Carolyn Earle Billingsley's Web Site

The Cumberland Presbyterians: Family History through Religious Research

A case study of a denomination demonstrating how, by using knowledge about the denomination, you can further your genealogical researchónot only through church records, but through knowledge about the church members and the ministers who preached to them.

Intended Audience:
All levels, but probably best suited for Intermediate or Advanced

Summary of presentation:

Although this lecture will focus on the Cumberland Presbyterians, who splintered off the main body of Presbyterians in Kentucky, early in the 19th century (and then reunited with them early in the 20th century), the lessons learned could apply to any denomination.

The case study shows how members of the CP Church moved together, married one another, and did business with one another. Like most denominations, particularly in the 18th and 19th centuries, the church group (a form of fictive kinship) was virtually indistinguishable from the biological kinship group. Moreover, the ministers tended to form kinship groups, as ministersí sons and daughters married. Knowing this helps the researcher extend their research web a little further and use a methodology that few use to produce greater results in their search for genealogical connections.

Of particular importance is how ministers of the CP Church, as well as most others, were often on the forefront of migration; in their zeal to reach new converts, preachers often traveled to the edges of the frontier to reach those without ministers. In doing so, they provided a communications link back to old congregants, informing them of new lands, which often instigated migration to these new areas.

And, since ministersí credentials had to be filed in all counties in which they performed marriages, they are fairly easy to find and provide solid clues to previous residences, as these ordination papers state the time and place of a ministerís ordination. This, in turn, provides clues to where the congregants migrated from. Moreover, by tallying all the people married by a particular minister in a county, one can reconstitute a great deal of the church membership, even when local church records are not extant.

The fact that there were many levels of jurisdictions for various denominations also gives the family history researcher a variety of layers of information at several different levels, even when county or local records are missing. Church newspapers, often published in an entirely different state from the one where oneís family lived, can provide clues, information, and biographical data not found elsewhere.

In short, this lecture demonstrates the efficacy of using church denominational ties to further their genealogical research.