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Catholic Church Parish Registers

Catholic Church parish registers are some of the most reliable sources of information for Hispanic genealogical research in Latin America. Parish registers predate civil registration records, and they act as a supplement to them after civil registration began. Authorized parish priests created parish registers to record church sacraments. The most commonly used sacramental records (parish registers) are: baptisms, marriages, and burials.

The following brief online class will teach you some essential concepts necessary for research in parish registers. Please note the class is taught in Spanish.

Registros parroquiales

Parish registers in Latin America

Without a doubt the most important records for genealogy research in Latin America are those of the Catholic Church. In Latin American, the majority of the population were Catholics and can be found recorded in parish or diocesan records. Baptism, marriage, or death/burial records from the Catholic church are usually the primary sources of genealogical information.

The records of many regions in Latin America have been lost or have deteriorated because of age, humidity, insects, and natural disasters such as floods or earthquakes. Civil wars and political protests have also been the sources of some record loss; however, through the years many records have been found and microfilmed.

Content of the records

Through the years various types of information have been recorded in the parish registers. More recent records generally contain more complete information than earlier records. All parishes usually have births, marriage, and death/burial records.

Baptisms

Besides the name of the child being baptized; baptism records normally include the following information:

  • Residence and/or Birth Place - Parish and town where the child was baptized.
  • Dates – baptism day, month, and year and normally the birth date. Most children are born within months of their baptism.
  • Family Information – Full names of the child’s parents and their residence and/or birth place. Occasionally baptism records will also include the full names of the paternal and maternal grandparents.

Marriages

Marriage records usually include the following information about the couple getting married:

  • Residence - Parish and town where the marriage took place.
  • Dates - marriage day, month, and year. The marriage banns dates are also given.
  • Groom’s Name and Information – Full name of the groom and his residence and/or birth place.
  • Groom’s Parents’ Information – Full names of groom’s parents and their residence and/or birth place.
  • Bride’s Name and Information – Full name of the bride and her residence and/or birth place.
  • Bride’s Parents’ Information – Full names of bride’s parents and their residence and/or birth place.
  • Additional Information – marriage records will also indicate whether the bride and groom had any Canonical impediments that would require a dispensation before the marriage.

Marriage information files or información matrimonial

These packets usually contain multiple pages and contain great genealogical information. The following might be included in a marriage information file.

  • Groom’s Name and Information – Full name of the groom, his residence and/or birth place, and occupation.
  • Groom’s Parents’ Information – Full names of groom’s parents and their residence and/or birth place.
  • Bride’s Name and Information – Full name of the bride, her residence and/or birth place, and occupation.
  • Bride’s Parents’ Information – Full names of bride’s parents and their residence and/or birth place.
  • Witnesses’ Information – Names, occupation, their residence, and relationship with the bride and/or groom.
  • Information regarding any impediments to the marriage such as relationship by consanguinity or affinity.
  • Date and place of marriage.

Burials/Deaths

Burial records usually include the following information about the deceased. Burial records are also very helpful to identify infants that died before they were baptized.

  • Residence – Parish and town where the burial took place. During the 18th century and before most burials happened in the parish church.
  • Deceased’s Information – Full name of the deceased, his or her residence and/or birth place, age, marital status; and occasionally cause of death and occupation.
  • Family Information – Full names of father and mother (if single or child) or full name of spouse (if married). Occasionally deaths will mention names of children (if deceased had living children at the time of death).
  • Additional Information – if the deceased made a will, the name of the notary who recorded the testament will be provided.

Search strategies

The following strategies are particularly useful when searching parish registers:

  • After you have found the birth/baptism record of the ancestor you are seeking, continue searching the parish registers for records of his or her siblings.
  • Once five years have passed before the earliest and after the latest child, begin a search for the marriage of the parents. Begin with the birth/baptism date of the oldest child and search backwards. The marriage record should give you the names of the parents of the bride and groom.
  • Once you have found the marriage record, begin a search for the birth/baptism records of the bride and groom and their siblings.
  • Search for death records of each member of the family as needed to complete the details of each individual.
  • Repeat these steps for each generation.
  • If you can’t find the family in the local parish but you know they lived in the area, search nearby parishes.

Locating the records

Many parish records can be found on microfilm and online at FamilySearch.org. In order to locate them for your ancestor you will need to know where they lived. If your ancestors lived in a small town or a remote location, you will need to locate the nearest parish where they might have gone to participate in these important events. Church directories can be helpful in locating parishes. Some can be found online while others are in books. Some of these books may be available on microfilm. More information may be found in the Wiki Church directories pages for each individual country. In Spanish the most helpful directories are guías eclesiásticas. It is also important to know approximate years when the events took place.


 

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