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Posts Tagged ‘Catholic’

Religion and Genealogy

Today Craig at Geneablogie posted about a new the crisis with Catholics, Mormons at Odds Over Genealogical Records?  In his post, Craig mentions the news report about Catholic dioceses forbidding LDS access to church records for fear of the Mormon practice often referred to as baptizing the dead.  Craig notes that several of us genea-bloggers are Catholic, so I’d like to offer my thoughts as well.

I saw the story on some Catholic blogs I read before it made it to the genealogy blogs, and I struggled with how to address it here.  Frankly, I’m surprised it took so long for this to happen – I was surprised that records were made available at all after I learned that the Mormons use them for their faith, so to speak, in addition to their genealogy.  Other faith groups have often complained about the “re-baptism” of deceased ancestors into the Mormon faith, most especially Jews, who were greatly (and rightly) offended by this practice. 

As a genealogist, I am saddened to think that one day records may not be available – for without them, I would know very little about my ancestors.  That is to say, without the Mormons taking those records, microfilming them, and making them available for me to look at. 

As a Catholic, I can sort of understand why the Church, or why other faith groups, find offense in the Mormon tenent that they can baptize any deceased person into their faith.  When I first heard of this, I was somewhat taken aback.  What?  They can make my great-grandfather Mormon?  He’d “roll over” as the expression goes.  I think my great-grandmother was Protestant, but I haven’t prayed to “make” her accept my faith today!  It was her life to live, and I respect her choices and her life.

I say I “sort of” understand because I find it more humorous than offensive.  To me, my faith is very important.  I love being Catholic, and I love the Church.  Because I have accepted this particular faith as “my” faith, I obviously think it’s better – at least for me – than other faiths.  If you can’t believe in your particular faith all the way, what’s the point of believing it?  As such, it doesn’t matter to me if some other faith decides to make me one of their own long after I’m gone.  Why?  Because my faith is chosen by me and nothing will change that unless it’s my decision.  If any Jew, Muslim, Mormon, or Protestant wants to pray for me or if they want to pray to convert me, okay!  I doubt I’ll be leaving my faith any time soon, but I’ll accept your prayers on my behalf.  I respect other religions, but they can’t change me or my faith whethere through prayer, re-baptism, or any other practice.  

As Kimberly Powell points out, the Mormom re-baptism isn’t “valid” in the sense of the Catholic faith – so denying them access to the records to prevent this is only hurting those of us who use them to enrich our understanding of our family history.  Can’t we all just get along and respect that we all believe different things?  I think the Mormons need to separate their religion from their genealogical efforts…for them, the two may be intertwined, but for others it is confusing.  As Craig said, we all need each other.  And we’re likely all related, too. 

On a completely unrelated note, this is my first-ever post written remotely on a laptop.  And I like it!  I think I have to get one of these…

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Name days, which are the church’s feast day of the saint that bears one’s name, have long been considered important in many Catholic cultures. Even today in Poland, a person’s name day, called imieniny, is celebrated in lieu of or in addition to a birthday. But in the past, the name day and the birthday were the same day, because Catholic Polish tradition held that you actually named the child after the saint who held the feast on the day the child was born or baptized! Sometimes the saint’s name was used if the feast was within a few days of the child’s birth and not the same day.

My family isn’t one for tradition, but I was quite surprised when I noticed this naming trend with some of my Polish families. Józef PATER ( 1864-1945 ) and Antonina PLUTA ( 1863-1938 ) had seven children. I don’t have birth dates for the two oldest, but the others proved the “name day” theory.

Child’s Name

Day of Birth

Saint’s Feast Day

Ewa

24 Dec

22 Dec

Wacław

28 Sep

28 Sep

Ludwik

24 Aug

25 Aug

Stefan

02 Sep

02 Sep

Wiktoria

16 Dec

23 Dec

Since the family obviously took this tradition to heart, I probably could easily find the birth records for the two oldest girls without much effort – I’d simply check the dates near the feast days of Sts. Regina and Franciszka. What’s interesting to note is that all of the family members were born in Poland, and the tradition did not continue with their own children as far as I can tell. Of the children, I only have detailed descendant information on my great-grandfather, Ludwik. Despite the fact that his wife, Elżbieta MILLER (1891-1972) has a birthday on St. Elżbieta’s feast in the same way that he owes his name to his birthday, they did not carry this tradition on with their own five children.

I was curious if this was simply a quirk of this one family or not, so I checked a different side of my family tree, the ZAWODNY family. Interestingly, I found the same thing with few exceptions. Józef ZAWODNY (1880-1944) birthday was on St. Józef’s feast. His wife, Wacława ŚLESINSKI (1885-1956), does not share the feast of her patron saint, but four of her seven siblings do. Of the couple’s own six children, all born in the US from 1904 through 1916, four out of six match. I may not have the most up-to-date version of the Church’s liturgical calendar as it existed during that time period either. From what I can tell, these children didn’t follow the Polish tradition with their offspring either.

Does this hold true for every Catholic Polish family? No, of course not. But, if you see it with one or more children, then chances are it isn’t just “chance” and it can provide a clue as to other birth dates in the family. For a listing of names and a chronological listing of feasts, see the Poland Gen Web’s list of common Polish first names. Also, if you really want to know everything there is to know about Polish first names, I highly recommend First Names of the Polish Commonwealth: Origins & Meanings by William “Fred” Hoffman and George W. Helon.

Why did Poles follow this tradition? Was it an expression of their Catholic faith, or just a cultural tradition? I can’t answer that for my own family, but I’d like to think it was a little of both. But just imagine if that tradition were revived in the US today! Consider the possibilities – wouldn’t this save expecting parents from one more thing to worry about? There’s no use arguing over baby names, whether or not to use a name from his side or her side, the name of a deceased relative, or the latest celebrity fad-name. Just wait until the child arrives, look at a church calendar, and there you go – the decision is made for you! There is some risk, of course. Just two days separate your chances of being either Adam or Zenon. Or Zofia and Wacława. But I think it’s a charming glimpse into our ancestors’ lives. Today, feast days and name days are still celebrated of course. My nephew’s name day is December 6th, the feast of St. Nicholas, even though his birthday is in June. But if we lived one hundred years ago in Poland (or had Polish parents here in the US), his name would be Paul!

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