The Diocese of Springfield in Illinois is embarking on a project to digitize and index all of the sacramental records of the diocese that are considered accessible for genealogical research. With the passage of time, sacramental records are considered open for genealogical research. This is no different than state vital records (births, marriages and deaths) which also have access restrictions removed after a certain period of time. In fact, for years, the diocese has provided access to sacramental records prior to 1931 for genealogical research.
Access has not always been easy. Some books are too fragile and many do not have an index. Searching for someone to assist also takes time and effort by a parish and archives staff.
Two important benefits to this project include the preservation of fragile and critically important records. Sacramental — records are subject to wear and tear bindings become broken, the paper is not the best quality material and is often acidic (brittle) — and eventually fall apart. Digitization of the sacramental records deemed genealogical will prevent further damage from handling the books.
These sacramental records are critically important because they reflect the sacramental life of the faithful, the rights and privileges of the sacramental recipient in the Catholic Church and the legacy of a family’s faith. Once completed, researchers will be able to search the page images and indexes of these registers online.
Most Illinois counties did not begin recording births until 1877. Birth records prior to 1916 were only recorded by county clerks. Church records may be the only source of genealogical information for individuals before this time. This will revolutionize the way we look for those family members who have passed their faith down to us.
To complete this project, the Diocese has partnered with Ancestry.com, the global leader in family history. If we tried to do this project on our own, the cost would probably exceed $2 million. With this partnership, at no cost to the Diocese, Ancestry will digitize and index the historical sacramental records. They will then be published online as part of Ancestry’s collection of family history records.
This project will start this June and digitization should be completed by January 2019. Baptism and Confirmation registers prior to 1931, Marriage registers prior to 1951 and death/funeral registers prior to 1976 will be picked up from the parishes by Archives staff and taken to the Pastoral Center where they will be digitized. Once the registers are digitized, the Archives will return those registers that contain entries exceeding the genealogical access requirements to the parish. The registers that contain entries that end prior to the genealogical period will remain in the Archives for preservation. Look for updates on the status of this project in future issues of the Catholic Times.