Parish records began about 1540 in some parishes but by 1630 they were instituted all parishes although not all complied immediately. Although some Catholic parish registers can be found on microfilm most of those filmed were from the Church of England parishes in Italy or from other religious denominations. The Catholic Church generally speaking is very much against the filming of its parish registers or their reproduction intact. The records are written in Latin until the 20th century. Except in rare cases there is only one copy usually held by the local priest.
Many Dioceses are now beginning to gather the older parish records in the Diocese archives but this is being met by resistance in many areas. In many areas in the 20th century the Diocese began the practise of a second copy being sent annually for safe keeping to its archives. This is useful for genealogists as it puts all the records for one town or area in one place.
Parish records before the 20th century are written in Latin or a mix of Latin and Italian according to the education of the priest. There were no rules about what information was to be recorded just that a record was to be kept. You will find a wide range of information included, from very basic to almost a family tree. Abbreviations were used liberally by the priest; the books may or may not be indexed. Where there are indexes they may be by first name which may not be the one used for civil records or daily use.
Baptism records at a minimum will provide the date of baptism, name of the parish and the priest who performed the act, the names of the parents and Godparents (if any) and the name of the child. If the priest was very diligent or the town was small with few surnames the names of the Grandfathers might also be noted.
The baptism was usually performed the same day as the civil registration and except in unusual cases within the first few days. If the child was in danger of dying after the birth the local midwife was authorized to baptise the child. This will be noted in the parish register.
Godparents were often family members or friends but occasionally a member of the local gentry. If the family was of a high standing a proxy will sometimes be noted for a Godparent who could not be present due to distance. If the town was small with a small number of surnames, the priest would often include three generations of parentage on the baptism so that any consanguinity would be immediately obvious at the time of a future marriage.
Marriage records at a minimum will contain the date, name of parish and priest, names of bride and groom, witnesses’ names. At best they will also include parents’ names or at least father’s names and if there is a degree of consanguinity it will often be explained or stated to what degree and if Papal sanction was required. If the groom was from a different parish this will usually be noted.
Death records at a minimum will include date, name of parish and priest, name of deceased and age. It will often state if the person received extreme unction, occasionally where they were buried and rarely, the cause of death. Where cause of death is mentioned it is often disease, epidemic or misfortune, something out of the ordinary. Death from Childbirth was not considered out of the ordinary.
Parish censuses or ‘Stato delle anime’ can be a very important research tool. They are not found in every parish but in others can be found every 10-20 years. They were often updated for many years after with births and marriages and occasionally deaths. They provide a snapshot of the family over a period of years and since everyone (almost) was Catholic you can be sure almost every family in the parish was included.