Catholic Baptism and Death Registers

All of my Irish immigrants came to Savannah Georgia in the mid 1850's.  They seemed to be very active in the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist Church in Savannah and I have been able to obtain baptism and death information from the Diocese of Savannah.  When they send me information, such as baptismal information, it is written on a form.  It is not the copy of the actual register where the entry was entered.  The baptism information includes the name of the parent, including the maiden name of the mother, the date of birth, date of baptism, sponsor and the name of the Clergy who baptized the child.

Is this form good enough evidence or do I need to ask for a photo duplication of the baptismal register?




Submitted byEEon Tue, 06/30/2015 - 21:13


Always, always!, we should ask for a photocopy of the original record, rather than a certificate that extracts selected pieces of data (correctly read or not) and inserts the tidbits into whatever blank on the form the tidbits seem to fit into. The basic principle here is the same one we face with all records.  A derivative version is likely to have errors and omissions. Always, we want our evidence to come from the best source possible and, given a choice between an original record and a derivative someone has made, it's the original we need to use.

A legion of cases could be cited here in which the information on a certificate has mislead researchers for decades. Aside from the "honest errors" of simply misreading names or dates, church clerks very frequently omit information about ethnicity, the marital status of the parents, and other details researchers consider critical. If the certificate has a blank for the residence of the parents and the original baptismal entry doesn't state a residence, most church clerks will simply assume they lived in the town where the church stands and then enter that assertion into the blank space--when in reality (especially in the Anglo-Southern states prior to the 1900s) a couple might have brought their child from some other locale where there was no Catholic church—or the town-based priest had gone out into the hinterlands "riding circuit."

It might also go without saying, but I'll say it anyway: for these reasons, our citation should always make it clear whether we are using a certificate or an image of the original.

Submitted byleflakeon Wed, 07/01/2015 - 09:52

In reply to by EE

Thank you!  That's what I figured.  It's just that I am going to have to ask for alot of photocopies.  I guess a sizeable donation is in order.

Thanks for answering my question.

Submitted bySuzanne Matsonon Thu, 07/02/2015 - 18:04

From my personal experience requesting records from Catholic churches and diocesan archives, I have been told up front that they will not make a copy of the register. They will provide a certificate in some cases. In other cases, I received a letter with the information provided within the body of the letter. I guess it depends upon the church and/or archives.


Submitted bynegenealogiston Thu, 07/02/2015 - 18:30

Suzanne is correct that Catholic churches will normally not make photocopies of the registers, as the registers contain information about people other than the ancestor in question. If the parish has allowed the registers to be filmed, then a determination has been made that enough time has passed that the information is no longer sensitive. So, as with vital records in many states, a certificate may be the best that a researcher will be able to obtain.

Submitted bynegenealogiston Thu, 07/02/2015 - 18:35

As far as donating to the parish in " exchange" for the records. I mentioned this strategy to my pastor. (I am Catholic.) He cautioned against it, saying that he would find it highly insulting. So proceed with caution.

Submitted byleflakeon Thu, 07/02/2015 - 18:42


For the Diocese of Savannah, they state this on their Sacremental Records page,

"When requesting records, it is important to give as much information as possible, including names at birth and alternative spellings. This work is time-consuming. We do not charge for our services, but donations are welcome. They help to pay for the preservation of the older ledgers."




Submitted bynegenealogiston Thu, 07/02/2015 - 19:35

In reply to by leflake


Be careful, though, not to imply that you believe that access to these sacramental records, or the records themselves, are for sale. That idea is extremely offensive. The records are or are not accessible, whether or not an individual money to offer. We're I you, I would think twice before making statements such as, "I guess a sizeable donation is in order."

Submitted byleflakeon Thu, 07/02/2015 - 18:43

Evidence Explained,

So what do we do when the best the church will send us is the information in a letter or a form filled out with the information?




Submitted byEEon Sat, 07/04/2015 - 10:13

Leflake, as our colleagues make clear, the policy differs from church to church (or diocese to diocese). It also differs, within the same church, from one pastor to the next.

Always we should ask for an image copy. Sometimes we get it. Sometimes we don't. If our request is accompanied by a nicely worded explanation of why we need an image copy, that sometimes help. If the church nonetheless supplies a certificate in spite of our request, we might try a new approach after we've let the issue lie long enough to avoid the appearance of unreasonable pressure. Often, when our research elsewhere has been thorough, we find that certain details on that certificate contradict details found elsewhere. We might then go back to the church, explain that we have conflicting information between that certificate and another seemingly legitimate source (and  that we understand how easy it is to misread a word or name in old manuscript records, etc., etc.), and ask if we can have an image copy to resolve the contradiction so that our research can proceed on the correct path. Across four decades of research in church records in much of the U.S., and abroad, I've never had this last approach denied.

It's also wise to bear in mind that (a) how we ask can determine our success; and (b) as with everything else, we improve with practice; the more often we ask, each time searching for a more-effective set of words, the more successful we become.

As others have said, when we request an image copy, we cannot expect to see the entire page—although it does sometimes happen. Many churches view that as a violation of the privacy of other individuals on that page, even though those individuals are long dead. When we  are fortunate enough to receive a full page, we should take advantage of the opportunity to gain context, even though the other records may be unrelated to our person of interest. Studying that full page critically will help us better read the handwriting in our own record-of-interest and better understand what was "typical" for that type of record in that time and place.

As negenealogist suggest, we should always make the effort to determine whether the records have been microfilmed. In many cases in which a church declines to make an image copy, the records have been filmed and are available at a university or muncipal library—though they may not tell us so. It's up to us to "do our homework." Finding thoseo microfilmed records is the best of all worlds, because there is no substitute for being able to read through a set of records; invariably we related items that further our research or gain a valuable historical perspective of events and situations at the time. The downside of this boon, (or the beauty of this option), is that it may involve a trip back to that community of interest.

Submitted byleflakeon Sat, 07/04/2015 - 17:18

Evidene Explained,

Thank you for answering my question.  You are always very nice and your replies are very helpful.




Submitted byEEon Sat, 07/04/2015 - 22:21

Leflake, we thank you for posing questions that trigger useful discussions and helpful insight from other researchers. Happy Independence Day!