Too often we overlook faith-based communities when we are researching genealogy. The Catholic church institutions, such as convents, are the faith-based communities that immediately come to mind. But there are many others where we find people living with intentional communities they have created or joined, rather than with their families.
Too often we overlook faith-based communities when we are researching genealogy. The Catholic church institutions, such as convents, are faith-based communities that immediately come to mind. But there are many others where we find people living within intentional communities they have created or joined, rather than with their own families.
The New Religions
We tend to overlook faith-based communities for a myriad of reasons. I have long been interested in the Koreshan Unity colony. This was a residential community in Estero, Florida. The property is now a Florida State Park and goes by the name of the Koreshan State Historic Park
It was founded by Cyrus Teed in Moravia, New York, in 1880, with a couple hundred members. In 1894, the entire community moved to Estero, Florida and created a self-sufficient community with stores and businesses. This community survived until 1961, when the last four members deeded the property to the state of Florida. The original settlement is now on the National Register of Historic Places.
Over the decades, the community has been home to a number of individuals from around the globe. I discovered the Koreshan community while researching Central Illinois artist Paul Sargent
. His father, John Sargent, disappears from Coles County, where his wife and nine children lived. John Sargent left his family and became a member of the Koreshan sect a year before the group moved to Florida. He remained with the Koreshan community until his death in 1932.
He was buried in Estero, Florida, instead of in Coles County, Illinois, where his wife was buried. We know from the Koreshan site, that three of Sargent's children, including the artist Paul Sargent, visited the Koreshan colony but apparently never lived there.
Such groups are enumerated as a community and are often labeled in the censuses. Those who live there, claim the faith-based community as their sole legal address. If you cannot find an ancestor, consider that they might have been living in a faith-based community during a census year.
There are a number of examples of faith-based communities. Many have archived documents, diaries, and histories in libraries. Some information is available online.
The Catholic Communities
It is simple enough to do a genealogical database search for "convent" and discover females from around the world all living and working together in a single community. In 1910, we find Katareyara Marzanek living in Chicago. Her relationship to the head of this small community of some fifteen people, was a "convent sister." She was living with the chaplain, who was head of household, and the chaplain's brother, plus three other convent sisters. The chaplain and his brother shared the same surname indicating they were probably biological brothers, or some other relative.
The remainder of the residents were orphans or "friendless." No one else in the community was biologically related.
Katareyara had arrived in the United States in 1884. We would search in vain for her in Poland, where she was born. Often, priests or "brothers" will be listed alongside convent sisters.
Since convents often offered education, the sisters would typically have occupations. They might be teachers or seamstresses, or other have other occupations.
The youngest convent residents I have encountered have been four years old. Parents would sometimes place a young girl in a convent as much for providential reasons as for education. The convent was a sort of faith-based boarding school for them. The convent was also a haven for orphans.
Search for "religious" and you'll find faith-based communities around the globe. The 1871 Scotland census includes a large group of "religious sisters" in Edinburgh but hailing from such places as Bringsty Fenny, Forfarsh.
Think of any residential faith-based community and you'll find residents. It seems too obvious to say but we tend to look only in family neighbors for relatives. If you have ever heard anyone talk about an ancestor who was involved with a religious community, research that group. You just may find someone whose faith determined where and how they lived.
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