Researching Your Black Catholic Roots
When the Archdiocese of Baltimore was established at the end of the eighteenth century, it was estimated that twenty percent of Maryland’s Catholic population was black. Many had been here for several generations, descendants of Africans who had been brought here enslaved. Others had arrived recently as immigrants, including a number who were refugees from the Haitian Revolution. Black Catholics have always been a diverse and significant part of Maryland’s Catholic community, comprised initially of both free and enslaved who spoke several languages and observed different cultural traditions. All made important contributions to the development of the Catholic Church here.
When researching your black Catholic ancestors, the most valuable resource for locating information are the sacramental registers maintained by the parishes of the Archdiocese of Baltimore. In these records one will find such information as the names of the individuals who received the sacrament, parent and sponsor information, and dates the sacraments were performed. When available, other types of church records, including census, confraternity, and parish directories, can also be helpful in locating family members. Examples of different types of church records that can be found in our holdings have been included for you below.
For those researching ancestors who were enslaved, the challenges can seem daunting, but more resources are being made available to assist you. A list of resources helpful to those researching their Maryland roots can be found below. They range from genealogy workshops prepared specifically for those interested in tracing their African American ancestors to historic newspapers and city directories to military records.
Archdiocese of Baltimore (Maryland counties of Allegany, Anne Arundel, Baltimore, Baltimore City, Carroll, Frederick, Garrett, Harford, Howard, and Washington)
The sacramental records of the Archdiocese of Baltimore will soon be available through the online genealogy service FindMyPast. Until then, most of the records are available for researchers to access on microfilm. Please see the main Genealogy page for more detailed information.
Archdiocese of Washington, D.C. (Maryland counties of Calvert, Charles, Montgomery, Prince George’s, and St. Mary’s)
The sacramental registers of the following parishes can be found on microfilm at the Maryland State Archives: St. Ignatius Church, Port Tobacco (Charles County) and St. Mary’s of the Mills, Laurel (Prince George’s). Individuals will need to contact all other parishes directly for assistance: Parish Contact Information.
Transcriptions of early sacramental records for St. Mary’s County can be found in:
Edwin Warfield Beitzell’s The Jesuit Missions of St. Mary’s County, Maryland, 1960, 1975, 1976.
Agnes Kane Callum’s Flower of the Forest Black Genealogical Journal (1982-1998)
Diocese of Wilmington (Maryland counties of Caroline, Cecil, Dorchester, Kent, Queen Anne’s, Somerset, Talbot, Wicomico, and Worcester)
Transcriptions of early sacramental records for these counties can be found in:
F. Edward Wright’s Vital Records of the Jesuit Missions of the Eastern Shore, 1760-1800, 1986.
Joseph C. Cann’s History of Saint Francis Xavier Church and Bohemia Plantation Now Known as Old Bohemia, 1976.
The sacramental registers of the following parish can be found on microfilm at the Maryland State Archives: St. Joseph’s Church, Cordova (Talbot).
Examples of different types of church records.
Click on the image to see a larger version of the file. Click here for information on the documents.
|Society of the Holy Family||Easter Duty List,||St. Peter’s pro-Cathedral,|
|Membership List,||St. Mary’s Seminary Chapel,||Marriage Records,|
Black Catholic Parishes in the Archdiocese of Baltimore
If you are uncertain which parish your ancestors may have attended, a list of current and historic parishes has been compiled by county.
Maryland State Archives
- Researching African American Families
- Online Genealogy Workshops
- Maryland City Directories
- Maryland Census Indices (1776, 1778, 1870, 1880)
National Archives and Records Administration
Patriots of Color Database – American Revolution
If you have a valid library card, a number of regional and national newspapers can be accessed through the public library system, including the Baltimore Afro American for the years 1893-1988 and the Baltimore Sun for the years 1837-1991.
The Maryland State Archives has digitized a number of newspapers that have been published over the state’s history, which can be accessed through their website: historic newspapers.
Agnes Kane Callum, Flower of the Forest Black Genealogical Journal, c. 1982-1998.
Ralph Clayton, Free Blacks of Anne Arundel County, Maryland, 1850. Heritage Books, 1987.
Ralph Clayton, Black Baltimore, 1820-1870, 1997.
Ralph Clayton, Slavery, Slaveholding, and the Free Black Population of Antebellum Baltimore. Heritage Books, 1987.
Paul Heinegg, Free African Americans of Maryland and Delaware From the Colonial Period to 1810. Clearfield, 2000. See his website for the most up-to-date information.
Jerry M. Hynson, Free African Americans of Maryland 1832, Including: Allegany, Anne Arundel, Calvert, Caroline, Cecil, Charles, Dorchester, Frederick, Kent, Montgomery, Queen Anne’s and St. Mary’s Counties. Heritage Books, 2009.
James M. Rose, Alice Eichholz, Black Genesis: A Resource Book for African-American Genealogy. 2d ed.; Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Co., Inc., 2003