Church Records – An Invaluable but Often Unknown Resource

Despite your current religious affiliation or belief, you may have come across the need to research church records to find information regarding your ancestors.

One of these resources may be through the Catholic Church system. I recently attended an event that explained Sacramental Church Records, how they are useful in genealogy research and how to contact the church for them. Here’s what I learned.

The event I attended was held by the Cincinnati Archdiocese Archives along with Holy Trinity and Emmanuel Churches located in Dayton, Ohio. These establishments have records going back into the early 1800s.

Throughout the past year, I’ve needed to contact the churches and the Archdiocese to request a variety of Sacramental records regarding my ancestors as I’ve hit various brick walls with other resources.

I am not Catholic and I am not a member of the church but they’ve been extremely helpful and welcoming of my requests and the questions I’ve had. I will admit that at first, I was hesitant to make contact. My thoughts varied from would they completely ignore me because of this or would they tell me what they had but would only provide access to someone who was Catholic or a member of the church.

However, they understood the research I was doing and I became comfortable with asking questions and trying to understand how certain things work within the religion and the record archives in general.

The Purpose of this Event

With hearing stories of similar situations, these two churches, and the Cincinnati Archdiocese organized this event to teach others, Catholic and non-Catholics, about what is available and accessible in regards to the Sacramental records for genealogy and family history research.

The event was also presented as a health initiative as genealogy research is a great way for seniors to keep their minds busy and active.

What are Sacramental Records?

As a genealogist, you may know that records are extremely important for learning about a person’s life. For example, the names of the parents, birth date, maiden name, spouse information, death date, location, etc.

Sacramental records are those records for important life events within the Catholic Church. Many religious denominations, not just Catholic, also have baptismal, marriage and death records, they may just not be referred to as Sacramental records.

  • Baptisms
  • Confirmations
  • Marriages
  • Death

Government offices have similar birth, marriage, and death records but often, the churches have a more personal record collection.

For example, the government will most likely not have a baptism record as this is not a government regulated activity such as marriage.

Church records are also a great secondary resource if government records have been destroyed over time with, for example, the tragedy of a courthouse fire. Church records are also often accepted as official and verifiable records if you need to submit proof to join lineage societies.

How to Contact the Church

Many religious denominations, not just Catholic, have baptismal, marriage and death records for their specific parish or church facility.

Basically, just ask. Be polite, be respectful and be patient.

Ideally, in today’s modern age, you should be able to call or email the church to request the information you are looking for.

They may even have a website form that you can use to submit a request.

It’s also extremely helpful to provide as much information as you can to save them time when going through their records.

Example: John Smith married Janet Jones, May 1850. They had a baby, Mary, on May 12 1851. I am looking for their marriage and the baptismal record.

“I don’t know, what I don’t know.”

They may also be able to provide you with not only the information you’ve requested but additional information that you didn’t think to ask about. I personally like to think of it as “I don’t know, what I don’t know”.

So next time you have a brick wall that could possibly be solved by contacting the church, any church, just do it. They are there to help anyone and everyone. You may be amazed at what you might learn.