A project that began in 2017 to digitize important sacramental records in the history of Boston’s Catholic Church has just been expanded. Here’s the latest on this important project from American Ancestors and the Archdiocese of Boston.
Historic Catholic Records Online Project Expansion
Announced by American Ancestors and the Archdiocese of Boston
20 Additional Years of Records—from 1901 through 1920—and more than 60 Additional Greater Boston Catholic Parishes Are To Be Added to the Historic Digital Genealogy Project at AmericanAncestors.org
August 7, 2019—Boston, Massachusetts—American Ancestors and the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Boston (RCAB) today announced an expansion of its ongoing program to digitize important sacramental records in the history of Boston’s Catholic Church. This expansion of a project collaboration announced in early 2017 will effectively double the original 11 million names of parishioners to be included when the project is completed to encompass a total of approximately 21 million names—a treasure in research terms for historians, genealogists, scholars, and the public at large. Images are available to browse now. Name-searchable records will be available in an expanded database from American Ancestors on their award-winning website AmericanAncestors.org.
These historic records document several sacraments of the Catholic Church in Boston and surrounding towns including baptism, confirmation, holy communion, marriage, and the anointing of the sick. They are valued for research because they contain detailed information about the Catholic parishioners of greater Boston, their relationships with each other, the church, and often the community.
When announced in January 2017, the Historic Catholic Records Online Project—the first of its type in the U.S. to digitize a significant number of sacramental records from any U.S.-based Catholic archdiocese—encompassed 154 parishes in 84 towns within the Boston Archdiocese, covering the years 1789 to 1900.
Today’s announcement extends the project’s reach to cover records through the year 1920—adding 20 additional years of sacramental records to the project and eventually bringing more than 60 new parishes within it—all formed within the Boston Archdiocese after 1900.
Catholic parishes in the towns of
- Forest Hills,
- North Andover,
- and Winthrop
will now be included—covering important phases of greater Boston’s early 20th-century history and stories of immigration, social, and cultural change.
Brenton Simons, President and CEO of American Ancestors, also known as New England Historic Genealogical Society, celebrated the amplification of the project, noting “Throughout our 175-year history, New England Historic Genealogical Society has collected and shared countless manuscripts, artifacts, data, and other resources that tell the inspiring story of the American family. The expansion of this historic collaboration between the Boston Archdiocese and American Ancestors will enrich the research of family historians in America and beyond and be especially informative in Irish, Italian, and French Canadian genealogy. Newer parishes from the 1900s add Lithuanian, Polish, and Portuguese genealogical data of interest.
“I offer our deep gratitude to the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Boston for recognizing the historical value of this data—especially Thomas Lester, the Archivist and Records Manager of the Archdiocese, whose forward-thinking vision toward preservation and collaboration inspired this important project and its expansion we are announcing today,” Simons said.
Lester, as the Boston Archdiocese’s leading advocate for records preservation, stated “We recognize the value of this collection to many groups, foremost among them historians and genealogists. This second, expanded phase of our project with American Ancestors, is a result of the overwhelming positive feedback received during the initial phase announced with them in January 2017.
“Use of the records by researchers around the world has exceeded our original expectations and we are excited to offer additional content, with more insights, and deeper glimpses into the history of the Roman Catholic people and parishes in greater Boston. Of equal importance is that we are continuing to create a digital backup to help preserve these irreplaceable records.”
“The completion of the expanded project, covering all records through the year 1920 is now anticipated to be by the year 2029,” stated Molly Rogers, Database Coordinator for American Ancestors, “with all browsable (non-indexed) and indexed names from all parish archives expected to be online by that time.”
The project is enormous in scope, with a large amount of data to be digitized and then laboriously, manually indexed, transcribed, and, in most cases, translated to English for name-searching capabilities.
Some of the first records from this expanded time period—browsable images of pages from parish archives—are available and may be viewed at AmericanAncestors.org/image-example by members of American Ancestors and by non-members alike, with a free online registration as a Guest Member at AmericanAncestors.org/membership/guest-users. Searchable records (indexed by name) are available only to subscribing members of American Ancestors—visit AmericanAncestors.org/Join.
Volunteers coordinated by the staff of American Ancestors undertake the greater portion of the work of scanning and indexing the Historic Catholic Records Online Project documents.
Much of this effort is carried out at the American Ancestors headquarters in Boston’s Back Bay. In 2017, American Ancestors launched a Historic Catholic Records Fund to enable philanthropy to support the project. Information about contributing to this fund can be found at AmericanAncestors.org/catholic-records-fund.
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About American Ancestors and New England Historic Genealogical Society
American Ancestors, also known as New England Historic Genealogical Society (NEHGS), with its national headquarters located in Boston’s Back Bay, is the oldest and largest genealogical organization in America. It serves more than 260,000 members and millions of online users engaged in family history nationally and around the world. It is home to a world-class research library and archive, and an expert staff.
American Ancestors offers an award-winning genealogical research website at AmericanAncestors.org with more than 1.4 billion records and maintains a publishing division which produces original genealogical research, scholarship, and educational materials, including Mayflower Descendant, a quarterly journal of Pilgrim genealogy and history.
Resources for Using Church Records for Genealogy
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A Dutch genealogy researcher writes in with tips and encouragement for finding your family history in The Netherlands.
Niek in Arnhem, The Netherlands recently wrote in with 5 excellent and enthusiastic tips for exploring your Dutch family history. Here’s what he had to say about the civil registry, surnames, church records, land records and royal lineages:
“About three years ago my father got diagnosed with skin cancer and to help him get his mind of things I opened up an account on MyHeritage for us, so we could start working on our family tree together. Maybe I have some tips that could be of some value for your listeners with roots in The Netherlands:
1. Civil registry. In 1811, the civil registry was introduced by the French, who ruled the country. This meant that municipalities were obliged to keep the records (marriage, death and birth) of their citizens. That system hasn’t changed much since 1811 and most of the information can be found online on websites like www.wiewaswie.nl and www.geneaknowhow.net (the latter has some English translations as well). It’s very easy to find your Dutch ancestors [back] to 1811. For example, I know the names and most of the date of births and deaths of 60 of my 64 four-times great-grandfather who lived during the introduction of the civil registry.
For me, the most exciting thing about these post-1811 documents is that they were often signed by the father of the newborn or by the bride and groom. To see the 200 year-old signature of your ancestor can really send shivers down the spine! [Click here to read more about Dutch civil registration on the FamilySearch wiki.]
2. Surnames. The introduction of the civil registry also meant that citizens had to have a last name. Up to then last names were used, but not mandatory. It could be that last names would change after a generation. For example, my last name, Lucassen means Son of Lucas, my oldest paternal ancestor I could find was named Lucas Jans, which means Lucas, son of Jan. And his son was called Jan Lucassen, and this last name was passed down the generations (although some of his children had Janssen, son of Jan, as a last name).
3. Catholic church records. I am from the province of Brabant, which was a Catholic province. Before 1811, records were kept by the church. The Catholic church was particularly skilled at keeping records and information. Although they unfortunately don’t have dates of birth and dates of death, they used to register the dates of baptism and burial. (A baptism date isn’t the same as a a date of birth, although, in the civil registry marriage certificates, the date of birth is the same as the date of baptism.) [Click here for a FamilySearch wiki article on Dutch church records.]
4. Land records. Apart from the church the municipalities kept records of sales of land and property, which is a great way to find out more about the family relations of your ancestors, and about the houses they may have owned. For many parts of the country, these records can easily go back to the 17th century. [This FamilySearch wiki article tells you more about Dutch land and property records.]
5. Royal lineages. If you’re lucky you’re able to connect one of the branches of your family tree to nobility, as many parts of The Netherlands and the rest of Europe were ruled by knights and viscounts. If this is the case in your family, you can easily climb up in your family tree for several centuries because the family relationships of nobility is very well documented and an important part of their heritage (like the story you told about your visit to Windsor Castle) because of the possession of land over which they ruled. Sometimes you do hit a dead-end when a parent of one of your ancestors isn’t known, or isn’t known for certain. But some of the lines travel back really, really far! [Click here for a FamilySearch Wiki article with more on researching noble lines.]
More Dutch Genealogy Gems
“Exercise Field Artillery Corps” album, image AKL092038, Netherlands Institute of Military History uploads at Flickr Creative Commons, https://www.flickr.com/photos/nimhimages/16026248719/.
Dutch Reformed Church Records (U.S.) on Ancestry.com
Europeana Digital Archive: World War I Collection
Netherlands Military Institute of History has Flickr Photostream