The Washerwoman’s Genes

May 5, 2006

Going to Church the Genealogist Way

Filed under: Story — by WWG @ 12:44 pm

Family researchers spend a lot of time in churches, figuratively at least: before there were vital records maintained in government offices, there were the ledgers in which clerks recorded memberships and marriages and baptisms. These books mapped the Lord’s reach on earth. They testified to the spread of community, civility, and other-worldliness in a world busy constructing itself in a wilderness.

Now, these books are the bible to a genealogist: they hold a treasure trove of the “begats” that is a researcher’s raison d’etre. Whatever the hope for everlasting life held by the members, now the genealogist doggedly hopes for a family name to surge out of the mass of souls.

In the early records of New York, there’s only one choice of church record: the Reformed Dutch. They are the oldest records, but even they miss the first hundred years or so of colonization.

In those records, I have found several references to Hieronymus and Lena, but none showing that Zachariah is their son. I have found Zachariah and Elizabeth baptizing children up through 1806, but Cornelius was born later. And for Cornelius and Jeannette’s children, I have found no records at all besides the census.

Did they not baptize? Are records missing? Or was the event just not recorded? Were they attending in a town whose records I have not encountered yet? Or perhaps that church’s records, and its existence, too, have dissolved in time.

Or do I have the wrong denomination?

In membership the records of the Reformed Dutch Church at Esopus, “from its organization on the 26 and 27 Feb. 1791,” the arrival and departure of members is frequently noted (unique among membership lists I’ve seen).

None of the notations pertain to my direct ancestors. Still, it seems that changing churches was a significant reason for departing the congregation. The listings provide columns for name and family ID and then admission date and method (as in, letter from another church or baptism).

The final column is for outcome. Sometimes, it’s dead. Often it is blank. Other times the entries chart relocation or upheaval:

Sarah Burgher, wife of Peter Le Fever ad. 1867 Apr 13 on certificate, dismissed to Hurley

Oliver E. Winfield ad. 1843 21 Mar . . . . joined Methodist

Other entries from the last column tell the story:

name dropped 1892
Suspended 1890
dismissed to Presbyterian Church Rondout N.Y.
dismissed to M.E. Church of Esopus N.Y.
M.E. Church Port Ewen
c/o St. John M.E. Brooklyn
died in Chelsea, M.E., N.Y.C.
trusting Christ

This fits like a piece of jig-saw puzzle. My grandmother Josie, descendent of Cornelius and Jeannette, was Methodist. She was Brooklyn-born, and I don’t know how far back the conversion was.

I’m reading around now, in all the Protestant denoms.

In the New Paltz Methodist Church records, I made a find—though it’s a bit off the main line. Hannah, my step-great-great-grandmother (Corn’s second wife), and her daughter Mary (who might be considered my half-great-great-aunt: she was my great-grandmother’s half-sister) and husband Moses Schoon, all turn up on the membership rolls there. Moses and Mary join in late December 1890; Hannah J. is recorded as baptized on Jan. 24, 1891; she had earlier served as a witness, along with an A. N. Evans (possibly the wife of minister Wm. R. Evans) to the marriage of Walter Freer and Sarah J. Farrow in May of 1890.

A few years later, Moses and Mary have Rev. Wilcox baptize their son Clarence J. at their home in 1895. (Census records indicate Mary and Moses had been married for quite some time; by the 1900 census, they have a 17-year-old daughter Jennie as well as six other children including Clarence (my grandmother’s half-cousins?)

Even though these church records start in 1866, they do not account for twenty-five years of this family’s worship.

And, of course, Cornelius is not listed in this church; he may still have been in Fallsburg at this time, as he was in 1880. I don’t know how much of a church-goer he might have been. His descendents in my line have tended to “trust Christ” –or not.


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