Family History Through the Alphabet – R is for Religion and Rhode Island

R is for Religion:

One of the interesting topics to explore when researching your family history is the religious history of your ancestors. For many, this will probably be the same religion or denomination that is practiced in their family today. However, many others will discover that their families have a diversity of different denominations or even faiths. When I began to research my own family history, I discovered a few surprises, considering the fact that I assumed that my father’s side was entirely Catholic and that my mother’s side was either entirely Presbyterian or Methodist as well.

Research into my Kernan branch confirmed that this branch was in fact Catholic and for all known generations. However, branches that married into the family were not. My Davis branch was Baptist. My Stearns branch was Puritan when they arrived in America, as was my Dunton branch, though original apart of the “Church of England.” Over the generations both Stearns and Dunton drifted from Puritanism, and no specific denomination appears to have replaced it. However, recently I discovered a possibly Mormon connection via Dunton, which will be discussed in a forthcoming post.

The religious history of my Lapham branch also consists of a variety of Christian denominations. The Lapham family arrived in America as Quakers in the 1630’s. Over the generations, the family became Baptists, then Methodist (by my 3rd great grandfather), and for a couple of generations they were Seventh-Day Adventists. My grandmother, however, was a devout Catholic. The families that married into the Lapham family also appear to have been of varied denominations. Although few records or details exist for the religious history of the Wellin family, as well as related families of Stålberg, and Lowenburg, they were most likely Lutheran when they arrived in America, as this was the predominate denomination in Sweden. The Agee family, which married into the Wellin family, were Huguenots when they arrived in America, after which those in my line appear to be primarily Baptist. The Graber family, which also married into the Wellin family, were Mennonites when they arrived in America in 1832. The Leishman family was Presbyterian when they arrived, and changed to Seventh-Day Adventist with my 2nd great grandmother’s conversion in 1894. The Reynolds and Colwell families were Puritan when they arrived in America, with no specific denomination appearing to have replaced it over the generations since their arrivals. The Arnold and Mann families were, like the Lapham family itself, Quakers.

Research into my Hamilton branch is has been recent and is still missing important details, and there is no exception with respect to its religious history. According to oral family history, my great grandfather, Harry Carl Hamilton (1891-1960), was a Methodist. Since it seems that religion did not play a very large part in the lives of those in my ancestry belonging to this branch, it has been difficult to determine if this oral account is true. For the known generations prior to Harry, few details have been discovered with respect to the family’s religious history. The most significant has been the fact that Harry’s father and mother, Rufus and Jennie Heldman, were married by a pastor of the Church of Christ. This is the only specific mention of a denomination or religion I have found, with marriages and other major events occurring in non-religious services. The Worthington family, moreover, were Quakers when they arrived in America in 1714. By the mid-1800’s, the family was Baptist. The Gifford family, which married into the Worthington family, was also Quaker when they arrived in American in about 1647. Based on records, the Gifford family was still a part of the Quaker faith by the late 1700’s, after which it is not totally clear what denomination became predominant in the family, though it was probably Baptist. The Lightcap family, which married into the Heldman family, was Presbyterian when they arrived in America in 1734. By the 1780’s the family were members of a Lutheran congregation in Pennsylvania.

The religious history of my Sebok branch was presumed to be Presbyterian. However, family records, particularly a baptismal certificate for my great grandfather, Albert Sebok (1903-1968) and several Bibles with stamps in them, show that this branch of my family was a part of the Hungarian Reformed Church, which is a form of Calvinism. The Balla family, which married into the Sebok family, was said to be Presbyterian when it arrived in America. However, a New Testament Bible that belonged to my 2 great grandparents, Alexander and Julia Balla, has stamped in it “New Yorki Magyar Istengyülekezet.” I have not been able to find a definitive answer on what “Istengyülekezet,” though it appears to roughly mean “Church of God.” This phrase is associated with many different denominations, including Pentecostalism, Baptists, and Adventists. The Bible itself is a publication of the American Baptist Publication Society. Perhaps this means they were members of a Hungarian Baptist Church in New York.

R is for Rhode Island:

R is also for Rhode Island, the only State in the United States that starts with the letter R. Rhode Island, or rather the State of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations, was the thirteenth State admitted to the Union, being admitted in 1790. As a Colony, Rhode Island was one of the original thirteen, and was founded in 1636 by Roger Williams (ca. 1603-1683), an English Protestant theologian.

I have a few ancestral connections to Rhode Island. My Lapham branch left England and came to America in 1660 settling first in Providence, Rhode Island, joining many other Quakers in the state. They left Providence for Newport, Rhode Island in about 1673, following destruction to the city during King Philip’s War. In 1682, the family left Rhode Island all together for Dartmouth, Massachusetts, only to return by about 1765. In the 1790’s my line of Laphams left Rhode Island for good, moving to Madison Co., New York, where my 6th great grandfather was among the pioneers of that county.

Another connection I have to the state of Rhode Island is by my Gifford branch, which married into the Worthington family (a branch of my Hamilton family). The Gifford family came to Rhode Island just prior to 1716, where my 8th great grandfather, Jabez Gifford (1686-1761) married his wife Dinah Sheldon (1697-?) in Newport Co., Rhode Island. My line of the Gifford family remained in Rhode Island until about 1750, when they moved to Dutchess Co., New York.

Another connection I have to the state is to the founder of Rhode Island, Roger Williams (ca. 1603-1683) who is my 10th great grandfather. My descent from Roger Williams is as follows: Roger Williams (ca. 1603-1683) married Mary Barnard (ca. 1609-1676). Their daughter was Mercy Williams (1640-1707), who married Samuel Winsor (1644-1705). Their son was Samuel Winsor (1677-1758), who married Mercy Harding (1683-1771). Their daughter was Martha Winsor (1703-ca. 1797), who married Robert Colwell (1702-1797). Their son was Benjamin Colwell (1746-1829), who married Deborah Brown (1747-?). Their daughter was Mary Colwell (1772-ca. 1808), who married Duty Lapham (1772-1846). Their son was Benjamin Lapham (1807-1860), who married Cemantha Broadway (ca. 1813-ca. 1846). Their son was William B. Lapham (1838-1925), who married Emoline Pauline Reynolds (1844-1886). Their son was Horace Irving Lapham (1869-1927), who married Anna Margaret Leishman (1875-1951). Their son was Theodore Alexander Lapham (1910-1955), who married Alice Lucretia Wellin (1916-1985). Their daughter was my paternal grandmother, Margaret Ann Lapham (1936-2004), who married William Kernan (LIVING).

Click here to learn more about Family History Through the Alphabet Challenge (Clicking this link will take you to another site.)

2 thoughts on “Family History Through the Alphabet – R is for Religion and Rhode Island

  1. You’re so right about the religious records being useful in research. And I see you have pretty much covered all denominations with your various families.

    And Rhode Island – great research getting back to find a connection right back to a founding father. 😉

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