One of our newest tools, launched last year, is the Archdiocese of Boston: Parish Boundary Map. It was created by the Archive Department of the Archdiocese of Boston. This interactive map is a visual tool that can help you understand which Catholic churches existed in a particular neighborhood or town in the greater Boston area. It should be used in conjunction with our Historic Catholic Records Online project.
A common question that we receive in our Ask-a-Genealogist chat is “How can I determine in which Catholic church my ancestors were baptized or married in Boston?” We typically would turn to the civil records to locate the birth or marriage record, where the officiant is usually listed. By researching the officiant, you can determine the name of the church. However, sometimes you cannot locate the civil record, particularly for immigrant populations.
The parish boundary map can be found linked in the description section at the bottom of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Boston Records, 1789-1920 database on AmericanAncestors.org. When you pull up the parish boundary map, you have two options: 1. View in Map Viewer or 2. Open in ArcGIS Desktop. Personally, I like to use the Map Viewer option. The Map Viewer will need a few minutes to load. You will then see a graphic of Boston with multi-colors as seen below. You can use the (+) icon to zoom in on individual towns.
Each section of the map is color-coded based on the 1955 parish boundaries. Each of the individual dots you see represents a specific church. The parish churches are plotted in the same color as the parish boundary shading. If the church served a specific population (i.e., French Canadian), these churches have a black dot. When you click on the dot, you will see a pop-up as seen above that lists the name of the church and the address. We can see that the Saint Augustine Parish church is located at 225 Dorchester Street in South Boston.
You can click “Zoom to” to get a closer look at the area where the church is located. We can see some of the cross streets after we zoom in further. The Saint Augustine Church is located near West 8th Street and F Street. Some of the nearest landmarks are St. Augustine’s Park and the Patrick F. Gavin Middle School. A few blocks down is the St. Augustine Burying Ground, where you may find your South Boston Catholic ancestors buried.
You also have the option of typing in a specific address into the map viewer in the top search box. I typed in an address of “5 Snow Hill St, Boston”. The system will give you a list of dropdown values. Once you pick the correct or closest option to the address you’re interested in, click the magnifying glass to pull up that address.
I can then start to zoom out to see what churches are located near this address. I found that St. Mary’s Church on Endicott and Cooper Street (below) would be the closest parish church. In this pop-up we see that the church was established in 1834. We know that we can look for any vital records after this time period in our Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Boston Records, 1789-1920, collection on AmericanAncestors.org.
Mapping tools such as the Archdiocese of Boston parish boundary map can be a valuable tool to visualize where your ancestors lived. This map not only provides you with a street level view but also shows the Catholic churches operational at the time your ancestors lived there. The Archdiocese of Boston also produced a video tutorial on using the parish boundary map. I’m hopeful that more archdioceses and other organizations will embrace using GIS mapping technology solutions to add historical context.