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Sacramental records digitization project to add millions of names


Copies of historical sacramental records, such as this baptismal record from 1810, are available online through a collaboration of the Archdiocese of Boston and American Ancestors. Pilot photo/courtesy Archdiocesan Archives

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BOSTON -- American Ancestors and the Archdiocese of Boston announced Aug. 7 a plan to expand its ongoing program to digitize sacramental records of the Catholic Church in the archdiocese to add an additional 20 years of records, which includes more than 60 new parishes and millions of more names.

This expansion of the project announced in early 2017 will effectively double the original 11 million names of parishioners to be included when the project is completed to encompass a total of approximately 21 million names, a valuable resource for historians, genealogists, scholars, and the public at large.

Images of records are currently available to browse and name-searchable records will be available in an expanded database from American Ancestors on their website AmericanAncestors.org.

The historic records document several sacraments of the Catholic Church in Boston and surrounding towns, including baptism, confirmation, holy communion, marriage, and the anointing of the sick. They are valued for research because they contain detailed information about the Catholic parishioners of greater Boston, their relationships with each other, the Church, and often the community.

When announced in January 2017, the Historic Catholic Records Online Project -- the first of its kind in the U.S. to digitize a significant number of sacramental records from any U.S.-based Catholic archdiocese -- encompassed 154 parishes in 84 towns within the Boston Archdiocese, covering the years 1789 to 1900.

The planned expansion extends the project's reach to cover records through the year 1920 --adding 20 additional years of sacramental records to the project and eventually bringing more than 60 new parishes within it -- all formed within the Boston Archdiocese after 1900. Parishes in the towns of Billerica, Danvers, Dracut, Forest Hills, Groton, Mattapan, Methuen, North Andover, Saugus, Sharon, Shirley, Swampscott, Wakefield, Wilmington, and Winthrop will now be included, covering important phases of greater Boston's early 20th-century history and stories of immigration, social, and cultural change.

Brenton Simons, president and CEO of American Ancestors, also known as New England Historic Genealogical Society, celebrated the expansion of the project.

"The expansion of this historic collaboration between the Boston Archdiocese and American Ancestors will enrich the research of family historians in America and beyond and be especially informative in Irish, Italian, and French Canadian genealogy. Newer parishes from the 1900s add Lithuanian, Polish, and Portuguese genealogical data of interest," Simons said.

"I offer our deep gratitude to the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Boston for recognizing the historical value of this data -- especially Thomas Lester, the archivist and records manager of the Archdiocese, whose forward-thinking vision toward preservation and collaboration inspired this important project and its expansion we are announcing today," Simons said.

Lester, as the archdiocese's leading advocate for records preservation, said, "We recognize the value of this collection to many groups, foremost among them historians and genealogists. This second, expanded phase of our project with American Ancestors, is a result of the overwhelming positive feedback received during the initial phase announced with them in January 2017."

"Use of the records by researchers around the world has exceeded our original expectations and we are excited to offer additional content, with more insights, and deeper glimpses into the history of the Roman Catholic people and parishes in greater Boston. Of equal importance is that we are continuing to create a digital backup to help preserve these irreplaceable records," Lester added.

"The completion of the expanded project, covering all records through the year 1920 is now anticipated to be by the year 2029," stated Molly Rogers, database coordinator for American Ancestors, "with all browsable (non-indexed) and indexed names from all parish archives expected to be online by that time."

The digitized records can be viewed at catholicrecords.americanancestors.org. While there is no cost to view images of the records, the searchable database is available only to subscribing members of American Ancestors.

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