EARLY CATHOLIC CHURCH RECORDS OF THE DIOCESE OF CLEVELAND

Presented by Diocesan Archivist Christine Krosel
May 9, 2005

Very briefly there were no Catholic priests in the Cleveland area before 1808 when itinerant priests occasionally came through the area. Therefore marriages prior to 1808 would have been performed by civil authorities. The area did not have many Roman Catholics until the time of the canals and lake shipping transportation. The first evidence of a Catholic burial was of a soldier from the War of 1812 who was originally buried in the Erie Street Cemetery, then re-buried at St. Joseph Cemetery at East 79th and Woodland which opened in 1848.

The first resident priest came to Cleveland in the 1830's. At that time northern Ohio was part of the Diocese of Cincinnati. The Diocese of Cleveland was established in 1847. Prior to 1908, Canon Law required Baptism records to contain the name of the child, date of Birth, Date of Baptism, parents names (unclear if mother's maiden name was included), names of Sponsors. Post 1908 information may include the place of residence. Pre-1908 Marriage records were to contain the complete names of the bride and groom, date of the marriage, names of witnesses. Post 1908 Marriage records should contain when and where the couple was Baptized.

It should be remembered that some priests were better record keepers than others. As early as the 1870's, Archbishop Gilmour had to remind the priests to keep better Sacramental records that were required by Canon Law.

Some priests who were from European countries that used Church records for civil information often include more information in their records than was required. The Hungarian Cleveland churches often included the names of the European villages and parent's names of the couple in the Marriage records. The Irish priests usually gave minimum information and surnames were often spelled phonetically in a variety of ways. Early Irish immigrants were usually unable to read and write and thereby unable to correct misspellings.

Prior to 1880, death records were somewhat sporadic in church records. Often the local undertaker or church sexton was left to record burials. These records can also be sporadic or non-existent even into the twentieth century.

Catholic Church records are normally kept at the local parish. In the instance of additional churches being founded at a later date in the area, the very early records would remain in the original parish if it is still in existence. The Archive of the Diocese would acquire parish records when the parish closed or when the records were required for the current microfilming project. The Archives of the Diocese of Cleveland does have a project underway to microfilm the early parish records which are fragile in many cases. Due to limited staffing, this project will take some time to complete. Consequently, genealogical inquiries to the Archives office may also take some time to complete. Currently, only two staff people are working on the records in addition to the other duties of the office which would take priority.

The Bishop of a Diocese determines what records and information of a genealogical nature will be released. At the present time due to matters of confidentiality, Bishop Anthony Pilla has determined that only authorized church personnel are permitted to examine the parish or archive records.

When making genealogical inquires, it is suggested the you provide as much information as possible, including full names, variant spellings, nationalities, dates of Birth, Marriage, Death, addresses as specific as possible, parish names if known. Written inquiries are required. Hourly rate is $10.00; Official Certificates are $5.00 each.

Address written inquiries to:

Archives, Room 300
Chancery Bldg.
1027 Superior Avenue
Cleveland, Ohio 44114
 
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