Start exploring your family’s
Catholic heritage today.
Long before most governments started keeping civil records, Roman Catholic clergy were dutifully recording names and dates associated with major life events. Our Catholic collection is made up of baptism, confirmation, marriage, and burial records from thousands of parishes that span the globe.
Catholic means "universal," and regardless of your faith, you may have some Catholic roots in your family tree. From uncovering maiden names to looking for details that pre-date civil registrations, Catholic records can open new doors as you search for your family's history and heritage.
While many Catholic records share some basic characteristics, the documents, formats, and language will vary depending on the location and time frame. Below we've shared a few samples of some of the more commonly found records—calling out the clues they can contain, and how to get the most from every detail. Use the arrows to scroll through the examples to learn about Catholic baptism, confirmation, marriage, and burial records.
Burial date. While this record only gives the burial date, since most burials took place within a few days of the death, it can be useful in estimating the date of death. This can lead to other rich death-related records, such as obituaries, civil registrations, body transit records, coroners’ inquests, and more.
Name of the deceased.
Residence. This may be the person’s place of residence or the death location. In this burial register, we see several hospitals listed.
Age at death. Use the age at the time of death to estimate birth dates.
Grave location. Whenever possible, try and visit the gravesite or obtain a photograph of any family gravestones. Tombstone symbolism and details can give clues to the deceased’s nativity, military service, or membership in a fraternal organization, such as the Knights of Columbus, or the Ancient Order of Hibernians. Extended family may be interred in the same gravesite and listed on the gravestone. Also, look at nearby plots for other relatives, as often multiple plots were purchased so the deceased could rest among family.
Nomina Confirmatum. Name of the person being confirmed. Many confirmations were recorded in Latin, using Latin names, so to search for variants of the name in both Latin and the native language.
Ætat. Age of the confirmand. The age of the person being confirmed, coupled with the date of the Confirmation can be used to estimate a birth date.
Nomina imposita in Confirmatione. The confirmand chose the name of a saint to use as their Confirmation name. It may be a saint whose story and virtues were admired, or one whose interests the confirmand shared (e.g., Saint Francis of Assisi, the patron saint of animals, or Saint Catherine of Bologna, the patron saint of artists, etc). The saint’s name may also have been chosen because it was shared by a beloved family member.
Nomina Patrinorum. The confirmand’s sponsor is his or her spiritual guide and is often a family member.
Nomina Sponsorum. Names of the parties (groom and bride, respectively). The names may be reported in Latin or in the native language, sometimes both ways within the same register, so search for different variants.
Eorum Residentia. Residence of the groom and bride. The marriage often took place in the bride’s parish.
Nomina Parentum. Parents’ names, in this record, the father’s first name and the mother’s full name, including her maiden name.
Eorum Residentia. The parents’ place of residence.
Denuntiationes. How the marriage was announced. Until 1983, the Catholic Church required banns to be announced for three consecutive Sundays in the church, from the pulpit or in the church bulletin.
Impedimentum. Impediments to the marriage. If there were obstacles to the marriage, sometimes dispensations were granted by the church to allow the marriage. Dispensations may have waived the reading of the banns in cases where there was a need to rush the marriage (for example, if a soldier was being shipped off for military service), for reasons of consanguinity (marriage of third cousins or closer), affinity (marrying someone who was the third cousin or closer of a deceased spouse), or marrying someone who was not a baptized Catholic.
Die Mensis. Date and month of the marriage. The year was typically at the top of the page, or sometimes the full date is recorded together.
Nomen Parochivel Vicarii. Name of the officiant.
Testes Adfuerant. Witnesses present. Witnesses were typically family or close friends, and were part of your ancestors’ network of associates, so be sure to make note of them and try to determine if there is a relationship.
Eorum Residential. Residence of the witnesses.
Observanda. Observations or notes. For example, whether one of the parties converted to Catholicism.
Baptism date. Since Catholics typically baptized children relatively soon after birth, baptism dates can be a helpful reference for estimating birth dates. However, there may be exceptions in rural areas where traveling priests only passed through periodically, or where families didn’t make it to the church regularly. In these situations, you may find several children from one family being baptized at the same time. You may also see entire families being baptized together as they converted to Catholicism.
Child's name. Sometimes children were baptized with religiously significant names, such as Mary, Joseph, and John, yet went through most of their lives using a different name. But be careful not to dismiss a record for “Mary” when you might actually know her as "Josephine." Also, many baptisms used Latin given names, so it can be helpful to search for both variations.
Parents’ names. Because church records often pre-date civil registration, they can be extremely valuable in taking your research back a generation. In records like this one, the mother’s maiden name may also be recorded.
Names of sponsors (sometimes abbreviated as ss). Sponsors, or Godparents, as they were often called, may be extended family members. They can give clues to a mother’s maiden name in cases where it is not included in the record.
Place of birth. Some records will list the family’s residence at the time of the baptism, which may be different than the birthplace.
% of Population - 44%
Parishes - 4,865
% of Population - 23%
Parishes - 19,081
% of Population - 87%
Parishes - 6,101
% of Population - 79%
Parishes - 9,222
% of Population - 76%
Parishes - 1,312
% of Population - 87%
Parishes - 2,909
All statistics courtesy of www.catholic-hierarchy.org