Caring for parish records
It is vitally important for parishes to maintain accurate, legible and complete records. Churchwardens should make sure adequate records and files are kept so that future clergy, churchwardens, and other lay staff can continue the work of the parish.
Keep these files and records (including financial) at the church, and not in the home of a member. Under Canon 14 s. 16 (“Vestries”), “Parish records not in actual use and all important documents should be placed in the care of the Diocesan Office for safekeeping.”
For more information about retaining parish records, see the Parish Records Retention Guidelines.
For more information about preservation and conservation, see the following news posts:
Sending parish records to the Archives
Before sending materials to the Archives, parish staff and/or clergy must submit a Records Transfer Form. Do not send any materials to the Archives without first consulting with Archives staff.
The Diocese’s Collections Guidelines requires parishes to send certain records to the Diocesan Archives:
- parish registers
- parochial records
- financial and business records
- records with lasting legal value
The Archives will consider any parish records that conform to the guidelines for deposit and retention. For guidance on how to physically prepare parish records for transfer and filling out the Records Transfer Form, consult the archives’ Guide to Transferring Records to the Archives upon Closure or Amalgamation.
Once materials are transferred, parishes can access and borrow items if they meet the conditions of a loan agreement. For more information about accessing or arranging a loan of records in the Archives, consult the Access Policy or contact Claire Wilton, Archivist, or Sarah McDougall, Archives Assistant.
Baptisms, marriages and burials are public acts. Parishes and dioceses hold the records of these acts in trust for the participants and the whole Church. Together, we are responsible for maintaining the integrity of the records.
Parish registers should be deposited in the Diocesan Archives. This includes all baptism, confirmation, marriage and burial registers, as well as service registers (vestry books). Registers should be transferred once they are full, or if the register is incomplete but contains entries older than 40 years (i.e. pre-1984). New registers can be purchased inexpensively.
Besides providing statistical information, registers contain information people may need to prove when they were born, baptized, confirmed or married, or to trace their family history. Information from vestry books is also used to compile annual statistics that are sent to the Synod Office. Registers must be accurate and as complete as possible.
Parish Register Guidelines to Remember:
- Registers should be filled in and signed by the officiant at the time of (or as soon as possible after) the pastoral act so information isn’t lost.
- All parts of each entry should be filled in completely.
- Entries should be accurate, using names as registered with Provincial Vital Statistics (birth certificate names), not nicknames.
- Entries should be made in chronological order.
- All entries should be printed legibly, including the names of signatories.
- If a mistake is made at the time of completing an entry, the correction must be initialed by the officiant.
- No page or entry should be removed. Voided entries should be clearly noted and initialed.
- Marginal comments aren’t recommended.
- No change to dates or names can be made in any entry. If an error is later discovered, a certified statement of correction (with supporting documents, if necessary) may be appended to the register. (See the Policy on Amendments to Baptismal Records and Issuance of Amended Baptismal Certificates.)
- Access to parish registers should be allowed only according to diocesan policy. (See the Access Policy and Guidelines to assist parishes in responding to requests for parish records.)
- All active registers must be kept in a secure location, under the care of the incumbent.
What to do with completed registers
Deposit your completed registers in the Diocesan Archives (see Parish Records Retention Guidelines). The Archives will provide a safe, secure repository and store them according to accepted archival practices.
We discourage parishes from keeping completed registers at the parish. If a parish does wish to retain their completed registers at the church, the churchwardens must assure the Diocese that the registers are protected from damage (by light, humidity, fire, water, and/or pests); that they are locked in a secure area with controlled access; and that access to the information in them is limited to what would be publicly available as detailed in the Guidelines to Assist Parishes in Responding to Requests for Parish Records.
Do not accept offers by third parties like genealogical societies or family history websites to do free microfilming in exchange for access to the records. Any microfilms or other forms of preservation copies are subject to the same access considerations as the original register. They cannot be sold or distributed by interlibrary loan or any other form of lending.
Parochial records include:
- policies and bylaws
- minutes of vestry
- parish groups and organizations
- pew bulletins/leaflets
- parish profiles
- histories and anniversary booklets
Certain parochial records should be deposited in the Diocesan Archives for permanent retention. For more information, see the Parish Records Retention Guidelines.
A parish’s history is a source of pride. It helps to provide identity for the congregation and in the community at large. You might want to form an archives committee to collect and preserve items of interest to the parish and its members.
If your parish has published a history or is planning to, send a copy to the Diocesan Archives. That way, future researchers will have access to first-hand materials.
A parish list is a vital way to communicate between the church and members of the congregation. It will likely include personal information about parishioners. Keep that information secure and use it only for the purpose for which it was collected (i.e. for the church to keep in touch).
See the Privacy page for guidelines about collecting information for a parish list, photo directory or other compilation of personal information.
Financial and administrative records
Parish financial and administrative records include:
- general ledgers
- insurance policies
- annual reports to vestry, with the annual financial statements
- copies of the title deeds for parish property
- copies of the plans of survey
- copies of the building plans
Certain financial and business records should be deposited in the Diocesan Archives for permanent retention.
For detailed guidelines about financial records, refer to the Parish Finance Manual.
For information about which financial and administrative records you should deposit in the Diocesan Archives, see the Parish Records Retention Guidelines.
Bibles and prayer books
Parishes may own outdated bibles and prayer books, which are often ornate or have been donated and seem too precious to dispose of. Unless the book has a specific quality and clearly conforms to the collections guidelines, it won’t be considered suitable for retention by the Archives.
For more information, see the Diocese’s Policy on Memorial Gifts to Parish Churches.
Church records stored on a computer can also be official records that need to be maintained. You need to consider the security of these records. If the printed paper copy would be considered important enough to lock away in a filing cabinet or safe, apply the same level of security to the electronic version. You can add security through password protection or by using a format, such as PDF or “Read Only,” to prevent any changes to the information.
The same level of retention should apply to documents stored electronically as to paper records. Regularly deleting files you don’t need anymore will help your system run faster.