She’s out in Mennonite territory, so it could be that, but I really don’t know. My paternal grandmother’s family were Pennsylvania Dutch and therefore likely either Catholic, Lutheran or Mennonite. Great-grandfather was a Swiss-German Protestant, but I don’t know which denomination. My mom’s side I know a little bit more about, assuming Mom was telling the truth, which may be a bit iffy. Her father was Presbyterian, while her mother was Jewish. My maternal grandmother was the descendant of Jews who immigrated from France to the colonies in the early 1700s. This is according to Mom, but a woman who didn’t even know what a dreidel was? I would think even a secular Jew would know that. She also gave us very basic instruction in both Protestantism and Catholicism, but not Judaism, so I suspect the Leveys, who were indeed French, may have been Catholic instead of Jewish. Years ago I was contacted by a Levey in the Midwest (I think Illinois) who thought we might be related, but I didn’t stay in touch. Those Leveys were Christian. Grandad’s family was English and Scottish and have been here since at least 1810, as far back as Aunt Lillian has traced to date. The Presbyterianism likely came from the Scottish side, but, again, I really don’t know. It’s a confusing mess, and I really don’t care who believed what. My heritage is the one I personally experienced, which is Methodism and Pentecostalism, and now Unitarian Universalism. I am who I am, not who my relatives were.

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posted February 25, 2007 at 1:24 pm

I have been obsessed with my family tree/genealogy for some time, I think it has been a way for me to understand myself and it HAS been revealing.Religions attitudes have certainly influenced how I thought of myself as I grew up and they don’t just go away once you are grown. I was surprised to find out that many of my ancesters were Puritains. When I studied these people, I could see the influence it had on me inspite of a rather liberal thinking mother. Probably because of her I have always felt spiritual but also feel free to explore other religions or spiritual paths.I am glad to say some of my ancesters were very modern thinkers for their day, Baptists, Unitarians and Quakers. In fact one was hung for being a Quaker and repeatedly returning to Boston to preach Quakerism: Mary Dyer. Another was Ann Hutchinson who had the audacity to speak her own mind about religion instead of following the (male) preacher’s pronouncements.I presently miss the community of a religion that I enjoyed growing up as a Methodist but I just can’t go along with all the other stuff right now. I do have a small circle of friends who are also searching and exploring meditation, yoga, neo-paganism, Buddhism, Episcopalian, humanitarian. I don’t know if I will ever find a spiritual “home”, time is begining to run out as I am now 61. Wendy

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posted May 2, 2007 at 4:48 pm

My parents were Protestants who converted to Catholicism. While raised Catholic, I attended various other denominations as a young adult, studied Judaism, Zen, etc. I currently an practicing meditation and prayer.

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posted November 12, 2011 at 11:20 am

Actually I do know my religion family heritage..MORMON….let me explain; My Swedish and Danish maternal ancestors, converted to mormonism in the mid 1800’s and came to America. My English born in england, converted to mormonism and came to america and joined Joseph Smith in Navoo Ill.; On my paternal ancestrial side…one of six brothers (of english heritage) my grandfather, living in Kentucky, converted to mormonism and moved is family to Utah. The grandparents parents of my paternal granmother, they were german jews, she married the mormon and that ended the jewish line.

My parents left Utah in 1955 and left the mormon church behind in 1960. They raised their three girls in the Methodist religion. I have since converted to Lutheran and married two roman catholics. My children were raised in the lutheran chuch, but taught them that religion is only the ways and means to which you pray….the important thing is to pray and tolerate all religions!

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