Catholic Baptismal Records: Sponsors/Godparents

A few points about Catholic baptismal sponsors:

In French records, the godfather was le parrain, while the godmother was la marraine.

In English language registers, they might be called godparents, or they might be called sponsors. In the very first baptismal record (1 Jan 1845) found in the parish registers for Forkhill/Mullaghbawn, the Rev. Hugh Mulligan referred to them as Gossips, which he subsequently abbreviated to Gs (but he later switched to Sps, for Sponsors).

Register of Forkhill/Mullaghbawn, Archdiocese of Armagh, County of Armagh, Catholic Parish Registers at the NLI

Godparents were not required by canon law, but they were certainly customary. In searching numerous Catholic parish registers in both Ireland and Canada, I’ve yet to come across a baptismal record where there was no sponsor/godparent, but I’ve certainly come across a few baptisms where the child had only one sponsor, not two.

A parent could not serve as godparent to his/her own child, but a grandparent could serve as godparent to a grandchild.1

The priest who baptized an infant could also serve as that child’s godfather. For example, the Rev. John Andrew Sloan, the parish priest at St. Patrick’s, Fallowfield (Nepean township, Carleton Co., Ontario) who also served as visiting priest to the mission at March (later the parish of St. Isidore, March township, Carleton Co., Ontario), served as godfather to Bridget Loretto Armstrong, and to James Lambert Charlebois.

Baptism of James Lambert Charlebois 2

For an RC baptism, a godparent had to be a Roman Catholic.

A godparent had to be at least 14 years of age.

Do not assume that the godparents named in a baptismal record were a married couple. In many cases they were not, although they were often (though not always!) close relatives (aunts, uncles, cousins, and etc.) of the baptized infant.

  1. For example, my father’s godmother was his paternal grandmother, while his godfather was his paternal uncle.
  2. Ontario, Canada, Catholic Church Records (Drouin Collection), 1802-1967, South March, 1861-1968, B. 15, 24 Nov 1895; database: ancestry.ca

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