“Each parish is to possess a set of parish books including baptismal, marriage, and death registers as well as other registers prescribed by the conference of bishops or the diocesan bishop; the pastor is to see to it that these registers are accurately inscribed and carefully preserved.” (Canon 535,§1)

In the Fairbanks Diocese, either a combination register or separate registers for the sacraments may be used. Missions or stations not formally erected as parishes are not required to keep separate registers as long as sacramental data is recorded in the parish register of the parish which has oversight of the mission or station. In some cases, however, it may be a matter of convenience for the pastor to keep separate registers for the places he serves. Each pastor should inform the Bishop at the time of the Bishop’s visitation what provisions he, as pastor, has made for sacramental record keeping and each pastor should ask the Bishop’s permission before he makes any changes in the manner of his record keeping. The parish registers should be made available to the Bishop for his inspection at the time of the Bishop’s visitation.

“In the baptismal register are also to be noted the person’s confirmation and whatever affects the canonical status of the Christian faithful by reason of marriage, with due regard for the prescription of canon 1133, adoption, reception of sacred orders, perpetual profession in a religious institute, and change of rite; these notations are always to be noted on a document which certifies the reception of baptism.” (Canon 535,§2)

Even though separate registers or sections of registers may be kept for first communion, confirmation, marriage, and death, the baptismal register entry should be annotated with references to these sacramental events as well, so that the person’s canonical status may immediately be clear from the baptismal entry. Assuming that complete data for one of the sacraments is recorded elsewhere, it is sufficient to annotate the baptismal record with the name of another sacrament received and the date of reception (e.g.: first communion, 4 April 1970; confirmation, September 15, 1979). A properly annotated baptismal register will make each succeeding pastor’s work much easier.

“Each parish is to possess its own seal; documents which are issued to certify the canonical status of the Christian faithful as well as all acts which can have juridic importance are to be signed by the pastor or his delegate and sealed with the parish seal.” (Canon 535,§3)

Any parish in the diocese which does not now have a seal should purchase one through the usual religious goods supply stores or through other outlets. Since virtually anyone can buy blank sacramental forms, pastors and administrators should be sure to affix a parish seal on every certificate of sacramental reception which they issue.

“Each parish is to have a registry or archive in which the parish books are kept along with episcopal letters and other documents which ought to be preserved due to necessity or usefulness: all these are to be inspected by the diocesan bishop or his delegate during his visitation or at another suitable time; the pastor is to take care that they do not come into the hands of outsiders.” (Underscoring supplied) (Canon 535,§4).

Sacramental registers and the information they contain are not public documents. Some information which they may contain may be privileged information. Hence, parish registers should not be open for public inspection. Scholars and others who may wish to research sacramental registers should be referred to the Chancery Office. The integrity of parish registers should be maintained as well as possible in each location. A fire-proof cabinet or file is to be preferred storage area for sacramental registers, marriage files, etc. As an added protection against fire or natural disaster, each parish should submit an annual record of baptisms, confirmations, marriages and deaths to the Chancery Office.

“The older parish books are also to be carefully preserved in accord with the prescriptions of particular law.” (Canon 535,§5)

In this diocese,’ all older sacramental registers (those which are filled up or have been replaced for some other reason) are to be stored in the Chancery Archives. Each pastor or administrator should deliver older sacramental registers to the Chancery Office where copies (Xerox or equivalent) will be made and these copies returned to the parish. The originals will be stored in the Chancery Archives as a protection against total loss of the original records.


“The pastor of the place where the baptism is celebrated must carefully and without delay record in the baptismal book the names of those baptized making mention of the minister, parents, sponsors, witnesses if any and the place and date of the conferred baptism, together with an indication of the date and place of birth. “ (Canon 877,§1)

In general, sacramental registers which are purchased these days make provision for all information which ought to be recorded, however, there are some which do not make specific provision for the place of birth. Nevertheless, the place of birth is always to be indicated for each baptismal entry, especially in this diocese where so many children are born in the cities or otherwise outside the parish boundaries.

“If it is a question of a child born of an unmarried mother, the name of the mother is to be inserted if there is public proof of her maternity or if she asks this willingly, either in writing or before two witnesses; likewise the name of the father is to be inserted if his paternity has been proved either by some public documents or by his own declaration before the pastor and two witnesses; in other cases, the name of the one baptized is recorded without any indication of the name of the father or the parents.” (Canon 877,§2)

In the case of an unmarried woman, the name of the father is not to be placed on the baptismal register unless:

I. The name is on some “public documents.” (In the United States the birth certificate of the child), or;

II. The father makes, on his own, a written declaration in the presence of the pastor and two witnesses that he is the father of the child. This declaration should also be notarized civilly.

If an unmarried woman presents a child for baptism and there is no father’s name on the birth certificate or the man will not make a declaration of paternity, the name of the man is NOT to be recorded in the baptismal register. When the parents are not civilly married and the name of the father is recorded, the fact of non-marriage and the documentation used as proof of paternity is to be recorded. The signed declaration or an authenticated copy of the birth certificate is to be kept in the parish register.

As regards the child’s name, in this state a mother may call her child anything she wants. Hence, Mary Jones may call her child “Napoleon Bonaparte” if she chooses, and it is legal for her to do so, as long as she doesn’t thereby try to prove that “Bonaparte” is the child’s father. As a rule, a child should be baptized (and the register entry made) with his/her “legal” name, the name that the mother (or the hospital on her behalf) has sent to Juneau after the child’s birth. It is a good practice always to ask the mother what the child’s last name is even when the pastor knows what the mother‘s name is.

Also with respect to last names, there is a common misconception that a mother can change her child’s last name when she herself gets married later on. While this is done fairly frequently in some villages, it is not legal for a mother (or father) to change a child’s last name after the birth has been recorded in Juneau unless the parent(s) petitions the court for a legal name change. Note: After notification of birth has been sent to Juneau, there is a 30-day “grace period” for a parent to change a child’s legal name, as long as this is done in writing to the Bureau of Vital Statistics in Juneau within the 30 day period). The pastor cannot change the name of a baptismal entry without legal proof of a legal name change, and then the registry entry should be annotated with the court docket number which authorizes the change of name. Because it is still a common practice for parents in some parts of our diocese to change a child’s name without any legal recourse, it is appropriate for a pastor to annotate the baptismal entry indicating what the parents now call the child as of a certain date, but the pastor may not change the original entry itself.

Again, parents also have been known to change a child’s first name(s) after the baptism has taken place and the entry made in the register, especially to honor some deceased relative. Again, the pastor may and should annotate the existing register entry with the child’s “new” name, but he cannot change the existing entry without evidence of a legal name change.

“If it is a question of an adopted child, the names of the adopting parents are to be recorded, and also, at least if this is to be done in the civil records of the region, the names of the natural parents, in accord with §§ 1 and 2, with due regard for the prescriptions of the conference of bishops.” (Canon 877,§3)

In the case of a legal adoption (such as through an agency like Fairbanks Counseling and Adoption), the names of the adopting parents are recorded in the baptismal register as the parents, and the names of the natural parent(s) are also recorded in the register, if documented. If the names of the natural parent(s) in this case are not documented, the entry could be annotated “adopted through (name of agency).”

In many bush locations, non-legal adoptions are most common, mothers “giving” their child to a relative or friend. In these cases, as far as possible, the names of both the adopting parents and the natural parent(s) are recorded in the register. In regard to natural parent(s) the same criteria as set above in the case of an unmarried parent(s) shall apply. Their names are not to be recorded unless properly documented. Presumably, the adopting parents will name the child in this case. However, if the natural parent(s) have already legally named the child or had the child baptized with a legal name, then this entry should not be changed in the register without legal evidence of a legal name change. It would, however, be appropriate to annotate the register entry, as above.

In cases of adoption, legal or “native-style”, the names of the adopting parents are entered in the register in the space provided for “parents” and the names of the natural parents(s), if properly documented as stated above, are entered as an annotation. This practice will facilitate issuing baptismal certificates at a later date.

“If the baptism was administered neither by the pastor nor in his presence, the minister of baptism, whomever it is, must inform the pastor of the parish in which the baptism was administered, so that he may record it in accordance with canon 877.§1.” (Canon 878)

Deacons and other ministers of baptism have an obligation to see that baptismal data is recorded properly in the baptismal register, whether they do it themselves or inform the pastor of the place, according to local usage.


“The names of the confirmed with mention of the minister, the parents and the sponsors, the place and date of the conferral of confirmation are to be noted in the confirmation register in the diocesan curia, or, where the conference of bishops or the diocesan bishop has prescribed it, in a book kept in the parish archive; the pastor must advise the pastor of the place of baptism about the conferral of confirmation so that notation be made in the baptismal register, in accord with the norm of canon 535.§2.” (Canon 895)

In this diocese, each parish is expected to keep its own record of confirmation which has been conferred within the parish, and, additionally, both those confirmations occurring within the parish as well as those occurring elsewhere are to be noted in the baptismal register. All confirmations are to be recorded, even those which are administered in danger of death.


There is no specific requirement in the revised Code of Canon Law for first communions to be recorded. However, American pastoral practice, especially in view of our highly mobile population and considering the American Church’s practice of “term” pastorates, suggests that keeping records of first communions should be encouraged. Most parish registers have provision for recording first communions.

In the Fairbanks Diocese, the practice of recording first communions should be retained in each parish. Often enough, it is the first communion register which is the only reliable guide in many parishes to those members of the parish who have, and have not, received their first communion. In some parishes in the diocese, children who did not receive first communion “with their class”, for whatever reason, may go on for several years without receiving the Eucharist for the first time because the first communion class each year is announced as being “for second graders” or for those who have turned age 7 since last year. Without a first communion register to rely on, a new pastor has no guide to search out those who might have “fallen through the cracks”. Every pastor should see to it that adequate records are kept as an aid to the pastoral work he is called on to provide.


“After a marriage has been celebrated, the pastor of the place of celebration or the person who takes his place, even if neither has assisted at the marriage, should as soon as possible note the following in the marriage register: the names of the spouses, the person who assisted and the witnesses, the place and date of the marriage celebration; these notations are to be made in accord with the method prescribed by the conference of bishops or the diocesan bishop.” (Canon 1121,§1)

In the State of Alaska and in the Diocese of Fairbanks, there are at least five separate record keeping activities associated with a marriage. First of all, there are the papers of the marriage (interrogation forms, witness forms, dispensations, if any, baptismal certificates, etc.) which are to be keep on file in the parish where the marriage has been celebrated. Secondly, the record of the marriage is to be inscribed in the marriage register, listing the details mentioned above as well as the names of the spouses’ parents and the baptismal data for the spouses. Thirdly, the state marriage license must be signed by the minister and the two witnesses and the appropriate parts of that license sent in to the local court or recording district office. Fourthly, notification of the marriage must be sent to the church of baptism of the spouses. If the marriage is celebrated in the church of baptism of one of the spouses, then the fact of the marriage must also be entered in the baptismal register for that spouse (or spouses). Finally, certificates of marriage, either those provided by the state or those which the local church uses, or both, must be filled out and given to the newly married couple. Normally in this state, a woman needs to have a copy of her marriage certificate with her in order to change her name on bank accounts, driver’s license, social security card, etc.

Most popular marriage registers have provisions for entering the data mentioned above, namely, the names of the spouses, the names of their parents, the names of the witnesses (best man and maid of honor), baptismal data for the spouses, the name of the person who assisted at the marriage, and the place and date of the marriage. Often enough other details should also be recorded in the register, such as dispensations granted, whether or not this particular marriage is a convalidation, and such other pertinent details which may be associated with a given marriage. It would also seem prudent, in light of Canon 1065 of the revised Code, to indicate for each (Catholic) spouse when he or she was confirmed (or the fact that they have not yet been confirmed). Most parish marriage registers do not have a separate space for confirmation data, but some have space enough under the heading of “Remarks” or “Annotations”.

According to Canon 1116, a valid marriage may take place in certain circumstances without the presence of a priest or deacon or other Church delegate. If such cases do take place, those with knowledge of the event (spouses or others) are to inform the pastor; and he is to record that marriage in the parish marriage register (presuming that the conditions of Canon 1116 have been met).‘’

Wherever a marriage is convalidated in the external forum, is declared null or is legitimately dissolved other than by death, the pastor of the place where it was celebrated must be informed so that a notation maybe duly made in the marriage and baptismal registers.” (Canon 1123)

Hence, pastors must also make notations in the appropriate registers for marriage annulments and dissolutions which have been granted by ecclesiastical tribunals.


“After the interment an entry is to be made in the death register in accord with the norm of particular law.” (Canon 1182)

Records of death are to be kept by each parish. Usually the information required is noted in the standard registers, viz., name and age of the deceased, names of parents and/or surviving relatives, date and place of death, date and place of burial, attending minister, and remarks. If the cause of death is common knowledge, it may be entered in the register as well.

In addition to the death register, in village locations it is often good pastoral practice to maintain a map of the local cemetery, indicating where people are buried. Often enough, relatives will come at some later date asking if the pastor can tell them where a loved one is buried. In addition, a reasonably accurate cemetery map will usually preclude the embarrassment of disinterring a previously buried body in the process of trying to dig a new grave.

According to State of Alaska law, a Church official is supposed to have a “Certificate of Transmittal and Burial” in hand in order to bury someone. A local magistrate may issue such a certificate if a person is not removed from the village after death for autopsy. If the body is removed for autopsy, the court system or the city funeral parlor is responsible for obtaining the certificate and seeing to it that the certificate accompanies the body. In theory, a corpse cannot be transported by commercial carrier without such a certificate. Additionally, a priest or other minister is not supposed to bury someone without such a certificate. Presumably, the local church is responsible for keeping the burial and transit permit on file after the burial for a “reasonable” length of time.


“In the case of seculars the local ordinary and in the case of those who are subject to him the competent major superior, are to send notification of every ordination celebrated to the pastor of the place where the ordained person has been baptized so that a notation may be made in the baptismal register according to the norm of canon 535,§2.’’ (Canon 1054)

Ordination and perpetual vows are to be noted in the baptismal register where such a person was baptized. This would include those who are ordained to the diaconate (permanent) for this diocese as well as for any other diocese.


In addition to the norms and directives given above, there are some comments to be made about record keeping in general and sacramental registers in particular:

A) Legibility: Obviously, written register entries ought to be readable by others. If your handwriting is poor, then print your entries so that they can be read. Use pen rather than pencil, and preferably ball point pens rather than fountain pens (regular ink will run when it becomes wet). Some records now in the Chancery Archives spent several days under water because of local spring· flooding in one of the parishes years ago. At times, such events may be unavoidable, so use whatever precautions may be available to you.

B) Dates: Various people have been taught to use various methods for writing dates, and not all of them are easily understood. For example, to some people the date written as 4-3-86 may mean April 3rd, while to others the same thing may mean March 4th. Therefore, write out or abbreviate in writing the month you wish to indicate, such as April 3, 1986 or 4 Mar. ‘86.

C) Names: Always use full names when making register entries. What may be perfectly clear to you when you enter the parents’ names as “John and Clotilde” may be somewhat less clear 40 years later. For the name of wife or mother use the maiden name. The best format for recording names is Last Name, First Name Middle Name Native Name.

D) Don’t Wait: Knowledge you had at your fingertips when the sacrament was administered maybe more difficult to grasp after the passage of time. Make a practice of recording sacramental register entries as soon as possible after the event. Further, if you find some information lacking when you make the register entry, track down the missing information as soon as possible before you forget.

E) Index: Your successors will bless your memory if you faithfully record each name in the index of your register which will make a particular listing easier to find in the future.

F) Annuals: Each year the pastor or parish secretary should submit copies of all the pertinent information for the sacraments of baptisms, first communions, confirmations, marriages, and deaths which have been celebrated in the parish during the preceding year and send that information to the Chancery Archive. Annual records for the previous year are due on or before the last workday in February. The Chancery Archive has forms available for your use. In order for the Chancery Archive to provide up-to-date sacramental information, any notations added to sacramental records should be submitted to the Chancery Archive. This information can be submitted as notations are added or when annual records are submitted.

(Note: Because of the potential for violations of confidentiality of sensitive materials which may be contained in your register, do not turn your register over to the local city office or high-school for copying. Ask rather if you can do the copying yourself. If you are unable, then bring your book to the Chancery Archive with you or type or write out the data on the available forms. Each parish should send in the information for the five sacraments listed above each year .)

G) Privacy: It is important to protect private information contained in sacramental records. Do not transmit sacramental information in electronic format without password protection. This includes sending information via an unsecured email.

H) Corrections: Do not make corrections without legal proof such as a birth certificate, drivers license, or social security card. To make a correction to a sacramental record strikeout the incorrect information with a red pen, then write the correct information above the strikeout information. Initial and date next to the correction. In case of adoption, records should not be altered to hide the names of birth parents unless a court document is provided.

Revised October 2013