Which sacramental records are available for genealogical research?

The archives of the Archdiocese of Saint Paul and Minneapolis house microfilm copies of baptism, marriage, and death records for most parishes in the counties of Ramsey, Hennepin, Anoka, Carver, Chisago, Dakota, Goodhue, Le Sueur, Rice, Scott, Washington, and Wright. We do not, as a rule, have copies of first communion, confirmation, or burial records.Records created before January 1, 1919 are available for genealogy research, except in cases where particular records are restricted by canon law. To protect confidentiality, all genealogical research is done by archives staff.

An individual may always request a copy of his or her own sacramental certificate from the parish where the sacrament was conferred. Parents and legal guardians also have a canonical right to request certificates for their minor (under 18) child. Officials of the Archdiocese of Saint Paul and Minneapolis, other dioceses, or Roman Catholic parishes may also request sacramental certificates directly from the any parish in the archdiocese that possesses sacramental records.

What kind of information can I expect to find in a sacramental record?

Baptisms: Records typically include the date the sacrament was conferred, the birth date, the name of the child, the name of the parents [sometimes including the maiden name of the mother], the names of sponsors [that is, the godparents], and the name of the officiating priest. Baptism records may also contain notes of later sacraments, including confirmation and marriage.

Marriages: Records usually include the date of the marriage, the names of the parties being married, the names of the two official witnesses, and the name of the officiating priest.

Deaths: Early records of deaths tend to be spotty. Where they were kept they sometimes include the date of burial, the name of the deceased, the date of death, the age at death, and the name of the officiating priest. Sacramental death records typically do not include exact burial location information.

Why do you only have baptism, marriage, and death records? What about first communions and confirmations?

Canon law (canon 535.1) requires that every parish keep baptism, marriage, and death records. As a matter of best practice, we now keep first communion and confirmation registers in this archdiocese, but that was not always the case and we have very few of these records dating before 2010. However, there is a notation column in the baptismal register that may contain notes about whether and when these sacraments were conferred.

How do I find burial location information?

Civil records of death from the state or county sometimes document burial location information, if you are not sure in which cemetery your ancestor was buried.

The organization Catholic Cemeteries provides access to local burial information for the following Catholic cemeteries: Resurrection Cemetery in Mendota Heights, Calvary Cemetery in St. Paul, Gethsemane Cemetery in New Hope, St. Mary’s Cemetery in Minneapolis, and St. Anthony’s Cemetery in Minneapolis. You can get more information on their services and request records through their website.

For local parish cemeteries, it is possible that the parish may have non-sacramental burial records from the cemetery. If they do, it’s up to the parish locally which of these records, if any, are available for research.

How long will it take to complete my research request?

Because of the overwhelming number of genealogy requests received our turn-around time averages 4 weeks after your completed request and payment is received. We will be in touch with you after we have researched your request even if we did not find the record you requested.

Why are genealogy requests handled centrally through the Office of Archives and Records Management rather than by the individual parishes?

There are several reasons for this policy, which was implemented more than a decade ago. First, many of our sacramental registers are more than 100 years old. Many are brittle and are subject to damage with repeated handling. By conducting genealogy searches using microfilm at the Archdiocesan Catholic Center, we are able to preserve the fragile original books.  Second, our sacramental records books are full of confidential information—including adoption and paternity information. We take our responsibility to protect the privacy of the Catholics of our archdiocese seriously. There is no way for a researcher to read through the bound sacramental registers held by parishes without allowing them to see all entries in the book. Therefore, all requests are handled centrally and you will be presented with only the information relevant to your particular request. Third, parish staff were becoming inundated by time-consuming genealogy requests. By handling these requests at the Catholic Center, we are able to save parish staff time. Another important consideration is that centralizing genealogy research provides additional benefits to researchers. The Office of Archives and Records Management is able to ensure access to these records, provide one point of contact for questions, and provide added value to the service, such as our ability to check multiple parishes as part of one request, and to share our expertise with related research resources.

How do I find out which parish my ancestor(s) attended?

In the years before Vatican II, Catholics generally attended their neighborhood parish. To make an educated guess regarding which parish holds the records of the person you are researching please follow the steps below:

1. Figure out the address the person lived at during the year the sacrament was conferred. You can generally do these using city directories, which were forerunners of the white pages. You can simply look up a last name and see the address for that family. The best collection of city directories available locally is at the Minnesota History Center. You may use these yourself on-site for free, or you can pay for a city directory look-up if you cannot or do not wish to do the research yourself. To order a search request, visit this link.

If your relative lived in Minneapolis, you can access the city directories for the years 1859-1931 online via the Hennepin County Library’s website.

If your relative lived in St. Paul, you can access city directories for the years 1856-1922 online via the Saint Paul Public Library website.

Address information is also sometimes provided in Minnesota census records.

2. Determine which Catholic parish was closest to that address. The Office of Archives and Records Management has compiled a map of historic parishes to help you determine this information. This map is mostly, but not entirely, complete, and it continues to be updated. You may view the map of historic parishes here.

If your relative spoke a language other than English, he or she may have attended a national parish, which served immigrants from Eastern Europe, France, and Italy. Ethnic affiliations are noted on the map.

What if my ancestors lived outside the Archdiocese?

First, you will need to know where your ancestors lived at the time of the baptism/marriage/death. The archives of the Archdiocese of Saint Paul and Minneapolis only contain records from Catholic parishes in the following Minnesota counties: Ramsey, Hennepin, Anoka, Carver, Chisago, Dakota, Goodhue, Le Sueur, Rice, Scott, Washington, and Wright. If your ancestors lived outside of that area, you can use the USCCB Diocesan Locator to determine which diocese or archdiocese that location is in now.  Then check that diocese’s website for archives contact information, directions for requesting sacramental records, or a directory of parishes.

What if I am looking for a record that dates after January 1, 1919?

We cannot release any information about a sacramental record including the fact of its existence, until after the restriction period has passed, except to authorized recipients (See Requesting Sacramental Certificates). Individuals who received a sacrament can always request a copy of their own sacramental records.

If you are seeking the record for the purpose of family history research, an alternative is to request copies of civil records of birth, marriage, or death from the state or county vital records office for similar information.

What is the difference between a sacramental record and a civil record? For my research purposes is it better to access a sacramental or public record?

Sacramental records are created by the Catholic Church for the purposes of tracking sacraments received by an individual across the course of his or her life. Sacramental records are private records, meaning there are fairly strict limits on access. Civil records are issued by county, state, and federal governments. Civil records are public records. There are fewer restrictions on access to these records. Many genealogists find it easier to fill in their family trees using civil records rather than sacramental records, as civil records contain much of the same information but do not have as many access restrictions. Civil records can also provide details that might help locate a sacramental record if the parish is otherwise unknown.

How can I obtain civil records issued in the State of Minnesota?

Information on obtaining birth, marriage, divorce, and death certificates issued in the State of Minnesota is available through the state vital records office here.

Many marriage records are available online through the Minnesota Official Marriage System database.

Another helpful resource is The Minnesota Historical Society, particularly their guide to vital records and People Records Search.

What kind of information should I include in the “additional research information” section on the research request form?

The ethnicity of the person or people you are looking for, particularly if they were not English-speakers, as well as any information about where the family was living at the time of the sacrament (county, city, or street address), can be very helpful in identifying the correct parish.  If you know the name of the priest who conferred the sacrament, his name may also help us locate the record you are searching for. If you are searching for a sacramental marriage record and already have a civil marriage certificate, you can find the priest’s signature on the civil certificate.

How do I find records of adopted people? What about orphanage records?

If you were adopted from an institution within the Archdiocese of Saint Paul and Minneapolis and are searching for information on your own baptismal certificate, please contact Lutheran Social Service, which handles post-adoption services for Catholic Charities: pas@chlss.org

If you are looking for records of individuals who were in Catholic orphanages in the Archdiocese before 1919 (e.g., one of the St. Joseph’s Homes or Catholic Orphan Asylums), please email records@archspm.org with the name of the person, name and location of the orphanage, and relevant dates. The Archives and Records Management staff will review to determine if we might have relevant records in our collection.

If you are inquiring more generally about researching adoption records, please begin at the Adoption Research Center at the Minnesota History Center’s Gale Family Library.

Why not just digitize the records? Isn’t microfilm obsolete?

Microfilm is an inexpensive and extremely stable preservation medium. It lasts for decades with no ongoing cost for migration, server storage, or upgrades. Microfilmed information can be read with a lens and a light source; there is no danger of losing information when hardware or software becomes obsolete. We are also able to film the sacramental records of a parish for about half the cost of digitizing them, allowing us to update our copies of more parish registers each year.

Most importantly, all of our sacramental records handwritten, many in Latin or Eastern European languages. There is not currently software available that will allow us to keyword search across handwritten records with any degree of accuracy. We will revisit digitizing our registers if the technology evolves to a place where it can handle handwritten and foreign-language searches.

I want to find out more about genealogical research. Where can I take a class or get one-on-one help with my project?

The Twin Cities are home to a bustling genealogy community and you have many options if you wish to learn more about family history research. Here are a few resources to consider:

The Minnesota Historical Society has an award-winning genealogy website with many sources specific to Minnesota.

You may also want to visit the Gale Family Library at the History Center in St. Paul for individualized help.

The Minnesota Genealogical Society in South St. Paul offers classes, research services, and a family history library.

The Hennepin County Library’s Minneapolis Central Library offers genealogy classes, one-on-one assistance, and free access to popular family history research databases including Ancestry and HeritageQuest. The library’s dedicated genealogy department is on the fourth floor of the building.

Your local public library may offer on-site or remote access to these databases as well.

Some genealogists lack the time or expertise to complete their own family history research.  In these cases hiring an independent researcher may be a good option. You may find independent researchers through the Minnesota History Center and the Board for Certification of Genealogists. Please contact the researchers directly for information about their research areas, experience, and fees. The Archdiocese of Saint Paul and Minneapolis cannot vouch for the quality of the services provided, nor is the Archdiocese responsible for the results provided.

What if I still have questions?

You may email the Office of Archives and Records Management directly at: records@archspm.org