Church Records              

What are Parish Registers?

Catholic parish records are the most commonly used set of records in Hispanic family history research. Since the keeping of records as part of the civil registration systems did not start until the nineteenth century, parish records constitute an invaluable source of information about individuals. These records can be divided into two categories: Non-sacramental records and sacramental records.

Sacramental Records:

Since the Council of Trent (1545-1563), Catholic parish priests have been required to keep record of certain  sacraments in what we call registros parroquiales or parish registers. These include records of baptisms or christenings, marriages, deaths or burials, and confirmations. ​

Under the direction of local Bishops each diocese of the church prescribed the form in which these records, or parish registers, were to be kept. Although the specific requirements for  parish register entries have changed from time to time and diocese to diocese, the formats of christening, marriage and even death or burial entries have stayed basically the same. Each time a child was christened or a couple married, the parish priest or one of his assistants was to make an entry in the appropriate book, telling who did what to whom, when, and where. This tutorial will introduce you to those basic formats; that is, it will focus on the specific information contained in each entry and locate where that information can usually be found.

Non-Sacramental Records:

Parish records also include fraternal order books, church censuses, account books, and local history documents. These are much more varied than sacramental registers and generally concentrate more on parish administration than on the lives of individual parishioners.

Additional Resources

​Because the formats of these parish records are very similar, this list of common phrases can be very helpful in reading what the scribe has written.   View List of Common Phrases found in Parish Records


Much of the text on this page was adapted from p. 1-1 of Spanish Record Extraction - An Instructional Guide, © 1981 by Intellectual Reserve. Please consult this resource for more guidelines and practice materials dealing of Spanish parish record  extraction.

Types of Parish Records

Click on the type of record below to learn more and see samples.

Baptism (Christening) Record​s​ Marriage Records Marriage Investigations Burial Records