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Published June 11, 1999

Churches Played Vital Roles In Maritimes - Part 1 of 3
By Sandra Devlin

Did you go to church last Sunday? If you are representative of the current dwindling church-attendance statistics, you probably did not.

Had our ancestors been posed this question; the overwhelming answer would have been an unequivocal "yes" -- most also being eager and proud to report attendance at both morning and evening services on Sunday, plus Wednesday night prayer meeting or confession on Friday.

Family researchers will do themselves a valuable service by becoming acquainted with church histories, clergy biographies, religious patterns and practices. Often the only primary-source record before censuses were taken, will be found in extant church records. Some of the earliest church records in North America were kept at Port Royal, Nova Scotia between 1704-1721.

But, church records chronicling the generations contain much more than mere dates of baptisms, marriages and deaths. (Important to note here: Baptists did not "baptize or christen" their infants like other denominations did; therefore one cannot determine an ancestor's age with any certainty from his/her baptism date in a Baptist record. There was no set age. The baptized person could be anywhere from age seven to 70, though there are Baptist cradle rolls in some time frames.) Disciplinary actions, dismissals and church transfers are often helpful in placing ancestors in a general geographic location or pinpointing a move to the West or the Boston States. Lists of elders, secretaries, Sunday School superintendents, choir members, janitorial caretakers and other positions related to day-to-day church administration often contain valuable clues and insights for genealogists.

Church and the dictates of the clergyman in charge ruled supreme in most every conceivable aspect of the lives of our Maritime ancestors.

Who of us can imagine going to our priest, rector, minister or pastor today to ask permission to hold a dance? Yet at the beginning of this century, dancing was a mortal sin to some religions and an activity limited to weddings and perhaps New Year's Eve by others. For wedding dances, the permission from the priest might be granted with the strict condition that the boys dance in one room apart from the girls in another. For New Year's Eve dances, the strict limit for dancing to cease could well be 11:30 p.m. , so folks could have time to prepare for midnight prayers.

Even earlier by more than a century, a Pubnico, N.S. woman was upset by her mother's behaviour in 1777. The mother, it seems, was known to allow dancing in her house, even on Sundays. And furthermore, the wayward woman made the clothing of her dead daughter available to people to wear to balls and amusements which "serve the devil." Instead, the surviving daughter opined, the mother should have sold the clothing so people could pray for the dead girl's delivery from purgatory.

My ancestors in southeastern New Brunswick "got religion" in the late 1700s and early 1800s. So pervasive was the sweep of evangelical religion throughout many regions of Nova Scotia and New Brunswick that allegoric terminology to catching religion like one might catch a a cold or the flu was entirely accurate. There was definitely something in the air.

Next time: Part II - More on church and religion in the Maritimes.

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