Catholic religious records

When I first started researching my family history, I found that religion was a great clue to finding out more about my family.  When doing a cemetery search where there are religious division, it can be very helpful know what religion your ancestor is. However after a while I realised that knowing what religion that someone was can give you more information about how they lived, why they may have settled in a certain area, and even how they may have lived their lives.  Instead of just looking at a certificate and seeing that they were Catholic, you now have a gateway to much more information. This can include publications that may have listed your ancestors, school records or if they were part of the clergy some biographical information may be available.

Originally churches were responsible for keeping records on the baptisms, marriages and funerals of their parish. It wasn’t till registration laws were tightened and requiring more information that a central registry was then maintained. In 1834, New South Wales starting holding records of the Catholic church. Prior to that records may exist but mostly with the actual church. Although the registries tried to get all the information from church registers, it has not always been completely covered. Also it was only copies of the information that were forwarded to the central registry, so this means that original marks or signatures could not go with these records. I have listed the different Archdiocese for the different states, although most records have now been passed onto the state registries offices. However if you haven’t found a record or think there may be more information on an entry before the 1834, it could be worth contacting your relevant Archdiocese.  I have listed some of the states Archdioceses below.

Catholic Archdiocese Archives

New South Wales – Sydney Archdiocese – they don’t really encourage or support any family history research. They have listed a number of websites that you may consult for information and they only offer a CD for $175 with 29 years of their official year book. I had heard that an exhibition had used some of the diaries of one of the archbishops for this church and they gave a very interesting insight into colonial Australia.

South Australia – Adelaide Archdiocese – they are the best of the Archdiocese in what they offer and they allow research of their records with prior notice. Records include not only baptisms, marriages and deaths but Catholic newspapers dating back to 1889 and a large photographic collection of people, places and events. There are also records and information relating to organisations attached to the church like the Catholic Women’s League.

Victoria – Melbourne Archdiocese – they don’t seem to hold a lot for you to research from. Many records are with other organisations but the biographies on priests prior to 1900 and records before 1853 and civil registration you may still want to contact them for.

Queensland – Brisbane Archdiocese – they recommend that you make an appointment and that many of the records may already be at the State or John Oxley library.

Western Australia – Perth Archdiocese – they don’t hold individual records but they are helpful in listing that the Catholic newspaper called “The Record” is available through the Battye Library of Western Australia and it covers from 1874-1900.

Catholic Publications

Trovehas a number of Catholic publications listed.  However, a publication isn’t listed there you may need to contact them directly to find out where their archives are held. I have just listed a couple here.   – In 1850, the Freeman’s Journal was created. Over time this changed into the Catholic Weekly and was based in Sydney.  The publications are held by the National Library of Australia. – The Catholic Leader is a Brisbane based newspaper, originally dating back to around 1930. It wasn’t the first newspaper in Brisbane but rose after the demise of two earlier newspapers that started around 1892. – Catholic church newspaper based in Western Australia that has been running since 1874.

Catholic Clergy & Other notable Catholics

The Australian Dictionary has biographies of many famous Catholics, put in the name of an ancestor and see if they come up. The following list may be a good start to see who you might find.

The following website gives a index and history of nuns from the Catholic church in Australia from 1838-1918.  – has biographies of notable people in the church. – also has a directory of deceased clergy back to around 1846. Although there are no profiles on the clergymen, it may come in handy if you don’t have a death date.

Catholic Cemetery Records

There are many websites already available to search through cemeteries. I have just included these few as they are have such predominately Catholic burials. – Cemeteries included are Rookwood, Liverpool, Kemps Creek, Greendale, North Rocks. – cemetery search for Pontville Catholic cemetery. – Nudgee cemetery, they have been putting together information from 1867 to 2010, however not all records are yet complete.

Catholic institutions  – Schools and orphanages – this article outlines Catholic education in Australia. Interesting historical read. – In 1836, a Catholic orphans school was built in Parramatta. It was built beside the Parramatta Female Factory and initially it was run by the government by the Good Samaritans took over running the school. – This guide by the National Archives give a history of child migration schemes regarding the Catholic Church. Many children were bought out from England and housed in Catholic orphanages here in Australia. Some records are available but there is some privacy bans depending on what years you are searching for.

Catholic History in Australia

Although some Catholics arrived in the First Fleet it wasn’t until 1800 when the first priest came out to Australia. Then it was another 20 years until the first mass was held.  This lack of clergy did not dampen the following of Catholic teachings in Australia. In 1828, there were around 10,000 Catholics in Australia. If you want to read more about the history of the Catholic religion in Australia. – Australian Catholic Christian Historical Society. They do offer some research services but generally provide a place to discuss and explore Catholic History in Australia. Very interesting topics are covered if you are interested in Catholic Church history.

Religion was the rock that kept many families going in times gone by. A family lived by their religious devotions and for some it gave them a part of their home country to keep. Once born into a religion, even today, many never change from it. Religion is part of  a person’s identity.  Make sure that you always note the religion of your ancestor. So if you have a Catholic  ancestor, the sources above may help you ”flesh” out your family history. If you liked this article, then let others know about it and like it on Facebook. Enjoy!

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