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When referring to church records in this section, the Roman Catholic Church records are implied. These are the most important records for genealogical research in Argentina. The vast majority of Argentinans were Catholic and were registered in the records of the local parish or diocese which are called registros parroquiales (parish registers). These records include entries for baptisms, marriage information, marriages, deaths, and burials. They can help you trace and link families. Often two and sometimes three generations are indicated in the records. In addition, church records may include church censuses, account books, confirmations, and other church-related records.
Church records are crucial for genealogical research, since civil authorities did not begin registering vital statistics until after 1886. After this date one should search in both church and civil records as there may be information in one that does not appear in the other. For instance the church records may only list the godparents whereas the civil records may list the grandparents.
For civil vital records of births, deaths, and marriages after 1886, see the Civil Registration (Registro Civil) section of this outline.
General Historical Background Catholic clergy have documented the history of Argentina in their church records from the very start of the exploration of Argentina. There are ecclesiastical documents of an administrative, judicial, financial, and pastoral nature dealing with the work of the church starting in 1557 from the diocese of Cordoba. There are other such records for the early colonial period. In 1563 the Council of Trent formalized record–keeping practices that were already being followed in much of the Catholic world. Separate records books were to be maintained for baptisms, confirmations, marriages, and deaths or burials and the format was standardized. Following the format that the Council of Trent outlined, the Catholic Church was the primary record keeper of Argentina until civil registration started. A large percentage of the populace is listed in these records.
Some church records have been lost or have deteriorated due to natural effects, such as humidity and insects, and more dramatic events such as fire, floods and earthquakes. Civil and political strife have also caused the destruction of parish books. Some records were destroyed or damaged because of poor storage. However, many records considered lost are simply misplaced or misidentified.
Information Recorded in Church Registers
The type and amount of information and detail recorded in church books varied over time. The later records generally give more complete information than the earlier ones. The most important church records for genealogical research are baptisms, marriage information, marriage, and burial registers. Other helpful church records include confirmations and church censuses. Most records were recorded in Spanish. Some Catholic records were also kept in Latin.
Baptisms [bautismos]:Children were generally baptized within a few days of birth. Baptismal records usually give the place and date of baptism, infant's name and parent's names, status of legitimacy, names of godparents, and sometimes grandparents. You may also find the child's age, racial distinction, and the family's place of residence. If the child died within a few days of baptism, death information has sometimes been added as a note. At times a note added to the margin will state who the child married.
Marriage Information [información matrimonial]:''' The marriage information document can consist of several parts. This document is sometimes three or four pages long. It includes an introduction that states the intent of marriage and sometimes the date of the banns. The marriage banns were announced on three separate occasions. These announcements, gave opportunity for anyone to come forward who knew any reasons why the couple should not be married.
The marriage information will then include personal information on the bride and groom. They may include the following:
- name of bride/groom
- whether they are single or widowed
- place of residence
- sometimes place of birth
- parents’ names
- sometimes grandparents’ names
If this is a second marriage for one of them, it will give the name of the deceased spouse and how long he or she had been deceased. If the bride or groom was from another parish, documents will be enclosed showing good standing in that parish. These documents can include baptismal records and references to banns that were publish in another parish.
The records may also show a dispensation (exemption from restriction of marriage) for the fourth degree of blood relationship, indicating that bride and groom were related. If this is the case genealogical graphs and interesting biographical information about the families involved will be included. This will sometimes give you a line of ascent up to the common progenitors.
Two to four witnesses were then listed who testify of the good standing of the bride and groom. This may include the witnesses’ age, occupation, and residence as well as how long they have known the bride or groom. The witnesses may be related to the bride or groom.
Generally there is a last note stating the date of marriage or if they did not get married.
Marriages [matrimonios]: Marriage registers give the date and place of the marriage and names of the bride and groom. They may also indicate whether they were single or widowed. If they are widowed, sometimes it will give the name of the deceased spouse and how long the spouse had been deceased. If they are minors, often a note is made whether a parent
or other party gave permission for the marriage. The record will list the names of witnesses. Often marriage records include other information about the bride and groom such as their ages, residences, names of parents, and sometimes birthplaces.
Marriage registers may also give the dates on which the marriage banns were announced. Couples were generally married in the home parish of the bride. Typically, girls married young, between 14 and 20. Men married in their 20s.
Deaths, Burials [defunciones, entierros]:Burials were recorded in the church record of the parish where the person died. Death registers give the name of the deceased person, and the date and place of burial and/or death. Often the age, place of residence, marital status, cause of death, and/or names of survivors of the deceased are given. At times the priest will note if the deceased person died testate, meaning he left a will. Occasionally the date and place of birth and parents' names are given if the deceased person is a minor. Early death registers failed to record as much information and are not as complete as later death records. In some death records the women are recorded by their maiden name, listing the name of their surviving spouse or stating that they were widows and mentioning the name of the deceased spouse.
If you are looking for a burial record in the late 1800s through 1930 and do not find it, check the civil registration death records.
Confirmation Registers [confirmaciones]: Confirmation records were not consistently recorded. In larger parishes a separate book was usually maintained, and in smaller parishes the confirmation entries may be intermingled with baptisms. Confirmations were normally performed by the bishop or his authorized representative when they managed to visit the parish. In some parishes confirmations were performed every year but in the smaller parishes, where it was difficult for the bishop or his representative to visit, the confirmations would take place once every few years. It could be a long time before the bishop could visit so in these records you will find that several members of the family were confirmed at the same time.
Confirmation entries normally include the name of the parish, the individual, the godparents, and sometimes the parents. The value of the confirmation record is the primary lead to locating information from other vital records.
Other Ecclesiastical Records
'Many other records were kept by the Catholic church which are valuable for genealogical research. These include:
Censuses and Enrollments (Censos, Matrículas, Padrones):Ecclesiastical censuses and enrollments were taken periodically, sometimes listing complete families living within the parish with their ages, place of residence and/or place of origin. The information listed varies from census to census. There are parish, diocese, and archdiocese censuses, each including the families under their jurisdictions.
Wills, Testaments, and Intestates (Testamentos y intestados):These can contain a wealth of information such as offices, positions, and titles held by the deceased, a listing of their possessions, list of names of spouses and children with their ages and place of residence. These documents go back to the times of the earliest land records (encomiendas).
Parish account books (libros de fábrical):Inventories of church property.
Chaplaincies (Capellanías):Records of monetary and property grants to the church.
Lawsuits (Pleitos):Records of property and privilege claims involving the church.
Fraternal order books (Libros de Cofradías):Record books of lay societies that assisted in parish activities.
Inquisition Records (Registros de La Inquisicíon): In 1480, Ferdinand and Isabella established the Inquisition in Spain. Through the Inquisition, the Spanish Crown sought to achieve both religious unity and civil control throughout the empire. The Holy Office of the Inquisition was established throughout the Catholic world in order to prosecute heretics and religious criminals. Because of the long Spanish struggle during the reconquest of Spain from the Moors, the Crown suspected non–Christians of conspiracy or plotting with foreign enemies. Spanish Jews and others of Jewish ancestry, as well as religious and political heretics, suffered from the campaigns of the Inquisition.
Under the Council of the Supreme Inquisition headed by Tomás de Torquemada, Courts of the Holy Office were instituted throughout the Spanish empire. Those who aspired to serve as officials of the Inquisition were required to submit genealogical proof of their blood purity.
Records of the Council and the Courts are housed in the Archivo Histórico Nacional in Madrid.
Locating Church Records
In Argentina, Catholic church records are kept in different levels the church. The highest level of government in the Catholic church is the archdiocese [arquidiócesis]. There are three divisions under the archdiocese: prefectures [prefecturas], diocese [diósesis], and apostolic vicarage [vicariatos apostólicos]. The parishes [parroquias] are under the jurisdiction of the diocese. The parishes have jurisdiction over both vice–parishes [vice–parroquias] and chapelries [capillas foraneas]. Parishes are local congregations that may include smaller villages within their boundaries. A large city may contain several parishes. All these jurisdictions have their own records.
In searching for your ancestors you must know the town where they lived. You must also determine the parish to which your ancestor belonged. If he or she came from a large city that has several parishes you will need to know in what section of the town he or she lived to determine to what parish he or she belonged.
However, in a large city such as Buenos Aires you may find that even if you know the home parish there were times that the family would go to the cathedral for the baptism of a child or to the parish where a relative belonged in the same city. If you do not find the complete family in the home parish, search the surrounding parishes of the city. If your family lived in a very small village or ranch that did not have an established parish you will need to check a map and determine which nearby town had a parish.
Parish boundary maps can be extremely helpful when determining what specific parish records to search. They can help you identify neighboring parishes if you need to search through the various parishes in a given region.
Church Record Inventories
An inventory is a listing of available church records and their location and what years they cover. Sometimes they include information on which parishes served which towns at different periods of time. Church record inventories are available for a few areas in Argentina. Inventories of church records are listed in the Family History Library Catalog under:
ARGENTINA - CHURCH RECORDS - INVENTORIES, REGISTERS, CATALOGS
ARGENTINA, PROVINCE - CHURCH RECORDS - INVENTORIES, REGISTERS, CATALOGS
Records at the Family History Library
The Family History Library has records from many parishes throughout Argentina to 1930, and in some parishes they go to a later date. The specific holdings of the Family History Library are listed in the Family History Library Catalog. You can determine whether the library has records for the locality your ancestor came from by checking the locality section of the Family History Library Catalog. However, if a record was destroyed, was never kept, has not been microfilmed, or is restricted from public access by the laws of the country, the Family History Library does not have a copy.
In the Family History Library Catalog, look under the name of the town where the parish was, not necessarily the town where your ancestor lived. Look in the Family History Library Catalog under:
ARGENTINA - CHURCH RECORDS
ARGENTINA, [PROVINCE] - CHURCH RECORDS
ARGENTINA, [PROVINCE], [TOWN] - CHURCH RECORDS
New records are continually added to Family History Library collection from numerous sources. Don't give up if records are not available yet. Check the Family History Library Catalog again every two or three years for the records you need. Records not at the Family History Library Baptism, marriage, and burial records may be found by contacting or visiting local parishes. Argentina has no single repository of church records. Write your request in Spanish whenever possible.
Information about how to write for genealogical information to local parishes in Argentina is given in the Genealogical Letter Writing Guide: Spanish (Number 02362–45000). When requesting information, send the following:
- Full name and the sex of the person sought.
- Names of the parents, if known.
- Approximate date and place of the event.
- Your relationship to the person.
- Reason for the request (family history, medical, etc.).
- Request for a photocopy of the complete original record.
Check or money order for the search fee, usually $10.00.
If your request is unsuccessful, search for duplicate records that may have been filed in other archives, or in civil registration offices.
Effective use of church records includes the following strategies.
- Search for the relative or ancestor you selected. When you find his birth record, search for the births of his brothers and sisters.
- Then, search for the marriage of his parents. The marriage record will often help you find the birth records of the parents.
- You can estimate the ages of the parents and search for their birth records.
- Then repeat the process for both the father and the mother.
- If earlier generations are not in the record, search neighboring parishes.
- Search the death registers for all family members.
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