Throughout the United States, there are ethnic and religious organizations that collect information about specific groups of people. For example, you can find organizations that concentrate on Irish, African, or Jewish people in the United States. This topic tells you how ethnic and religious organizations may help you in your research.
Normally, ethnic and religious groups have a wealth of material relating to both life in the "old country" as well as life in the United States. You may find information about customs, foods, language, dress, occupations, traditions, migration patterns, as well as history, activities, and influence in the United States.
In addition, some ethnic and religious groups will be able to give you information about the clubs and mutual aid societies that people of a particular ethnic background formed when they arrived in the United States. These clubs and mutual aid societies played an important role in the lives of many immigrants -- helping them preserve their customs and pass on traditions to their children. Many of these societies maintained records that may be of interest to you if one of your ancestors was a member.
Finally, some ethnic and religious groups maintain records of historical and genealogical interest. If they don't, they may be able to direct you to archives, societies, libraries, or genealogical groups that do have the information you need.
The Church of England, or the Anglican church, was established in the New World by the English government. Because England claimed rights to the land in the New World, they could mandate that all colonies have an Anglican church. The Church was therefore established in all thirteen of the original colonies. It is interesting to note, however, that all colonies except Virginia allowed for some freedom of religious practice.
As with many religions in America, this religion dates back to England. The Puritan movement had dissenters in their ranks, called the Separatists. The Separatists traveled to Europe and the New World in order to flee the persecution they faced in England. The Separatists set up many Baptist congregations in the New World during the 17th and 18th centuries, and these congregations flourished over the years. States with large Baptist gatherings included North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and Rhode Island.
The primary immigration of Eastern Orthodox Christians was from 1880 to 1920. These immigrants came to America for many reasons; among the most common were poverty, revolutions, and wars. The Orthodox church was formed in the 11th century when dissenters refused to recognize the Pope's authority. Instead, the new Orthodox religion, which organized on national lines, looked upon the Scriptures as their authority. When Orthodox groups began to arrive in America, they usually maintained their original national organization. Thus you find churches called "Greek Orthodox," or "Russian Orthodox," for example. Orthodox immigrants primarily resided in the Northeast and on the West Coast. The first Orthodox church was established in New York in 1876.
Before the Civil War, German Jews were the primary Jewish immigrants arriving in America. After the war, though, Germany began to grant civil and political equality to Jews, and German Jewish immigration decreased. After that, the bulk of Jewish immigrants came from Eastern Europe, especially Poland, Romania, and Russia. The height of Jewish immigration to America was during the 1880's and 1890's, mostly due to Russian persecution of Jews at this time. Like the Eastern Orthodox immigrants, Jewish immigrants settled primarily in the Northeast and on the West Coast. The highest concentration of Jewish immigrants was in New York.
It was Louis XIV, King of France, who spurred Lutheran immigration to America. During his reign, Louis imposed harsh economic sanctions on minority religions in France. Meanwhile, in America, William Penn had set up colonies in Pennsylvania that only had minor religious restrictions. The religious freedom of Pennsylvania appealed to many of the Lutherans from France, and so they began to immigrate. Germany, Sweden, and Denmark were other major sources of Lutheran immigrants.
The Methodists are a subset of the Anglican church of England. Until 1784, Methodists were not a "church" but only a group of societies without a major central authority. It was after the Revolutionary War that the Methodists decided to form a separate church with a recognizable authority. As with the Anglican church, the Methodists set up divisions in every colony of the new country and their congregations flourished.
Because the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints was founded in America, there has never really been a mass wave of Mormon immigrants to the United States. The Mormons do have a history, however, of migration within the United States, settling in Ohio, Missouri, Illinois, and Utah. One of the largest concentrations of Mormons is in Utah, where you can also find the Family History Library of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints .
Presbyterianism in American started in Maryland. Francis Makemie, a missionary, spurred interest in Presbyterianism, and his work led to the establishment of five Presbyterian churches in the new colonies. Makemie was also responsible for the first Presbytery in America. He united all of the Presbyterian congregations in America under his leadership. The giant mass of Scotch Irish immigrants in the 18th century fueled the American Presbyterian church, because many of them were already Presbyterian. From Maryland, the Presbyterian church spread throughout the colonies and formed churches in all thirteen of them.
The Puritan movement began in the Church of England in the sixteenth century. The members of this movement felt that English reforms were not enough to bring the church back to its pure state. The Puritans eventually separated from the Church of England because of differences of Biblical interpretation. The Puritans believed that emphasis should be placed on the salvation of man, and that all members of a community should work for the community good. When the Puritans realized that their church would not work in England, they immigrated to New England in the 1620's and 1630's. In America, they set up communities based on the teachings of the Scriptures and the Bible in all thirteen of the colonies.
The Society of Friends was begun by George Fox in 17th century England as part of the revolt against the Church of England. Quakers began immigrating to North America in the late 1600's to escape persecution. However, when they arrived, they met opposition from the Puritan groups that were already in the New World. Quakers found refuge from religious persecution in the colonies set up by William Penn, who had become a convert. Penn convinced the King of England to repay royal debts with land grants in North America, and so established Pennsylvania and Delaware. In addition to these two states, the Quakers eventually had significant settlements in Maryland, Virginia, the Carolinas, Ohio, and Georgia.
It was the Eastern European immigrants that came after the Civil War who really popularized the Roman Catholic church in the United States. After the Civil War, immigrants from Germany, Italy, Austria-Hungary, and Poland swelled the ranks of the Roman Catholic Church. The entrance of 100,000 Catholic Mexicans into America by 1900 also helped the growth of the church. The greater portion of Roman Catholic immigrants settled in the Eastern United States, but churches were established all over the country.