LAST THINGS: Stalled with family research? Try Diocesan Archives
By: By Jennifer Willems
EDITOR’S NOTE: The following was part of a special section in the Oct. 25, 2015 issue of The Catholic Post called “Last Things: A Catholic perspective on grief, death and new life.”
It isn’t unusual to see Sister Ann Gill, FSJB, sitting in a darkened room in the Diocesan History Museum looking at microfilm. She spends many of her days in the dark in order to shed some light on Catholics who once lived in central Illinois for families eager to learn more about their history.
“When they receive the sacramental records from us, let’s say their marriage record or baptismal record or when they died or where they were buried, these people literally come alive for them,” said Sister Lea Stefancova, FSJB, who works in the archives with Sister Ann. “They are a huge part of their own life, even though they have been dead for many, many, many years.”
The sacramental records for all the parishes in the Diocese of Peoria — some of them predating the establishment of the diocese in 1877 — have been microfilmed and are on file at the archives. The project, which was completed in 2005, includes information up to 2000.
The parishes continue to maintain their own records, however, and any requests for information after 2000 would be taken care of at the local level, Sister Lea said, noting that they work with the parishes to get inquirers to the right place.
The archives have assisted with more than 1,000 reports since the Sisters started keeping track, and Sister Lea said it could easily be 1,200 by now.
Many requests begin with a phone call asking for more information about a relative. Sister Lea said they take the name with any possible variations, the place that person may have lived or died, and the year or range of years for the search.
“The people they are looking for would have to be Catholic in order for us to be able to help them from our records,” she explained. “If not, we would perhaps refer them to the library or a genealogical society in town. We have the Catholic records only.”
She added that their records cover the Diocese of Peoria. If the person being sought is from outside those boundaries, the Sisters would refer them to the appropriate contact in the other diocese.
Each request entitles the inquirer to five records: baptism, confirmation, First Communion, marriage and death, if they are available. There is a $10 fee per requested person.
“Many times people say, ‘OK, I hit the wall and I cannot go anywhere else.’ Oh no. You have no idea,” Sister Lea said.
People sometimes ask why the records are not online, as many other genealogical records are.
“The Diocesan Archives and sacramental records are primarily a private repository at the bishop’s disposal and for the needs of the diocese,” according to Sister Lea. Any genealogy that is done must comply with civil guidelines for privacy.
For example, a mother who requests a baptismal record for her son, who is about to get married, would probably be asked to have the son contact them, she said.
Sacramental request forms can be found on the website of the Diocese of Peoria, cdop.org
Click on the link for “Forms” and then “Archives.”
Requests may also be initiated by calling (309) 671-1550 or sending email to firstname.lastname@example.org.