Digitized Sacramental Records in the Archives
Among the most important Louisiana resources available to scholars are the extensive, well-maintained, and searchable sacramental registers, which record baptisms, confirmations, marriages, and burials of individuals. Because sacramental registers detail the life history of the local community over time, they have always been recognized by church officials as having unique and enduring value. More importantly, they illustrate the Catholic heritage of families that are passed from one generation to another.
Since 1954, records have been microfilmed for disaster recovery purposes. With the advances in technology, scanned images have become more widely used as this type of media becomes more standardized in .tif, .jpeg and .pdf formats. Through the conservation program, the registers are unbound, de-acidified, encapsulated in mylar and rebound. Ten years ago, the archdiocese had some of its records scanned into individual .tif images. Among these images are the registers of the slaves and free people of color from St. Louis Cathedral. These images have now been migrated to .pdf format in order to place them online for all researchers. In 2012, in order to commemorate the 200th anniversary of Louisiana’s statehood, the archdiocese began placing online the registers dating from 1718 to 1812. There are 43 registers from the French and Spanish colonial period as well as the American territorial period.
Scholars have used the sacramental records to study immigration patterns, community development, ethnic origins, social history, linguistic practices, family history and cultural diversity. The records speak for themselves with all the variations in spellings, translations of names in Spanish, French and English, lack of surnames, omissions, mistakes, etc. Over time, names change due to a variety of life changing events, such as a manumission where a former slave chooses a last name or a marriage where a women takes the name of her husband. There are variations due to the record keeper, who often wrote the name as he heard it. Due to changes in the governments which controlled Louisiana, names appear in French, Spanish and English. For example, the name James is Jacques in French and Santiago in Spanish; or, for example, the name Martha appears as Marthe in French and Martonne, Marthonne or Martona in Spanish. Names in church records usually contain a baptismal name of a saint which often was never used by the individual. But with prudent research and gathering other evidence from records existing in courthouses and family papers, the record can be verified. One should not confuse the differences and variations of names as a lack of consistency and conformity on the part of the recorder, but rather see it as a journey of an individual and his/her name across a lifetime.
In many entries, priests, witnesses and sponsors wrote in a hand that formed different letters in exactly the same way. U/N, U/V, C/B, S/Z, A/O, and E/C are the most common instances where the letters are simply indistinguishable. This uncertainty must be kept in mind, particularly in regard to unfamiliar surnames.
The Spanish priests also introduced several new variations that were not evident during the French period. "B" and "V" as well as "S" and "C" are often used interchangeably. "H" appears and disappears before such vowels as "A" and "E" while "X", "G", and "J" are all pronounced "H" and thus are sometimes used interchangeably in entries. "I" is often replaced by "Y" in Spanish entries.
The number next to the name in the index refers to either the page number or the entry number.
Please note, some of these files are quite large and may take some time to download. Please be patient.