Researching Catholic Records in Greater Cleveland

by , under Church Records, Cleveland, Northeast Ohio

I sometimes fall behind in reading material about genealogical research in Northeast Ohio. A case in point: The October 2016 issue of Lakelines, published by the Lake County Genealogical Society, a chapter of the Ohio Genealogical Society. On page 11, the issue presented the following brief article entitled “Archives of the Cleveland Catholic Diocese”:

The Cleveland Catholic Diocese includes eight counties of northeast Ohio; Ashland, Cuyahoga, Geauga, Lorain, Lake, Medina, Summit and Wayne. If you are researching Catholic ancestors who resided in any of these counties, be aware that the diocese maintains an Archive which may be of help. Further information is contained on their webpage

I am not Catholic, but from time to time, people ask me about researching in Catholic records, so I clicked on the link in the above article. I was presented with a concise description of the records that might be available in the Archives. Here are the main points (indented material or material within quotation marks is verbatim):

Access: “Our Diocesan policy is to keep our archive records closed. We can and do research information on a time available basis.” The website cautions that a response may take two or three months.

A request for information involves filling out and submitting a Request Form (telephone requests aren’t accepted). A copy of the form is downloadable from the website. Click on ARCHIVE REQUEST FORM. (Note that the website also offers a Sacramental Record Request Form. Use this form only to request a Sacramental Certificate for when you received one of the following sacraments: Baptism, first communion, confirmation, or marriage.)

The website then proceeds to discuss what may be available:

Parishes have five kinds of Sacramental records:Baptismal (birth), Marriage, Death, First Communion, and Confirmation Records. Baptismal (birth), Marriage, and Death contain information that can vary from record to record and church to church. By the Code of Canon Law (Church Law which governs the administration of our parishes), pastors were required to maintain Sacramental Records. The Code specified what kinds of information were to be reported in those Records.

For a baptism –the child’s name, his or her date of birth (though some very early records omit this), his or her date of baptism, the parents’ names (including the mother’s maiden name) and sponsors’ names along with the name of the officiating priest.

Marriage records were to include the complete names of the bride and groom, the date of the wedding, and the names of the witnesses along with the officiating clergy. On marriage records some pastors would add the names of the parents of the bride and groom, perhaps indicate where the bride and groom had been born, or even occasionally note the ages of the bride and groom. This form of record-keeping was not consistent and the information noted did vary by parish and by priest. Even two records recorded at the same time by the same priest could and did have different amounts of information.

Death records are very inconsistent regarding the kind and quality of information because the Code was not specific as to exactly what information was required. Some pastor recorded only the person’s name and date of services. Other pastors recorded additional information. Records from the same time period and sometimes the same church can provide vastly different amounts of information.
The information contained in First Communion, and Confirmation Records is usually limited to name and date the Sacrament was received.

Parishes did not keep anything comparable to a census or detailed registration form on parishioners.

After 1908 a change in Canon Law mandated that the church and date of baptism be included on any Catholic marriage record for the Catholic bride or groom. Records created before that time (and unfortunately some after date) do not have that information.

Location of Sacramental Records:
Sacramental Records ordinarily are maintained by the parish which created them. Like many Dioceses, the Cleveland Diocese has closed some parishes. The records of closed churches were sent to the Archives Office.

The Archives also has microfilmed records from some of our older parishes throughout the Diocese. Unfortunately many early records were not maintained because of the mission status (and extreme shortage of priests) of Northern Ohio. Though Catholics were present in the city since 1812, our earliest Sacramental Records for the city of Cleveland date from the early 1840’s.

Being something of a history buff, I clicked on the home page for the website to find the section entitled:

History of the Diocese
The Diocese of Cleveland was created on April 23, 1847 for 10,000 Catholics. In 1848 the 1st Seminary, St. Francis de Sales Seminary, was opened however the name was eventually changed to St. Mary Seminary.

On November 19, 1848, the first priests for service to the Diocese of Cleveland were ordained.

The Cathedral of St. John the Evangelist was constructed from 1848 until 1852 at the corner of Superior Avenue and Erie Street (now East 9th Street). It was dedicated on November 7, 1852.

The territory of the Diocese would fluctuate with the creation of the Diocese of Toledo (1910) and then again with the creation of the Diocese of Youngstown (1943). Currently the Diocese of Cleveland encompasses 8 counties of northeast Ohio (Ashland, Cuyhoga, Geauga, Lorain, Lake, Medina, Summit and Wayne).

In 1912, the first Catholic Charities office was opened at East 9th and Prospect.

In 1925, a new St. Mary Seminary was dedicated on Ansel Road in Cleveland.

From 1946 until 1948 the cathedral along with adjacent diocesan buildings were rebuilt and remodeled. The new cathedral was consecrated on September 4, 1948. In 1977 the sanctuary of the cathedral was renovated to bring it up-to-date with the liturgical changes from the Second Vatican Council.

Another source of information about Catholic ancestors is the Cleveland Catholic Cemetery Association database of burials. Go to and click on “Burial Search.” To search the database for names and burial locations, you need to create an account. Once you create the account and log in, you will find that conducting the search is easy. If you find an entry for your person of interest, it should contain that full name, address, date of death and date of burial, age, and cemetery with the grave location.

The online search is currently available for the following cemeteries:

• All Saints, Northfield
• All Souls, Chardon
• Assumption of Mary, Brook Park
• Calvary, Cleveland
• Calvary, Lorain
• Holy Cross, Akron
• Holy Cross, Brook Park
• Resurrection, Valley City
• St. Joseph, Avon
• St. Mary, Cleveland
• St. Mary, Cuyahoga Heights
• St. Mary, Elyria
• St. Mary of the Falls
• Elmhurst Park, Avon
• Holy Trinity Avon

Work is ongoing at the following cemeteries:

• St. Joseph, Cleveland
• St. John, Cleveland
• St. Paul, Euclid

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