History: Archdiocese posts baptism records of slaves online

A powerful and painful piece of history is now available online.

Details, from the New Orleans Times-Picayune:

The Archdiocese of New Orleans on Tuesday unveiled an internet database listing the baptisms of thousands of slaves and other persons of color at St. Louis Cathedral beginning in 1777 — deploying a tool church officials said would help countless genealogy buffs pull their forebears out of near anonymity.

Times-Picayune archiveArchbishop Gregory Aymond hopes the list of baptisms will offer a belated measure of dignity.

The site at http://www.archdiocese-no.org/archives/sfpc.php shows photocopied pages in which Spanish Capuchin priests at the cathedral recorded thousands of slave baptisms, as well as those as free persons of color.

Five of 43 similar registers are available for searching online now, said archdiocesan archivist Emilie Leumas.

She said the archdiocese hoped by next year to place online its sacramental records from the founding of the city in 1718 to 1812, the year Louisiana was accepted into the United States.

Officials cautioned that the records are rarely useful by themselves. But armed with data like civil census or city real estate data, they give even experienced amateurs everywhere a new tool with which to locate an enslaved ancestor.

Because slaves were not given last names that can be indexed, they have never been listed in genealogical databases currently in use, church officials said.

The records note the baptisms and funerals of slaves presented at the altar with only first names, stripped of the humanity of family names, Archbishop Gregory Aymond said.

They make plain the brutality of slavery. But the internet publication of the most important events of their lives offers a belated measure of dignity, Aymond said.

The database was launched on the first day of Black History Month.

Check out more at the link.

  • FrMichael

    Of course, baptismal registers are not public documents and shouldn’t be posted online. Seems strange that nobody in New Orleans seemed to have remembered that basic point from Canon Law 101.

  • Romulus

    It’s a meaningless gesture, in any case. The persons mentioned in the records are virtually all impossible to identify or trace reliably, not least because the documents themselves as viewed on a computer screen are all but illegible. It’s fine to remind people that the Church insisted on baptism and the possibility of a Christian life for these people, but the genealogical value of these records is close to zero. This is mostly a case of moral posturing by Archbishop Aymond — as the timing makes clear. I hope it didn’t cost too much.

  • Meggan

    I was just wondering a few days ago if baptismal/confirmation/marriage and death records were ever made available for genealogists. They could be a great source of information for such people. But I also understand why they are not meant to be public records.

  • pagansister

    Hopefully those seeking more of their family history will find it on the site. IMO, those who finally did this, did the right thing. Why would those records not be public documents—a lot of folks have gone to churches, city halls etc. and found documents regarding their families? I have a cousin—now in her mid 90′s, who researched our family history and had no problem finding records.

  • SchexDumas

    Dear Romulus: Why would you use such a defeating attitude by calling this gesture “meaningless” and its value “close to zero”? African American families have been trying to trace their ancestry for years through fragmented information left behind – unlike Europeon connected families, they can not trace ancestors to early centuries. These records are invaluable when used in combination with slave lists by owners and census records. I have been successful in many cases using the Diocese of Baton Rouge records. Unless one is familiar with the socio-political environment of Colonial Louisiana, one should not be so quick to judge the value of any information that becomes available in aiding other’s plight. Maybe you do, maybe you don’t.

  • American Roots

    I commend the archdiocese for making these records public. Ancient documents should be and is made available from repositories all over the world. Many vital records are available to the public after 100 years. U.S. federal census records are available after 70 years. These records are most useful to African American researchers and genealogists and those that specialize in slavery research. Though all the records are not as legible as desired because of their age, the index list of names are legible and useful.


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