When you begin searching for information about your ancestors, religion can be a key clue. Many churches kept (and continue to keep) records of anyone baptised there, married there, or interred in their cemetery. Not being of any particular religious denomination myself, some religious terms can be fairly confusing (Christian, Protestant, Presbyterian, Orthodox, what’s the diff??), so I thought I’d take a stab at organizing these concepts, in some very, very basic layman’s terms (not explaining the hows or whys, that’s a huge job).
“Christianity” is sort of an umbrella term for a lot of other smaller groupings of religions that all share core beliefs based on the concepts contained in the Bible – the message of Jesus Christ. Within modern Christianity are three main divisions: “Catholicism”, “Orthodoxy” and “Protestantism”. Once upon a time, there was only one grouping, but as time went on, different people drew different meanings from the Bible, and many different sects developed. The first major split in belief systems is known as the “Great Schism”, which took place in the 11th century, in which Catholicism and Orthodoxy formed as separate identities. Protestantism branched off of Catholicism in the 16th century, this event was called “the Reformation”.
Within these three main divisions are smaller sects. Catholic and Orthodox sects are usually not all that different, and only have to do with nationality (ie “Ukrainian Orthodox”. I have to focus mainly on Protestantism here, since that is the grouping which pertains to my Latvian ancestors. Under the grouping of Protestantism are many different denominations. Sometimes “Protestantism” is used as sort of a catchall term to describe any Christian church that is not either Catholic or Orthodox, and there are many branches that have split off from this one. Under Protestantism, you can find these denominations:
Hopefully this helps a little with anyone else who is as confused about all these different religious denominational terms as I am! There are definitely religions not mentioned here and other subtleties, this is just a very broad and basic outline for genealogical research’s sake!