This article is part of the series “Are your German ancestors playing hide-and-seek?” about various reasons why you might not have found your ancestors yet. One of the possible reasons could be your assumption that xyz (insert any religion here) is your ancestor’s wrong religion.
Wrong religion ?
Maybe you were told that catholic people had their children baptized only by a catholic priest, protestant people by a protestant priest, reformed people by a reformed priest, and so on.
While that might be true in most cases there are definitely exceptions to the rule.
For a long time people were taught that unchristened people would not get into heaven after their death. Therefore in medieval times and even later on people hurried to have their newborn babies baptized as quickly as possible, so their souls would be safe in heaven (infant baptism).
This belief led to newborn but weak children to be baptized not by a priest but by godwives or neighbours to save their souls. There even have been cases when a feeble child received an emergency baptism while they still were in their mother’s womb or only partially born. The priest had to confirm these emergency baptisms later on.
Pre-medieval beliefs, yes, but the people were taught this way and believed this way. I don’t know all the details about those emergency baptisms but that’s not necessary in this context.
What would you do?
A child is born in a village with a catholic church and catholic priest nearby. The baby’s family is not catholic, their own church and priest several miles away. It’s autumn – and not the golden-late-summer-type of autumn but one with heavy rainfall, nasty thunderstorms and chilly biting winds. The child lives but weakens quickly.
What would you do? Be consistent and faithful and carry your feeble newborn through rain, thunder, lightning and heavy winds to the faraway church and priest for the “correct” baptism, even if you risk your child’s life and soul with that? Or would you just hurry over to the “other” priest and let him baptize your child? I’d know what I’d do…
By the way… ecumenical movements aren’t a modern age concept. People back then actually often lived ecumenically – practical application… As it happens there is a small town not too far off from where I live that had only one church building but three different priests: catholic, protestant and reformed.
The faithful townspeople shared the building and the times for church service accordingly. The priests performed the respective services, and if the “right” priest wasn’t available when a newborn child had to be baptized… well, then one of the “wrong” fellow priests would step in and perform the duty. The “correct” priest would later confirm the baptism. Easy as that.
And then there were German speaking areas where for a while certain religious denominations were neither wanted nor supported. For instance, if Protestants lived in a catholic area where the sovereign didn’t want any Protestants, the catholic priests officially recorded any sacraments administered to Protestants.
Those were not the standard procedures in the German speaking areas though, but they’re still possible exceptions to the rule – and sometimes mess up our search for our ancestors. If you can’t find your immigrant ancestors’ name in the “correct” church registers, check the “wrong” ones as well. I know a few cases where infant baptisms were recorded in the “wrong” books.
Did you ever find an ancestor who was baptized differently from what you thought?