Baptism records are an important source of genealogical information. In many countries, churches were the only institutions keeping records of baptisms, and hence of births.
The baptism record
This record is normally a very short piece of text. However, important information can be learned from it: name of child, date of baptism, date of birth, parents' names, witnesses names, place of residence. Furthermore, from the signatures one can determine that the parents/witnesses had basic schooling.
The Catholic Church started to keep registries for the sacraments of baptism and marriage. This started in the 14th century in Italy and France. The oldest known registries are kept in the city of Geiry (France) and date back to 1334.
The Catholic Church decided during the Council of Trente on November 11, 1563 on the rules concerning the keeping of parish registries for baptisms and marriages. Since 1614 death records also became obligatory. These dates are hence the earliest dates one can realistically attempt to obtain in the creation of a family tree.
Note that the introduction of a civil office occurs in general in the period following the French Revolution. These documents, birth certificates, are in general more easy to track than baptism records.
The image to the left is a birth certificate from 1748, found in a parish registry of a parish near Ghent, Belgium. The Latin text reads roughly:
10 jan bap(tizavi) adrianuam jacobam f(ili)am adriani van poeke et isabelle raeman conj(ugum) natam hodie 3 pom(eridiana):susc(eptores):Jacobus De geest et Adriana Meirlaens. J.B. van Hecke, vicep(astor)
Its English translation is:
10 january I baptised Adriana Jacoba, daughter of Andreas Van Poecke and Isabella Raeman, married couple, born today 3 o'clock in the afternoon, witnesses Jacobus De Geest and Adriana Meirlaens. J.B. Van Hecke, vicepastor.
Furthermore, the top of the page in the registry lists 1748.
From these few lines of text, a lot of information is available:
- the repository where the source is found
- the source where this record is located
- the page/number of the entry (if present), and the effective text (in original language and translated)
- father's name
- mother's name
- child's name
- date of baptism (and parish where it is performed)
- date and hour of birth (place of birth can sometimes be inferred)
- names of two witnesses
- name of priest