Church played an important role in the lives of our ancestors. Now, let me say that I am talking about the role of church, not religion. Not everyone was religious, but, unless they lived in a totally remote area, there was a church nearby and it had some impact on their lives.
This country was founded on religious freedom. Many people came here to escape religious persecution and to be able to worship as they wished, both in the early days and today.
The first or one of the first things settlers would do when establishing a new community was to build a church. Sometimes, a religious denomination founded a community and populated it with members of that denomination. Such was the case with my hometown, Delphos, Ohio and its nearest neighbor to the north, Ottoville, Ohio. When the Miami-Erie Canal was being dug in Ohio, the Catholic church in Germany saw it as an opportunity to establish churches on the frontier in western Ohio. They purchased a large quantity of land along the canal and promised 40 acres to families who were willing to leave Germany and settle in Ohio, with the stipulation that the new communities would build a church and a school.
Many people frequently moved and changed denominations because the church in the new community was a different denomination as the church in their old community. My great, great grandmother’s obituary tells that she changed religious denominations several times during her life. It was not because her beliefs had changed, but the family moved a number of times and she would become affiliated with whatever church was in the village where they moved.
It doesn’t really matter what kind of church was in the pioneering communities. What mattered was that the church was the heart of the community. It was not just a place of worship, but the lives of the people centered around it. Many activities took place at the local church-baptisms, christenings, weddings, funeral services, picnics, dinners, and other social gatherings. Many people went to church activities for the socialization as for their souls.
For women, the church was especially important socially. Decent women could not go to some of the places that men might frequent to be sociable, however, they could be involved in activities that took place at the local church.
Church records hold information about numerous events in our family histories. Sometimes these are the only records of particular events. Watch for an upcoming article in Going In-Depth where I will be discussing what can be found in church records.