Answering The Call

Author: Mark W. Swarthout
Published on: November 23, 2001

The United States and Canada were founded by large numbers of churchgoers, people who had been raised to respect and fear God. In order to fill the needs of the new communities of worshipers, not only did a new town need to construct a church or temple, they needed to find someone to preach at it, conduct weddings, baptisms and funerals. Many men, and more recently women, answered God's call and became members of the clergy. You may very well have ancestors who were preachers.

Various denominations set up governing boards to educate and set the standards for the individuals that met this need as well as set the direction for theology and beliefs.

One of the early churches to establish itself in the New World was the Methodist Church. Circuit riders rode from place to place preaching and holding services, funerals and weddings wherever there was a community. "For where two or three come together in my name, there am I with them." Matthew 18:20

The present United Methodist Church was created through the merging of numerous related denominations, including the United Brethren, the Methodist, the Methodist Episcopal and the United Evangelical. The General Commission on Archives and History for the United Methodist Church is the primary repository for much of the information that is available. For a complete listing of its predecessors and how to start researching your clergy, visit their Genealogy Help Page.

For the Baptist Church I cannot add to the list provided on RootsWeb by Kelly Jensen-Mullins, with many resources and locations provided.

The Jewish faith has many resources on the web, including a number of genealogy sites. A good starting point would be the Jewish Genealogy Homepage. The Jewish Genealogy Association's web site which includes a large section on Canadian societies in general, and a number of Jewish ones in particular.

And while Catholic clergy are not going to be found in your ancestor list, you may find Uncles that have entered the priesthood and Aunts who have entered a convent. The Catholic Church Archive that can be contacted:

And preacher was such a generic term, it is possible that your ancestor, referred to as a preacher by some, was a knowledgeable individual willing to get up and spread the word of God without any formal training. One of my favorite quotes on the topic was made about my 4thG grandfather, David Fairchild. "A gentleman who knew him in the Ophir of America, informs us that he was wont to dig hard during the week for the golden stores of the earth, while on each succeeding Sabbath he would voluntarily empty the golden truths of Holy Writ into the mental washers of his brother miners free of charge." Quote from The Ovid Bee - January 28, 1852 quoting The Republican Era, Allegany Co. New York.

Other Church Related Genealogy Sites:

Evangelical Lutheran Church in America

Archives of the Episcopal Church, USA

The Quakers

And don't forget that Genealogical Mainstay! The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints

Please! Leave a note and share other sites that you know about!

Note: Some of my knowledge in this area is due to my father, Rev. Arthur W. Swarthout, who served as the Assistant General Secretary of the General Commission on Archives and History for the United Methodist Church for a number of years and is still active in their historical society. Thanks, Dad!

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Updated on 10/25/2005