Dividing the Family Along Religious Lines

My family was easy for me to understand when I began researching it’s history. My mother’s family was Irish and Roman Catholic. My father’s family was Scottish and non-Catholic, aligned to no particular Protestant denomination. These distinct differences made it easy for me and helped point me to the correct research areas and repositories of information.


My father’s conversion to Catholicism prior to his marriage to my mother was not warmly received by his family. So you can imagine my astonishment while checking, re-checking really, facts about my Sweeney ancestors to input source information into my genealogy database. I am directly descended from the Sweeney family through my paternal grandmother, Agnes Little. While examining the 1871 marriage registration of Edward Sweeney to Helen Dickson, my third great grandparents, I found all the usual information I would expect to find: name of bride and groom, their parent’s names, the date and place of the marriage, their addresses at the time of the marriage, their occupations, names of the witnesses and the clergyman or official who performed the wedding ceremony. But there was another piece of information that I suppose I typically have glossed over – the notation of the banns.

In the case of Edward and Helen, their marriage registration clearly indicates their marriage took place “After Banns according to the Forms of the Roman Catholic Church.” So my paternal grandmother’s great grandfather, and grandmother for that matter, were Roman Catholic. A little more searching revealed not only the religious difference but that they were from Ireland!

Edward Sweeney’s parents, my fourth great grandparents, were George and Mary (nee McMurray) Sweeney. Edward, like his parents, was born in Ireland. The family first appears in Scotland in the 1851 Census. Edward was 2 years old meaning that sometime between his birth in 1849 and the March 30, 1851 Scottish Census, the Sweeney family immigrated to Kirkintilloch, Dunbartonshire, Scotland. Given the timeframe involved, it is easy to surmise it to be most likely that they were escaping from the Irish potato famine.

The tie to the Roman Catholic church in this family line appears to have been broken when Edward’s daughter Agnes, my second great grandmother, married William Mitchell in 1886 “according to the forms of the Scottish Episcopal church.”
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