Local Catholic Church and Family History & Genealogical Research Guide

"The History of the Church is a record of the mercies of God on the human family."
-Rt. Rev. H. J. Alerding (1907)



Please note that links within the text below are to offsite references. 

     The Catholic Faith teaches that among liturgical celebrations, there are seven Sacraments (in the strict sense of the term) which were instituted by the Lord.  The sacraments are visible signs of the communion and communication between God and men.  They communicate God's Grace and sanctify, instruct, nourish faith, and give worship to God.
     Records are kept for the reception of the sacraments of baptism and marriage that may be of great help when researching your ancestors.
     It should be noted that not all sacraments would necessarily be received by all Catholics, and there may be differences between Western (Roman) and Eastern Catholic Churches.  For instance, in the Roman Catholic Church, the Sacraments of Baptism, Chrismation and Holy Eucharist (Holy Communion) are often received at different ages, while in the Byzantine Catholic Church, as in most of the Eastern Catholic Churches, these three Sacramental Mysteries of Baptism, Chrismation and Holy Eucharist are given together to infants.6  Furthermore, though it is possible in the Roman Catholic Church for someone to receive both the sacrament of matrimony (marriage) and Holy Orders (bishops, priests, and deacons), it would not be common, since Roman Catholic priests are not usually married.  The Byzantine Catholic Church, however, has traditionally allowed for married men to be ordained to the priesthood.6
Since there are variations and exceptions, please keep in mind the following is only an informal guide to the ages at which Sacraments would often be received.

There are Seven Sacraments in the Roman Catholic Church:

1.  The Sacrament of Baptism - may be received in infancy.

2.  The Sacrament of Reconcilliation or Penance - is commonly celebrated at 7 years of age, prior to receiving the sacrament of First Communion.

3.  The Sacrament of First Communion or Holy Eucharist - is commonly celebrated at 7 years of age in the Roman Catholic tradition, and in infancy in the Byzantine Catholic tradition.

4.  The Sacrament of Confirmation or Chrismation- may be celebrated at about 13 years of age in the Roman Catholic tradition, and in infancy in the Byzantine Catholic, and most Eastern Catholic traditions.

5.  The Sacrament of Matrimony - Marriage - Sacramental Mystery of Crowning (the latter, a distinctive Byzantine Catholic marriage ceremony includes the crowning of the bride and groom).

6.  The Sacrament of Holy Orders - "Holy Orders is the sacrament through which the mission entrusted by Christ to his apostles continues to be exercised in the Church until the end of time:  thus it is the sacrament of apostolic ministry.  It includes three degrees:  episcopate, presbyterate, and diaconate." (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1994, page 383: no. 1536).7 The presbyteriate (Priests), are consecrated to preach the Gospel, shepherd the faithful, and celebrate the Mass.  They are guided by those who have received episcopal consecration (Bishops) which confers, together with the office of sanctifying, also the offices of teaching and ruling.  Deacons help and serve both the episcopate and presbyteriate.   The diaconate (Deacons) may be conferred on married men in both Eastern and Western Catholic traditions.

7.  The Sacrament of Anointing of the Sick

See also:
The Catechism of the Catholic Church : (offsite links)
Part 2, section 2: The Seven Sacraments and
Chapter 4: Other Liturgical Celebrations which discusses sacramentals, Christian funerals and the celebration of funerals.




If you DO know the name and location of your ancestors' Catholic Church/Parish, and it still exists: 
     A friendly and precise request, for baptism, marriage, or funeral records, sent to the church office, may provide you with the desired records.
     Your letter should include details of your ancestor, such as: name, birthdate, marriage date, etc.   (If dates are unknown, try to give a close estimate of the dates.)
     Please keep in mind that the work of the Church is ongoing, parishes may vary greatly in their staffing, and records may or may not be indexed by surname, therefore it is advisable to limit your request to two or three specific records.

     If you DO NOT know the name and location of your ancestors' Catholic Church/Parish, or it no longer exists:
     You will need to determine the parish to which your ancestor belonged, and this may involve some HISTORICAL DETECTIVE work on your part.
     Their parish will likely be the local Catholic Church nearest their home (geographically).  However, as time passed, and the population of an area grew (or diminished), there was often a need to build new churches, and establish new dioceses and parishes.  Therefore, your research may require combining church HISTORY with GENEALOGY.
     You would like a copy of your great grandmother's 1890 baptism record, and a phone directory shows there is a St. Mary's Catholic Church near her childhood residence, however, you were informed her baptism record was not found at that parish.
     A bit of HISTORICAL DETECTIVE work may show that St. Mary's was not established until 1970, so your next step may be to try to determine which parishes existed in the area in 1890.  Resources for this may include Diocese, Church and Parish histories, City Directories, Atlases (of the necessary era), local county and town histories, 1890s newspapers, etc.
     These resources may also help you overcome some apparent "brick walls" in your genealogy.   I found a "missing" funeral record after I learned that the Church was destroyed by fire, and during the year-long rebuilding period, parishoners attended a neighboring parish.
Now, you are ready to BEGIN:
     You may use this guide site to help you determine the name and address of the parish church.
   1.  Begin by Selecting the Country of your ancestor's residence.
             For example, you may choose the United States.
   2.  Select the area within the Country nearest the geographic location of your ancestor's residence.
             For example, choose the state of Indiana.
   3.  Select the Archdiocese or Diocese in location that is nearest your ancestor.  Many of the Archdioceses and Dioceses have web sites online which include a directory of the parishes within their jurisdiction.  Many have also posted histories online.   In addition to helping you learn more about the events in the Catholic Churches of the area, these Histories may be critical to locating your ancestor's sacramental records, since new dioceses may have been established and jurisdictions may have changed many times through the years, as new countries formed or areas were settled.
     For example, the geographic area of Fort Wayne, Indiana was once included in the ecclesiastical province of Quebec among others.
4.  Some of the parishes have web sites of their own.  If your parish of interest has a web site, do visit the site which may include addresses, histories, photos, etc. of interest to you.
   If you find that the parish church no longer exists, it is possible that the records have been transferred to the archives of the Diocese where the church was located.  The Archivist at the Diocese
Chancery2 may be able to help you to locate records.
Areas were/are often served by priests from another Catholic Church while they were/are developing and becoming more populated.  These are called missions.   Records for these may be able to be located at the parish where the visiting priests are established.
 Additionally, copies of records for sacraments received later in life, such as, marriage, may traditionally be sent to the church where the person was baptized as well.


How do I find the local Catholic Church in the United States?

How do I find the local Catholic Church in the United States?
Read the following, then click on the state or country of residence.
The Catholic Church in the United States is organized into divisions of organizational structure and jurisdiction that have, for the most part, geographical boundaries consisting of 33 provinces, with 33 Archdiocese which are metropolitan sees,
and 150 Dioceses.  In addition, there are  Eastern-Rite Jurisdictions which are immediately subject to the Holy See, and an Armenian-Rite apostolic exarchate for the U.S. and Canada.  There is also a Military Services Archdiocese.
     In other countries, the structure will often be similar.
     The Eastern-Rite jurisdictions in the United States are 1. The Eparchies of St. Maron (Maronites), 2. Newton (Melkites), 3. St. Thomas Apostle of Detroit (Chaldeans) 4. St. George Martyr of Canton, Ohio (Romanians),  5. Pittsburgh, PA 
(Ruthenian) and 6. Philadelphia, PA (Ukrainian).1

Who Are Byzantine Catholics?
For an introduction & brief history of the Ruthenian Catholic Church visit:



  This page was first placed online 23 Aug 1998, and was relocated to http://home.att.net/~Local_Catholic/ on 12 May 1999.  It is now being relocated to http://localcatholic.webs.  It is hoped that the new location will be helpful to visitors.


This Local Catholic Church and Family History site was named, by Family Tree Magazine, among the 101 Best New Web Sites, in the August 2004 issue,  of Family Tree Magazine!  Thank you Family Tree Magazine!

This Local Catholic Church and Family History site was named, by Family Tree Magazine, among the 101 Best New Web Sites, in the Special Interests Category, in the August 2001 issue,  of Family Tree Magazine!  Thank you Family Tree Magazine!


May 3, 2000:  Thank you for the compliments to "Local Catholic Church and Family History" from the new Family Tree Magazine!!!

Ancestry.com Daily News for January 13, 1999.

References used include:

  • 1.  1990 Catholic Almanac.  Felician A. Foy, O.F. M. (Editor), Rose M. Avato (Associate Editor).  Huntington: Our Sunday Visitory Publishing Division, Our Sunday Visitor, Inc. and  1998 Catholic Almanac.  Felician A. Foy, O.F. M. and Rose M. Avato (Editors and Compilers).  Huntington: Our Sunday Visitory Publishing Division, Our Sunday Visitor, Inc.

  • 2. New Advent, Inc.  From the Catholic Encyclopedia, copyright © 1913 by the Encyclopedia Press, Inc. Electronic version copyright © 1997, by New Advent, Inc.  (A Catholic Web Site transcribing The Catholic Encyclopedia: an International Work of Reference on the Constitution, Doctrine, Discipline and History of the Catholic Church.  Herbermann, Pace, et al. (Editors). Imprint:  Appleton (New York) 1907-1912.)

  • 3.  The Archdiocese of Baltimore (Maryland). A Brief History of the Archdiocese of Baltimore.  URL : http://www.archbalt.org/our-history/index.cfm

  • 4.   Rt. Rev. H. J. Alerding. The Diocese of Fort Wayne, 1857-September 22-1907, A book of Historical Reference 1669-1907.  1907.  Fort Wayne:  The Archer Printing Co.
    The paragraph is quoted in full below:

    • "The History of the Church is a record of the mercies of God on the human family.  Considered in this light, the view that history is self-glorification is narrow in the extreme, and lacks the Christian instinct referring all things to God.  The same holds good, be it the history of the Church in general, or of any portion of it.  The purpose always is the glory of God and the salvation of souls.  Such is the issue, and not the individual, not the missionary, not the priest; and therefore the Church records should be kept accurately and not withheld from publication.  Gratitude prompts us to thank and glorify the Giver on High." -Rt. Rev. H. J. Alerding (1907)

  • 5.  The Notre Dame Archives Guide 74.  Catholic Church. Archdiocese of Baltimore (Md.).  URL : http://www.archives.nd.edu/guide/74.htm

  • 6.  Thank you to John J. Vernoski, of Byzantine Catholic Church in America - http://www.byzcath.org/, who has kindly given guidance, and helped me grow in my understanding of the Byzantine Catholic Church. jvernoski@compuserve.com

  • 7.  Catechism of the Catholic Church. Liguori, Missouri:  Liguori Publications.  1994.

  • 8.  Notre Dame Archives.  Collections in the Archives.  URL :   http://archives.nd.edu/collections/default.htm

  • 9.  Britannica Book of the Year.  Chicago: Encyclopaedia Britannica, Inc.  1998.    Britannica Online is accessed at http://www.eb.com/

  • National Conference of Catholic Bishops.  USCC Releases Resolution on Computer Networking.  http://www.nccbuscc.org/comm/archives/97-200.htm. 1998.

  • Information learned from the many web sites for the Archdioceses, Dioceses, and Catholic Church whose links appear on these pages.

  • About this site?

    Explaination and disclaimer:  Though the beliefs and practices of individual members of the Catholic Church may differ from the official teachings of the Catholic Church, I have tried to gather information and links that appear to follow the official teachings of the Roman See.  I cannot, however, control the content of others' web sites, and I myself can err.  Please inform me of errors on my site, and of any links which may become inappropriate to family viewing. 

    I am creating this site as a helpful guide to researching the history of the local Catholic Churches and Catholic ancestors in this geographic area.  This is not an official Catholic Church page.

    Though links to this page are encouraged, please do not download the page without requesting permission since it contains copyright protected material.

    If you find an error, have a suggestion, or a site that you believe will be helpful, please let me know.

    --Ann Mensch, Professional Historical Genealogist

    E-mail:  localcatholic@gmail.com

    With appreciation and love, I would like to thank my family and friends for their love, assistance, patience and guidance. 

    Copyright 1998, 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004-2010, by Ann Mensch.
    This page was first placed online 23 Aug 1998, is currently (February 2010) being relocated to localcatholic.webs.com
    and was last updated February 6, 2010.