A Genealogist Mixes It Up With Presidents, Their Spouses and Religions

Most of us would think that our Presidents would be on the same page as their spouses when it comes to praying.
They have reached the White House–right? But maybe praying in two different houses of worship is what got them there
because it seems that so many First Couples differ in their denominations.

This professional genealogist knows that President’s Day is coming up. It’s an interesting holiday that was created by an act of Congress in 1971 in a move to have some extended holiday weekends. An article, Why Presidents’ Day is Slightly Strange in the Washington Post sums up the situation:

  • There is no universal agreement on the name of the holiday.
  • There is no universal agreement on which presidents are being honored.
  • There is no agreement on the use of an apostrophe in “presidents”.

So, in honor of this holiday, this RecordClick genealogist thought it might be interesting to take a look at past presidents – and their wives.

For a family history researcher, a president is much like every member of a family tree: No two individuals are the same. A couple is made up of more than one individual. Anyone who takes the wife for granted is missing an important part of a relationship.

For a bit of a twist, I’m adding the religions of each spouse. As every genealogist knows, the role of religion in the family dynamic can be revealing.

For many people, religion is a journey that includes:

  • Spirituality, a search of one’s beliefs of self and place in the world.
  • Service to others.
  • Socialization, worshiping and sharing with like-minded individuals.

The genealogy researcher will see that a religious journey may include some twists and turns that influence and change a person’s life.

Not so very long ago, former President Jimmy Carter broke with the Southern Baptists, the religious denomination in which he grew up. This change had a major impact on his life. The religious journey for his wife former First Lady Rosalynn Carter, however, was a bit different than his was.

A genealogist has to keep in mind that, no matter what the beliefs or laws of an historical era were, many wives in the First Couple were unique individuals who were not an extension of their husband. When it comes to these First Couples’ religious beliefs, sometimes the both the President and his wife were raised in the same denomination. When the two people were of different religions, sometimes the President had stronger spiritual leanings. In other situations, the Presidential family went with the First Lady’s beliefs. Throw into the mix that religious denominations have changed over the years and what we think and believe now may or may not be what we thought or believed in the past.

The genealogist may find Information on the Presidents on a number of websites. For the genealogist, the National First Ladies Library in Canton, Ohio, and its website is an excellent source of background material on our Presidents’ wives.

Information for the genealogist here includes: President, term in office, birth year, death year, religious affiliation; President’s wife, birth year, death year, religious affiliation. Here are some quick finds by this genealogist:

  • George Washington: 1789-1797; b. 1732; d. 1799; Episcopalian, which is closely related to the Church of England/Anglican; Martha Dandrige Custis: b. 1732; d. 1802; Church of England.
  • John Adams: 1797-1801; b. 1735; d. 1826; Unitarian/Congregationalist; Abigail Smith: b. 1744; d. 1818; Congregational. Her father was a Congregational minister.
  • Thomas Jefferson: 1801-1809; b. 1743; d. 1826; Although raised Anglican, as an adult, he had no specific religious affiliation; Martha Wayles Skelton: b. 1748; d. 1782; Church of England. Martha died before her husband Thomas took office.
  • James Madison: 1809-1817; b. 1751; d. 1836; Deism/Episcopalian; Dorothy “Dolley” Payne Todd: b. 1768; d. 1849. She was born into a Quaker family, but as an adult became Episcopalian.
  • James Monroe: 1817-1825; b. 1758; d. 1831; Episcopalian/Deism; Elizabeth “Eliza” Kortright: b. 1768; d. 1830. She was born into a Dutch family – Dutch Reformed. She was married in an Episcopalian service.
  • John Quincy Adams: 1825-1829; b. 1767; d. 1848; Unitarian; Louisa Catherine Johnson: b. 1775; d. 1852. Among other things, her father was a merchant and the family spent time in Europe. When in France, she attended Catholic services; England, Anglican. She was baptized Episcopalian.
  • Andrew Jackson: 1829-1837; b. 1767; d. 1845; Presbyterian; Rachel Donelson Robards: b. 1767; d. 1828; Presbyterian. Rachel died before her husband Andrew took office.
  • Martin VanBuren: 1837-1841; b. 1782; d. 1862; Dutch Reformed; Hannah Hoes: b. 1788; d. 1819; Dutch Reformed, later Presbyterian. Hannah died before her husband Martin became president, so, technically, she was never first lady.
  • William Henry Harrison: 1841-1841; b. 1773; d. 1841; Episcopalian; Anna Symmes: b. 1775; d. 1864; Presbyterian.
  • John Tyler: 1841-1845; b. 1790; d. 1862; Episcopalian; Letitia Christian: m. 1813; b. 1790; d. 1842; Episcopalian; Julia Gardiner: m. 1844; b. 1820; d. 1889; Catholic.
  • James K. Polk: 1845-1849; b. 1795; d. 1849; Methodist/Presbyterian; Sarah Childress: b. 1803; d. 1891; Presbyterian.
  • Zachary Taylor: 1849-1850; b. 1784; d. 1850; Episcopalian; Margaret Smith: b. 1788; d. 1852; Episcopalian.
  • Millard Fillmore: 1850-1853; b. 1800; d. 1874; Unitarian; Abigail Powers: m. 1826; b. 1798; d. 1853. Abigail was the daughter of Baptist minister, Rev. Lemuel Powers. Married by an Episcopalian minister, she later joined the Unitarian Church; Caroline Carmichael McIntosh: m. 1859; b. 1813; d. 1881.
  • Franklin Pierce: 1853-1857; b. 1804; d. 1869; Episcopalian; Jane Appleton Pierce: b. 1806; d. 1863; Congregational. Jane’s father was a Congregational minister.
  • Abraham Lincoln: 1861-1865; b. 1809; d. 1865; No affiliation; Mary Todd: b. 1818; d. 1882; Presbyterian with spiritualism leanings.

And this genealogist could go on…but I’ll take a break…and prepare for the upcoming Presidents Weekend…

A genealogist may need to look a bit further when delving into the religious background of a family. Some denominations keep good baptism, confirmation, marriage, burial and membership records. Other faiths have different priorities and beliefs.

When you hire a genealogist at RecordClick, you will get a professional genealogy researcher who will help you find amazing details. Our genealogical researchers are knowledgeable about religions, records and so much more. If you need more than a prayer to help you, contact us.