Missionary ancestors

This guide was last updated in 2009

If your ancestors were involved in the spread of Christianity around the world since the 18th century, there are plenty of ways to follow their progress, says Rosemary Seton.

The evangelical awakening in late 18th-century Britain gave birth to the modern missionary movement when earnest Christian believers felt called upon to obey Christ’s injunction to "go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature” (Mark xvi.15). At the same time discoveries in the South Seas and the expansion of trade with India, Africa and the East brought home an awareness of and interest in distant places

A number of missionary societies were formed at this time including the Baptist Missionary Society (1792), the London Missionary Society (1795) and, in 1799, the Church Missionary Society. These organisations sought to recruit for the most part ordained clergymen to take the Christian gospel to those parts of the world open to European travellers.

During the course of the 19th century the idea of a missionary came to include educationists, doctors, nurses and others. A special role was developed for women missionaries in ministering to the spiritual, educational and medical needs of women and children in non-western societies. At the height of the missionary movement, between 1880 and 1920, some 60 British missionary societies were actively engaged in this work with many thousands of missionaries going out to the mission field.

Photo © Getty images

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