Roman Catholic Records
Updated: Dec 29, 2018
As I mentioned last week, the announcement by FindMyPast about US Roman Catholic records is important to anyone with Catholic ancestry, and that is particularly true of the Irish. Roman Catholic records can be a key resource for finding a locality in Ireland for your ancestors…the critical piece of information in order to be successful in Irish research. Because the Church considers these records private, they can be hard to access. The work of FindMyPast, as well as AmericanAncestors (for the Archdiocese of Boston) in digitizing these records is a real blessing. If your ancestor lived in an area where records have not been digitized, you will need to write to the parish to obtain the records.
The images have not yet been released for the New York Archdiocese transcriptions (they should be linked soon), but looking at Philadelphia we have an image for the marriage of Michaelem Lyons and Norma [sic] Hopkins who married on 14 Jun 1911 at St. Agatha Church.
I’ve written in the past about obtaining a record from the Catholic Church and the form used to provide the information. The reminder is to always ask for everything in the record, because if there is not a blank on the form for information, you won’t get it. This is an excellent example. After 1907, the priest was required to ascertain the place of baptism. So the record above shows that Michael Lyons was baptized about 1875 in Bacon [sic], Co. Mayo, Ireland and his wife was also baptized about 1876 in the same place. Both the baptisms took place after civil registration, so can we find both a church and a civil record?
Note that the baptism gives the parish as Bekan (written as Bacon in the US marriage record). We now know the location in Ireland (Civil and Roman Catholic parish of Bekan), the parents’ names, Pat Lyon and Ellen Waldron and even the townland: Clagnagh which is in the Poor Law Union (Registration District) of Claremorris. You can go back and search for all of the siblings of Michael (John 1871, Mary 1873, Bridget 1877, Hanora 1879, Patrick 1882, Thomas 1884, Edward 1888) which I did at RootsIreland. Since the first child was born in 1871, looking back from that date for the marriage of Pat and Ellen (they married on the 21 of February in the parish of Aghamore). The record is of their church marriage at RootsIreland, as the images of civil marriages from 1864-1870 are not yet complete. Once I am able to obtain the civil record, I will have the father’s names for both Pat and Ellen to move back another generation. Church records for the parish of Bekan go back to 1832 (JohnGrenham.com).
The same process can be used for finding Nora (Hanora or Honor) Hopkins. Her parents are Pat Hopkins and Bridget Swift.
If you look closely at the records above, you’ll see that Honor Hopkins was baptized on 2 July 1875, a month before she was born (given as 2 August 1875). Finding this is not uncommon in Irish records. Registration was required within a specific time period or a fine was imposed, so birth dates might be changed to avoid the fine. It also might be that the person registering the event wasn’t sure of the date. In this case the mother registered the birth and perhaps estimated the date at the 2nd and wasn’t aware that it had been written down with the wrong month. Notice that she made her mark, so she couldn’t read or write. The baptism, however, would have been performed shortly after the birth, usually within 24 - 48 hours, and the priest would have written it in the register. So the likelihood is that Honor was born just before the baptism.
Using RootsIreland.ie you can also search for her siblings, then her parents' marriage.
Another point when searching Roman Catholic baptisms is to make sure you know the names of the sponsors or godparents. These were typically family or close friends, since their responsibility was to care for the child should something happen to the parents. With one of my clients, the name of a baptismal sponsor of a child born in the US was not initially recognized. With additional research, it was discovered that the female sponsor was the married sister of the child’s father. She was married in Ireland and her first two children were born there. Through church records in Ireland the location from which the family had emigrated was identified.
FindMyPast has published a blog this week titled “Your Catholic Heritage Archive Questions, Answered.” Take a look.