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After the death of Pope Clemente VII, leaders of the Catholic Church realized there was a need to reform and standardize certain doctrines and practices. All church leaders, including bishops from all the dioceses in Europe, were called to a council in the city of Trent on December 13, 1545. After many stops and starts, protests, and suspensions, the reforms of the Council of Trent were adopted. One of the mandates was that every parish priest would keep a record of each parishioner’s baptism, marriage, and death. This mandate was passed in January 1564, but not every parish complied immediately, even though every diocese had to ratify and comply with the council’s reforms. In fact, the reforms were not universally accepted before 1595, when a papal proclamation was declared. Most Catholic parishes in Italy will have records dating from this time if the register books have survived. Copies of these records were not regularly sent to the diocese until about 1900, so most parishes will have their records stored at the parish church. Occasionally the original register was deposited in the diocesan archive.
Most parish records in Italy began anywhere from 1563 to 1595, and continue to the present. During that time, 99 percent of the population belonged to the Catholic Church; the percentage is still around 95 percent, so almost the entire population has been covered in the parish registers. In larger cities there were some Jewish and Protestant residents who were not covered by the Catholic Church registers.
Parish registers such as baptisms and marriages were created to keep a record of the vital events in the lives of each parishioner.
The Catholic Church parish registers are the most reliable and accurate source for family history information in Catania until civil registration was enforced in 1820. It is recommended to search both parish and civil registers and verify them against each other.
The records are generally kept in bound registers consisting of approximately 100-400 pages per volume. Some registers include an index at the end of each volume. Volumes prior to 1815 were handwritten by the parish priest in narrative form with details of the event and after 1815 the records were handwritten in printed forms. The text of the records is in Italian and partially in Latin.
The key genealogical facts found on most birth or baptism records includes:
- Date and time of the event
- Name of the person baptized
- Names of the parents
- Names of the witnesses
- Name of the priest performing the baptism
- In later records, marriage and birth information of the parents
The key genealogical facts found on most marriage records includes:
- Names of the bride and groom
- Names of their parents
- Date of the event
- Names of witnesses
- Name of the priest performing the marriage
- In later records, birth information for the bride and groom
The key genealogical facts found on most burial records includes:
- Name of the deceased
- Names of the parents (if the deceased is a minor)
- Dates of death and burial
- In later records, profession, age of deceased, and cause of death
How to Use the Record
To begin your search it is helpful to know the following:
- Parish of residence
Search the Collection
To search the collection select "Browse through images" on the initial collection page.
Look at the images one by one comparing the information with what you already know about your ancestors to determine which one is your ancestor. You may need to compare the information about more than one person to make this determination.
Using the Information
When you have located your ancestor’s record, carefully evaluate each piece of information about other people listed in the record. These pieces of information may give you new biographical details that can lead you to other records about your ancestors. For example:
- Use the residence and names of the parents to locate civil and land records.
- The father’s profession can lead you to other types of records such as military records.
- The parents' birth places can tell you former residences and can help to establish a migration pattern for the family.
- Burial places may also help to establish a migration pattern.
- It is often helpful to extract the information on all children with the same parents. If the surname is unusual, you may want to compile the entries for every person of the same surname and sort them into families based on the names of the parents. Continue to search the records to identify siblings, parents, and other relatives in the same or other generations who were born, married and died in the same place or nearby.
Tips to Keep in Mind
- Earlier records may not contain as much information as the records created after the late 1800s.
- There is also some variation in the information given from record to record.
Unable to Find Your Ancestor?
- Check for variant spellings of the names.
- Check for an index. Some records have indexes at the end of the volume. Frequently, these indexes are arranged by the given name of the individual and sometimes use the Latin form of the name. Those volumes without indexes need to be searched chronologically for the individuals sought.
- Search the indexes and records of nearby parishes.
General Information About Catholic Church Records
These records were created by official decree of the Roman Catholic Church. The Church required the keeping of the registration of baptisms, marriages, and burials beginning in 1595. This parish began keeping records in 1597.
Typically, the baptisms, marriages, or burials were recorded at the time of the event. The event information, including the names of the principal individuals, is highly reliable. Other information, such as ages, parents’ names, and other relationships, is generally regarded as reliable but could be subject to error.
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