Philippines Church Records
While each church has its own policies on record keeping, most churches keep records of:
Some keep minutes of church meetings and the histories of their local churches.
Church records are very important for family research. Civil authorities did not consistently register vital events in the Philippines until the nineteenth century. Church records, on the other hand, were well kept from 1569 (in accordance with the directives of the Council of Trent), with some records dating even earlier. They are generally an excellent source—and many times the only source—of names, dates, and places of births, marriages, and deaths.
History of Philippine Churches
One of Spain’s objectives in colonizing the Philippines was to establish the Catholic religion among the Filipinos. Therefore, missionaries were among the first Spanish colonizers (1565), and the Catholic faith was the state religion for the next three centuries. In early history there was no separation of church and state in the Philippines, and in most cases local parish priests played the dual role of civil official and ecclesiastical leader. Not until the end of the Spanish administration (1898) was there a true separation of church and state and only then were other religions permitted. For more information on church history in the Philippines, see:
Anderson, Gerald A., Editor. Studies in Philippine Church History. Ithaca, New York, USA: Cornell University Press, 1969. (FHL book 959.9K2s.)
Elwood, Douglas J. Churches and Sects in the Philippines: A Descriptive Study of Contemporary Religious Group Movements. Dumaguete City, Philippines: Silliman University, 1968, c1967. (FHL book 959.9K2e.)
Von Oeyen, Robert J., Jr. Philippine Evangelical Protestant and Independent Catholic Churches: An Historical Bibliography of Church Records,
Publications and Source Material Located in the Greater Manila Area. Quezon City, Philippines: Asian Center, University of the Philippines, 1970. (FHL book 959.91 K23vo.)
Catholic Church Records
The Roman Catholic Church remains the largest church in the Philippines, with 85 percent of the population belonging to it. During its 400–year history in the Philippines, the Catholic Church created many useful genealogical records. Most church records in the Philippines are Catholic. In this outline, church records refer to Catholic Church records unless otherwise stated.
Each parish has kept records of Catholic inhabitants. Typically, these are records of:
- Christening or baptism (bautismos).
- Confirmations (confirmaciones).
- Marriages (casamientosor matrimonios).
- Parish enumerations (padrón de almas or estado de almas).
You may expect to find the following information in each:
- Place and date of baptism
- Names of parents, godparents, and sometimes grandparents
- Place and date of confirmation
- Names of parents, godparents, and sometimes grandparents
- Place and date of marriage
- Name and sex of those married
- Names of parents and grandparents
- Names of godparents
- Place and date of census
- Sex and name of those counted
- Age at census count
- Place and date of death
- Age at time of death
- Cause of death
- Name of spouse
- Names of surviving children
- Names of parents and grandparents (sometimes)
The Family History Library has filmed many Catholic Church records. Look in the Family History Library Catalog, Locality section, under:
(MUNICIPALITY) - CHURCH RECORDS
Although Philippine parish records are one of the most valuable sources, they are not 100 percent accurate. Double-check the record, cross-reference it with other records, and carefully interpret the data.
To search Catholic records, you must know where your ancestor resided. The boundaries for civil and religious jurisdictions are often the same.
Therefore, gazetteers and atlases can help you determine religious boundaries so you can select the parishes most likely to have the records you need. The most valuable reference for finding your ancestor’s parish is:
Catholic Directory of the Philippines (CDP). Manila, Philippines: Catholic Trade Incorporated, 1981. (FHL book 959.9 K24c; fiche 6072402.) This directory has a complete list of archdioceses, dioceses, vicariates, prelatures, and parishes in the Philippines. It also gives each organization’s founding date.
Each archdiocese and many dioceses have archives that store administrative documents, church business records, personnel records, and sacramental records (such as baptism, matrimony, and confirmation). Some of these archives have indexes, which are excellent guides to research, such as:
Ferraris, Maria Rita, R. V. M. Archives of the Archdiocese of Manila: A Summary Inventory. Manila, Philippines: Archives of the Archdiocese, 1981. (FHL book 959.9 A1 number 3.)
General Strategy for Searching Parish Registers
The following suggestions may help you search parish registers:
- Search records from the parish where your ancestor lived.
- If you do not find the records in a parish, search parishes in the immediate vicinity (approximately a 20-kilometer radius). See the Catholic Directory of the Philippines (above) for parishes and the names of their parish priests. Think about the things that influenced your ancestor’s place of residence, such as occupation, race, or geography.
- Note the founding date of the parish you are searching. If the date is after your ancestor would be recorded, search records of the parent parish. See the Catholic Directory of the Philippines. If your ancestor lived before the beginning date of the church records, the older parish may be far from the new one.
- If you cannot find records at a parish, they may have been sent to the diocese. Find the diocese in the Catholic Directory of the Philippines.
Your ancestor’s records may have been sent to another municipality or province to protect them during a war. A thorough knowledge of the local history is critical to your family research.
- Evaluate the information about godparents. Their home in another town may lead to the family’s place of origin. Their names and relationships may provide clues to previous generations. If the parish records you need are not listed in the Family History Library Catalog and you cannot visit the parish archives, then you may want to write to the parish priest for copies of your ancestor’s records. Be sure your requests are reasonable and politely stated, and be sure to send a money order covering the costs of copying, postage, and other expenses.
Philippine Catholic Church records have the following advantages. They:
- Have very few errors compared to other types of records.
- Cover a large percentage of the population.
- Give accurate dates and places of christening, marriage, and burial.
- Give names of parents, spouses, and godparents (who are often relatives).
Philippine Catholic Church registers have these disadvantages. They:
- Are usually not indexed.
- Must be searched chronologically by place.
- May have various languages in one record.
- Are handwritten and often difficult to read.
- Pages can be out of order
Most Philippine parish registers are in Spanish. For excellent help in understanding the style, format, and contents of these Spanish-language documents, see:
Ryskamp, George R. Tracing Your Hispanic Heritage. Riverside, California, USA: Hispanic Family Research, 1984. (FHL book 946 D27r.)
Spanish Records Extraction: An Instruction Guide. Salt Lake City, Utah, USA: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1981. (FHL book 980 D27s; fiche 6089702.)
Records at the Family History Library
The Family History Library has many church records on microfilm. Look for them in the Family History Library Catalog, Locality section, under:
MUNICIPALITY/CITY) - CHURCH RECORDS
(MUNICIPALITY/CITY), (BARRIO) CHURCH RECORDS