Have you already searched for your ancestors in Latin church registers?

You may have noticed that in birth registers, there are sometimes two dates in one row or column.

There may be separate columns set up for them named “dies nativitatis” and “dies collati S. baptismi/baptismae/baptisationis/baptismus”.

If however there is only one column “dies” (day), there may be two dates in the same column.

These two dates are always those of the birth and the baptism. (Or there may be only one date, we will write about this in a next post).

Why is it that these two dates are sometimes the same or even 8 days apart?

If a newborn’s life was in danger, anyone could immediately baptize him/her by saying “I baptize you …” to save his/her soul (optionally by pouring some water on the baby’s head or immerging the infant into water, but also without that). You will see this under the remarks “in necessitate” or “in casu necessitatis” and often this was done by the midwife (“obstetrix”).

obstetrix Anna in casu necessitatis

obstetrix Anna in casu necessitatis

Unfortunately, this was fairly common. Read our blog article about birth and being a mother in the past here.

Baptism could be administered on any day, but according to Canon 856: “Although baptism can be celebrated on any day, it is nevertheless recommended that it be celebrated ordinarily on a Sunday or, if possible, at the Easter Vigil.”

Catholics usually strove to baptize newborns as soon as possible.

It was a practice both then and now in certain areas (such as in Denmark today),  mostly in Protestant parishes, to have newborns baptized and given a name by the 8th day of their life.

Another cause that my have delayed baptism could be weather and distance. You can expect to encounter this especially in case of winter babies. But not necessarily! Maybe the parents didn’t risk taking their newborn to the church in a snowstorm, but would instead wait for better weather. You must consider that most people had to walk everywhere and that carriages were usually unheated. If the village had no church, the parents had to walk even further. In some cases, if there was a church closer than the officially appointed mother church, they would go to the nearer church, which is where you will find the baptismal records of the child.

So why did I say not necessarily? People were literally terrified of their newborn’s soul coming to hell if dying unbaptized. Which will be the theme of our next post.

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We wish you the best of luck in your research,

Judit and István

Historia Translation


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