Boston’s Catholic Archdiocese Expands Effort to Digitize Archives

A historical photo of the Church of Our Lady of Sorrows in Sharon, Mass. Image courtesy of American Ancestors, New England Historic Genealogical Society

When Thomas Lester began his job as the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Boston’s archivist in 2014, he quickly noticed that many of the archdiocese’s bound archives containing centuries of records of sacraments performed by its clergy were beginning to fall apart.

“It was very obvious right from the beginning that these thousands of records were seeing a lot of use and being handled every single day. We were seeing broken bindings, fading ink, pages that were dried and flaking apart,” said Lester, a layperson with degrees in both history and archive management. “So I realized something had to be done soon.”

Three years ago, the archdiocese became the country’s first to undertake a major effort to make its archive, listing 200 years of baptisms, confirmations, communions, marriages, holy orders and the anointing of the sick — a goldmine for professional and amateur historians and genealogists — accessible online.

Now, the archdiocese announced a major expansion of the project — a collaboration between the archdiocese and the Boston-based organization American Ancestors, also known as the New England Historic Genealogical Society — effectively doubling the number of parishioners whose names will be indexed in the digital archives.

The project was originally limited to the years 1789 to 1900, which featured about 154 parishes and 11 million names from 800 volumes of records. That period was one of major growth for the church in Eastern Massachusetts, beginning with the 1788 founding of the Cathedral of the Holy Cross, Boston’s first Catholic parish.

The new expansion will add another 20 years of records, indexing about 700 more books from 1901 through 1920, adding more than 60 additional Catholic parishes to the digital archives.

The data will be available to individuals hoping to trace their family ancestry, as well as historians, genealogists, economists and other scholars looking for bulk data for their research.

“The expansion of this historic collaboration between the Boston Archdiocese and American Ancestors will enrich the research of family historians in America and beyond and be especially informative in Irish, Italian, and French Canadian genealogy,” Brenton Simons, president of American Ancestors, said. “Newer parishes from the 1900s add Lithuanian, Polish, and Portuguese genealogical data of interest.”

The expanded project, expected to cost about $2 million, will be completed by 2029, said Molly Rogers, database coordinator for American Ancestors, but the church will release records as they are ready for use.

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Source: Religion News Service