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Clergymen Discovered

Religious affiliation provides an important genealogical clue to family ties. Parents bring up their children in the faith they practice. Church records for events like baptisms, marriages, and burials provide important dates and places in our ancestors’ lives.

Good records exist for some denominations, notably the Quakers. I have not found any Quakers in my family.

Another denomination with good records is the Lutherans. I was raised Lutheran. Church records for the state-mandated Lutheran church in our family’s old countries, Norway and Finland, can be found online now. Studying these has allowed me to extend my mom’s Nordic family tree back to the mid-1600’s.

My dad’s family has not been so easy. He grew up Presbyterian. His mother attended that church for as long as I knew her. Yet this connection has not been a good clue for genealogical purposes.

After much research, I have learned that she descended from Puritans in Massachusetts. Until they homesteaded in Nebraska, her family was Congregational for many generations.

With a lack of Congregational churches nearby, she and my grandfather took their kids to the Presbyterian Church. Some in his family had been Presbyterian while others were Baptist. I do not know how he was raised.

His father first married a Baptist. This great-grandfather lies buried in a Baptist cemetery alongside his first wife even though he had a Presbyterian funeral service. The second wife, my great-grandmother, attended neither church. She joined a Methodist congregation as a young woman and followed that tradition for the rest of her long life.

With Baptist, Congregational, Methodist, and Presbyterian ancestors, I have no simple denominational path to help me trace my dad’s family. Even if I could identify a denomination to track, it is notoriously difficult to locate their records, if they survive.

In modern times, many of my family members have fallen away from the churches they knew as children. My dad’s family bounced from church to church, if they went at all. My mom and her parents stopped going to the Lutheran churches.

Given this lack of strong affiliation today, I was surprised this week to discover pastors in my roots. All the clergy in my family date back to circa 1700:

  1. Georgius (d. 1672), Petrus (1630 – c.1691), and Jöran (1665-1722) Wallius/Wallin served as three generations of Lutheran pastors at Kittee in modern-day Finland’s North Karelia region.
  2. Lars Hallitius Bergman (1640-1688) was Jöran Wallin’s father-in-law. He served the Lutheran Church at Pielisjärvi, also in today’s North Karelia.
  3. Some sources say it was my ancestor Gershom Hall (d. 1732) who was called as minister in Chatham, Massachusetts in 1717. The name Gershom was a common one in the Hall line during colonial times. Without more research, I cannot say for certain that the Puritan minister Gershom Hall was the same man as my ancestor, but I hope he is.

As a churchgoer myself, I am glad to see that I have these people of faith in my heritage. The calling got lost somewhere along the way. I have found no more pastors in my family lines in the subsequent 200 years.

My family’s long-ago Finnish pastors were notable people in their time. They are named in the history books of Karelia. Someday I will have to relate their stories.

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