16 November 2012

Digging Methodist history out of the attic

Historians are inviting people to dig up stories about Methodists in their family tree and share them on a new heritage website.

My Primitive Methodist Ancestors provides a space where people can share information about every aspect of Primitive Methodism. The easily-searchable site is part of a community archive network, supported by  the Methodist Church and Englesea Brook Museum, and developed by volunteers.

Jill Barber, Project Director for the Englesea Brook Museum, said: "We get hundreds of enquiries every year, from all over the world, from people tracing their family history. Many have no experience of church, but are fascinated to find out more about the faith of their ancestors. Some discover their ancestors were put in prison for preaching in the open air, others became Chartists or trade union leaders, and transformed the lives of working people."
My Primitive Methodist Ancestors is already popular. People have begun sending in stories, memories, photos, research and comments about people, places and topics related to Methodism. Anyone can upload photos directly into the virtual archive after  registering to the site, which is free to use. A message board enables people to ask for help and share research interests.

The site is growing by the day, and by the end of October had reached over 15,000 page views, and nearly 2,000 visits from over 30 different countries.

Jo Hibbard, Methodist Heritage Officer, expects this to be the first in a network of Methodist community history websites, where people can share their stories, research and images. "We expect the sites to be particularly popular with family history researchers, but I would encourage all enthusiasts for Methodism's heritage across the world to browse, contribute and comment," she said. "The potential of these websites to reach out beyond the pew is enormous.  We already have contact with people from around the world who were previously unaware of their spiritual roots and certainly did not expect to find such committed faith and ministry in their family tree."

Primitive Methodism was about returning to the roots of the early church. Its theology was inspired by John Wesley's open air preaching in the mid 18th century. In 1932 Primitive Methodism united with other branches to form the Methodist Church of today. 

Screen shots of the website can be viewed and downloaded here

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