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Church records (registros parroquiales) are excellent sources for accurate information on names, dates, and places of births, marriages, and deaths. Virtually every person who lived in Chile before 1885 was recorded in a church record.
Records of births, marriages, and deaths are commonly called “vital records.” Church records are vital records made by church priests. They are often referred to as parish registers or church books. They include records of christenings, sometimes including a birth date; marriages; deaths; and burials. Church records may also include account books, confirmation records, and lists of members (padrones).
Church records are crucial for pre-1900 research in Chile. Civil registration started in January 1885, but was not comprehensive until 1900. Church records are often the only sources of family information before this date. Church records continued to be kept after the introduction of civil registration.
For birth, death, and marriage records after 1885, see the “Civil Registration” section of this outline.
Information Recorded in Church Registers
The information recorded in church records 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, marriages, marriage information, and death or burial registers. Other helpful church records include confirmations and church censuses (padrones). Most of these records were recorded in Spanish, but a few of the older Catholic records may be written in Latin or a mix of Spanish and Latin.
Children were generally baptized within a few days of birth. Baptismal records usually give the place and date of baptism, infant’s name and parents’ names, status of legitimacy, names of godparents, and sometimes grandparents’ names. You may also find the child’s age, ethnic background, and the family’s place of residence. If the child died within a few days of baptism, death information was sometimes added as a note to the baptismal record. At times a note added in the margin will state who the child later married.
Marriage registers give the date and place of marriage and the names of the bride and groom. They also indicate whether they were single or widowed and give the names of witnesses. They often include other information about the bride and groom, such as their ages, residences, occupations, names of parents, and sometimes birthplaces. In cases of second and subsequent marriages, they may include the names and death dates of previous spouses. Often a note is made whether a parent or other party gave permission for the marriage. In addition to the marriage date, marriage registers sometimes also give the dates on which the marriage intentions were announced. These announcements, called banns, were made on three separate occasions and gave opportunity for anyone to come forward who knew any reason why the couple should not be married.
Couples were generally married in the home parish of the bride. Girls married young, usually between 15 and 20, and men married in their 20s. Marriage Information (información matrimonial, pliegos matrimoniales, or expedientes matrimoniales)
The marriage information document is separate from the marriage record and can consist of several parts. It includes an introduction that states the intent of marriage and sometimes the date of the banns.
The marriage information includes personal information about the bride and groom. This may include the following: name of bride and groom, age, whether they are single or widowed, place of residence, sometimes place of birth, name of parents, and sometimes grandparents. If this is a second marriage for one of them, the document will give the name of the deceased spouse and how long he or she has been deceased. If either the bride or groom is from another parish, documents will be included showing good standing in that parish. These may include baptismal records and when the banns were published in another parish.
The records may also show a dispensation (an exemption from restriction of marriage) for the fourth degree of blood relationship, indicating that the bride and groom were related. If this is the case genealogical graphs and interesting biographical information about the families involved may be included.
Following this information, two to four witnesses are presented who testify of the good standing of the bride and groom. This may include the witness’s personal information as well as how long the witness has known the bride or groom. The witnesses may be related to the bride or groom. This document is sometimes three or four pages long.
Generally, there is a note at the end of the marriage information documents listing the date of marriage or a note if they did not get married.
Deaths, Burials (defunciones, entierros)
Burials were recorded in the church record of the parish where the person was buried. The burial usually took place within a few days of the death.
Death registers give the name of the deceased and the date and place of death or burial. Often, the age, place of residence, marital status, cause of death, and names of survivors of the deceased are given. At times the priest will note if the deceased testated, meaning he or she recorded a will. Occasionally, if the deceased is a minor, the date and place of birth and parents’ names are given.
Early death registers failed to record much of this information and are not as complete as later death records. In some death records the women are recorded by their maiden name, giving the name of their surviving spouse or stating that they were widows and mentioning the name of the deceased spouse.
If you can’t find a death or burial church record dated after 1900, check the civil registration death records.
Locating Church Records
Church records were kept at the local parish of the church. The term parish refers to the jurisdiction of a church priest. Parishes are local congregations that may have included many local villages within their boundaries. In order to know which parish registers to search, you must know your ancestor’s religion and the town where he or she lived. It will also be helpful to know the parish to which your ancestor belonged in case there were several parishes in one large locality.
The town where the church building was located is considered the headquarters of the parish. Although the church building was often named for a saint (such as San Gabriel), the Family History Library Catalog refers to a parish by the name of the town where the parish church was located. In large cities, where there may be many parishes for one locality, the Family History Library Catalog uses the parish saint name to distinguish the records of different parishes.
Small towns that did not have their own church building were designated to a particular parish. Some parishes had affiliated chapels (capillas foráneas). Over time, some villages or chapels may have belonged to several parishes as jurisdictions changed.
Parish boundary maps can be extremely helpful when determining which parish church records to search. They can help you identify neighboring parishes if you need to search through the various parishes in a given region. Some church directories include boundary maps. Church records can be found at the local parish archive, copies of older records may be found at the archdiocese archive, and some old records can be found at the National Archive.
Records at the Family History Library
The Family History Library has microfilm copies of most Chilean church records prior to 1930. 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 your ancestor’s locality by checking the “Locality” section of the Family History Library Catalog. However, if a record has been 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 church was, not necessarily the town where your ancestor lived.
Look in the Family History Library Catalog under:
CHILE, [PROVINCE], [TOWN] - CHURCH RECORDS
New records may be added to the Family History Library collection from numerous sources. Don’t give up if records are not yet available. Check the Family History Library Catalog every two or three years for the records you need.
Locating Records Not at the Family History Library
Baptism, marriage, and death or burial records not available at the Family History Library may be searched by contacting or visiting local parishes. Chile has no single repository of church records. If you will be contacting them by mail, write your request in Spanish whenever possible. You can use the Spanish Letter-Writing Guide to compose a letter in Spanish.
When requesting information, send the following:
- An inquiry as to how to best send the service fee, if any.
- Full name and gender of the person sought.
- Names of the parents, if known.
- Approximate date and place of the event you are requesting information about.
- Your relationship to the person.
- Reason for the request (family history, medical, and so on).
- Request for a photocopy of the complete original record.
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 or her birth record, search for the birth records of his or her brothers and sisters.
- Search for the marriage record of the parents.
The marriage record will often lead to the birth records of the parents.
- If you cannot locate a marriage record for the parents, you can estimate their ages in order to search for their birth records.
- If earlier generations are not in the record, search neighboring parishes.
- Search the death registers for information about all family members.