Gathering places, whether at home, school, church, or otherwise, are important to consider in your genealogy search. Remember that the FAN Club Method, as penned by genealogist, Elizabeth Shown Mills, means that we should be looking at our ancestors’ friends, associates, and neighbors for possible leads in our search.
Let us consider “The Old Landmark,” ancestral places of worship.
Preachers preach in the old pathway…
Big Bethel A.M.E. Church, Atlanta, GA
My great-grandfather, Edward “Dock” Williams, was said by family members to have worked on the maintenance of the bell at Big Bethel A.M.E. in Atlanta. This church is a landmark in Atlanta and has been present as a congregation and building in various incarnations for as long as Atlanta has existed, even when the city was initially known as Marthasville.
First Baptist Church at Bute Street, Norfolk, VA
This is the place of worship for my late maternal grandparents, Deacon Ira Braswell, Jr. and Mrs. Virginia Braswell, nee Alston. This church also held both of their funerals. The choir singing “Precious Lord, Take My Hand” during my grandmother’s funeral still resonates in my mind’s eye and heart. I also remember my mother my sisters, and myself riding up the church’s elevator, having the doors open, and seeing my grandmother laying in the sanctuary before her service. The first congregation, inter-racial and inter-class, organized in 1800. The present-day building was completed in 1906. It is a beautiful sanctuary, one that is affixed in memory as a place of remembrance, yet remains as a place of present-day worship.
Shiloh Baptist Church, Emporia, VA
My fourth great-grandmother, Emeline Potts, married Benjamin Eppes at Shiloh in 1882. The original church was built in 1866 and torn down in 1975 to build anew. Rev. Ephraim Royal, who name is listed on the above historical marker married Emeline and Benjamin. This church, a thriving congregation located on Clay Street in Emporia, is on a list of must-see family history spots.
Rising Star Baptist Church, Branchville, VA
This church, located in Southampton County, Virginia is the final resting place to a number of my Turner ancestors. Unfortunately, the original structure, built over 150 years ago, was destroyed by fire caused by a lightning strike in August 2017. The congregation attends Rising Star Baptist church, while their church is being rebuilt.
Baptist House of Prayer Church, Harlem, NY
Baptist House of Prayer is located in Harlem, New York City. It is within walking distance of the famous Apollo Theater. My great-grandfather, Rev. Robert J. Alston was the pastor of this church, beginning in the early 1950’s, and pastored for 22 years. The congregation burned the mortgage under Rev. Alston’s pastorate, according to the church’s history. The building itself is a piece of architectural history in that it was built originally in 1889 as a dance studio. During the 1960’s, just after high school, my mother visited her grandfather and was able to see this place of worship.
Israel Baptist Church, Atlanta, GA
This church was attended by my paternal grandmother, Lizzie Lovett (Walker), for a number of years. It looms large on the avenue in Decatur, GA. I remember her cooking for the church. She’d start cooking Saturday evening and would always have everything just right. She’d have it no other way. Other times, I remember ladies of the church coming to check on a sick/shut-in Nana. The church was founded in 1916 by a prayer band that met in different homes, per the written church history.
Galilee Baptist Church, Branchville, VA
This church in Southampton County, Virginia is the location for a number of my Joyner ancestors. The Joyner family ties into my Southampton County Turner family. Founded in 1867, this church remains a vibrant part of the community. As an example news reports shared that the displaced congregation of the burned Rising Star Baptist Church, would be welcomed to worship at Galilee Baptist Church. This is another ancestral church home to visit when possible.
Now let us all go back to the old landmark, where we’ll stay in the service of the LORD…
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