PARKERSBURG - Genealogists have a new research tool at St. Francis Xavier Catholic Church.
The church is transcribing the baptismal records from the mid-19th and early 20th century and putting the information in an online database at the church's website.
"I'm sure it's going to be well over 7,000 by the time it's done," said Roger Nedeff, the church historian who has undertaken the task of translating and transcribing the records starting from 1856. Eventually, the records from 1856 to 1910 will be available online.
Photo by Jess Mancini
Roger Nedeff, historian of the St. Francis Xavier Catholic Church in Parkersburg, reviews the original notebook containing the Catholic baptism records starting in 1856. Nedeff and Paul Borrelli of Artcraft Studio are transcribing the sacramental records for an online database.
St. Francis Xavier is among the oldest churches in downtown Parkersburg and the oldest Catholic congregations in the area. The ornate structure was constructed in the 1860s.
Records will be posted in 10-year intervals, he said. The first interval is the period from 1856 to 1865, Nedeff said.
Many of the earliest records are from the Irish Catholic immigrants who settled in the region, Nedeff said. In 1852, the Virginia Legislature decided counties will keep birth records, however, many people didn't see the need for it and wouldn't be bothered by it, instead recording the birth in other ways such as in the family Bible, he said.
"A lot of people didn't see the urgency to do it," Nedeff said. "They also didn't want to make the trip to the courthouse. Back then 10 or 11 miles took all day."
In 1916, the West Virginia Legislature passed a law that required all births to be recorded at the courthouse, but many births still went unrecorded, he said. Although counties were required to keep the records, the state provided no funding mechanism, Nedeff said.
"People didn't follow through with it," he said.
In the Catholic Church, a baby is baptized soon after they are born, which gives an accurate clue to the year a person was born, he said. The information is vital for genealogists and those researching their family trees, Nedeff said.
The first recorded baptism at the church was Matilda Bradley on March 30, 1856, Nedeff said. The father was Oliver and the mother Ellen. Matilda was sponsored by Edward Hughes and Elizabeth Gallagher and was baptized by the Rev. Bartholomew Stack.
What appears to be the most popular names are the traditional Catholic saints, Patrick, Michael, Bridgett and Ellen, he said. From about 110 babies a year being baptized, the church now baptizes about 40, Nedeff said.
Another interesting note is middle names weren't given until around the time of the Civil War, he said. It was easy to determine what side a family favored as the most common middle names were Jefferson for Jefferson Davis, president of the Confederate States of America, and Abraham, president of the United States of America.
Occasionally, Nedeff finds a fascinating record about the baptized, such as John Mortimer Gibboney, who was baptized on June 15, 1866, the day he was hanged at Fort Boreman Hill, Nedeff said.
Gibboney, who was executed for murder, had requested a priest and to be baptized Catholic, Nedeff said.
The records are on the church website, www.stx-pburg.org/. On the front page, click the "St. Xavier Baptismal Records - 1856 to 1865" menu item to access the records at www.stx-pburg.org/baptismal-records.htm.
Baptismal records are private sacramental records and the church has permission from the Charleston-Wheeling Diocese to make the records available up to 1915, Nedeff said. The church policy is to put the records online up to 1910, Nedeff said.
Access to the records is affected by time, according to the policies based on the recommendations from the Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston, the Association of Catholic Diocesan Archivists, the pastor of St. Francis Xavier parish and Federal Census Guidelines. Access to older records is more available.
Paul Borrelli of Artcraft Studio, one of the largest storehouses of historical photos in the region, is helping Nedeff with the project.
One of the issues in transcribing the records is they are written in Latin, Nedeff said. The goal is to transcribe the records in 10 years increments, he said.
"It's going to take us a while," Nedeff said.