New England families keen to understand more about their genealogy might be surprised to find some of the most useful records come from the church.
And in many cases, from the Roman Catholic Church.
That's why the Archdiocese of Boston and the New England Historic Genealogical Society are teaming up to create a searchable database of sacramental records called Artifacts of Faith.
Dating back to 1797, the records kept by the church of such major life events as baptisms, marriages, confirmations and first communions have become a critical resource for researchers, historians, and genealogists.
Where secular records are spotty or nonexistent, church records are detailed, often including the names of relatives and witnesses to events.
Serious genealogists have long been in on the secret of that church records hold many keys to the past and church officials say their historic records have suffered for it.
"Pages are brittle and flaking, bindings are coming unstitched, some are just falling apart," Thomas Lester, the archivist and records manager for the archdiocese told The Associated Press. "Of course we try to restore them, but we can't do it fast enough. So we looked into scanning all of them, that way if we can't save the books we can at least save the information."
The plan is to digitize 937 bound volumes and make the records searchable by name.
The undertaking means scanning 400,000 hand-written pages and inputting 10 million names.
Images of Boston's oldest parish records, including those from Holy Cross Cathedral and Holy Trinity, are already available online, but, but they won't be searchable online until later this year.
Church officials said it could take years to complete digitization of records for all parishes in the diocese.