Wednesday, June 9, 2021

A Clue from a Church


In puzzling over the immigrant pathway of my mother-in-law's second great-grandparents, Joseph and Elizabeth Flowers, we at least have found clues that they came to Ohio from somewhere in Pennsylvania. However, Pennsylvania is a sizeable chunk of territory, leaving us fairly directionless, even with that information gleaned from census records.

Not to worry—at least not too much yet—for there may be another clue we can gain from the Flowers' newest neighborhood in Perry County. That clue comes in the form of a church.

While it is possible, and perhaps even fairly common, for settlers in America to change their religious allegiance from one denomination to another over generations, some of our country's earliest immigrants came to these shores committed to a specific church membership. One of the details available to us is the fact that Joseph and Elizabeth were Catholic. At least, they were buried in Saint Joseph Cemetery, the cemetery adjoining the local Catholic church in the town of Somerset, Ohio.

That particular Catholic church claims a significant place in Ohio history, being the state's oldest Catholic parish. One of the earliest Catholic immigrants to that then-wilderness area began petitioning for a Catholic priest to be sent to that area as early as 1805, and by 1808, was granted an itinerant priest for at least annual visits. That was the origin of what became Saint Joseph's Catholic Church of Somerset, Ohio.

It is interesting to also note that the establishment of the village of Somerset itself was set to have taken place about 1810, and that it was formed by settlers from yet another town of the same name: Somerset in what is now Somerset County, Pennsylvania. However, only about ten years before that point, Pennsylvania's Somerset County had been carved from another county called Bedford County. In fact, that region of southwest Pennsylvania had undergone several border changes as the larger region was chiseled into several additional counties.

Could the establishment of Ohio's first Catholic church, or the founding of the town where the parish was located, provide any clues for us on where in Pennsylvania Joseph and Elizabeth Flowers may have emigrated? While it may be hard to pinpoint the specific county in Pennsylvania, due to the many border changes during that early 1800s time frame, these two clues do point us in a viable direction.

Our next task will be to examine any records from southwest Pennsylvania to see whether we can find any sign of the Flowers family—and hopefully, keeping in mind our overarching research goal for this month, any sign of Joseph's in-laws, the Ambrose family, as well.  

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