During the time of the Huguenot persecution, the Catholic Church was the state religion of France. The Catholic Church was deeply rooted in France and the papal headquarters had actually moved from Rome to Avignon, where the Holy See lived between 1309 through 1377, within the bounds of modern France. Today, the majority of the Western population still identify themselves as members of the universal church. France's treatment of Protestants differed greatly from that of neighboring England, for example, which made Protestantism their state religion during the Reformation, under King Henry VIII.
The Huguenot religion began during the time of the Reformation, shortly after Martin Luther posted his 95 Theses on the church door in Wittenberg, Germany. It spread through John Calvin who eventually established Protestantism in France. The French government fought religious wars against these growing converts. These resulted in the Huguenot's mass-migration out of the French realm. They settled in many countries throughout Europe. Some of them made their way across to America to South Africa and Australasia. Manakin Town in Virginia was originally established as a refuge for Huguenots and they settled all up and down the Eastern Seaboard of what is now the United States.
There are many sources concerning this religious movement and its participants in Europe and in America. The sources can be very problematic; however, especially during the "desert" period in France (1685-1787), when the government outlawed official registration of Protestant baptisms, marriages and burials. Movements through several countries also often greatly altered the spelling of surnames. In addition, in America, Huguenots and their descendants merged with other Protestant religions and ceased to exist as an independent group. This makes tracing their families similar to standard US research.
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To find out more about Huguenot ancestors and the principal European and American sources you will need to trace their families, take the free BYU online class, which is where the author learned his lessons. Go to www.byu.edu. Follow the "Courses Online" link, located in the left-hand column. Next, select "Free Web Courses," and let the virtual professor teach you more on this interesting topic. The course contains two info-packed lessons that will open your eyes to studying this unique people.