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Keeping Parish Archives & Records


Managing Parish Office ​​records

We are happy to offer advice regarding the management of your parish records.

We offer a file plan​ for arranging and categorizing parish office records. This is a guide for organiz​ing office records; each parish will require customized subcategories to fit their needs.​

Parish Reco​​rds FAQs

Here are some of the mo​​​st common questions we receive regarding the management of parish records and archives. Please send us your questions so we can post them here. ​​

Retent​​ion Periods

How long do we keep cancelled Marriage files? These are marriages that never occurred.
Keep them until the end of the current calendar year + 1 additional year, just in case ​​the couple comes back, and then please ensure confidential destruction (i.e. shredding).

How long do we keep paperwork for Marriages where they have transferred copies and/or originals elsewhere?
If the file was transferred anywhere - within this diocese or outside of the country - the parish does NOT nee​d to keep the file.  If a letter of Permission was written by the Pastor, keep a copy of that, but create a separate chronological file for all of those letters.

How long do we keep regular Marriage files?
They need to be kept for at least 75 years, although we would suggest 100 years.  They need to be retained for the duration of the life of both individuals in case they choose to annul their marriage or are remarrying in their golden years.

How long do we keep Baptism, First Communion, and Confirmation registration forms?
Once the sacrament has been recorded in the register, keep the forms for the current year + 1.

​How long do we keep the "Clergy Record" sent by the funeral home?
Similar to sacramental registration forms, once the relevant death and burial information has been recorded in the Death Register, keep the Clergy Record for the current year + 1.

​How long do we keep church offering envelopes?
They must be kept for the current year + 6; ensure confidential destruction.

If you have other questions about financial records, please ask the Accounting and Finance departme​nt​ for guidelines.​

How long do we keep Payroll records?
The current year + 6; ensure confidential destruction. However, please note that the personnel file of the employee must be kept permanently.

If you have other questions about financial records, please ask the Accounting and Finance departme​nt​ for guidelines.

How long do we keep Parishioner Lists?
Just the current year + 1; please ensure confidential destruction.

How long should my parish keep our office files?
Generally speaking, most records of a financial nature need only be kept for the current year + 6, provided that there are annual reports to show the general fiscal state of the parish. Items of legal or historical value should be kept permanently. Other records need only be kept while relevant to your office, such as the documentation that goes with your photocopier; when the photocopier is replaced there is no need to keep a file on that item. Items that are retained only for information purposes can be disposed of when they are no longer used. 
​Please consult ARCAT staff if you have any questions about a specific type of record.

Other than sacramental records, what records should my parish keep permanently in the Parish Archives? 
Some of the many types of records: administrative records, architectural drawings and specifications, artifacts, bulletins/newsletters, contracts, homilies, insurance records, legal documents (both ecclesiastical and civil), loan files, minutes of meetings of all parish organizations and committees, parish census cards, parish histories, personal papers of pastors and associate pastors, personnel records, photographs, property appraisals, publications (produced by the parish), reports, scrapbooks, statistics, and trust fund/estate contributions. 
Please consult ARCAT staff for a complete list.

Should my parish send records to the Archives at the Catholic Pastoral Centre?
We encourage parishes to maintain their own archives. ARCAT documents the relationship between the Archdiocese and the parishes, while it is the responsibility of the parish to document its life and its interactions with the community.  There are, however, some exceptions for preservation purposes. For example, we have accepted the oldest sacramental registers of some parishes that feel they cannot store them adequately.  We also collect the records of closed parishes. We also ask for the personnel/screening records of previous parish volunteers.

Always check with the ARCAT staff and make arrangements before sending records or items to the Archives. That way we can advise you on what should be kept at your parish, disposed of, or stored here.

We always welcome copies of parish anniversary publications as these enhance our reference files on each parish.

File​ Plans

Is there an established filing system in the Archdiocese of Toronto?
Yes, there are two different versions of the filing system: one for Archdiocesan Offices and one for Parish Offices (click here for full PDF document) To summarize, for Parish Offices there are eight Major subject headings (listed with subheadings or file name examples):  ​

  • ADMINISTRATION: Administrative Committees and Councils; Agencies/Offices/Committees; Associations/Organizations; Chancery; Education; Events; General; Government; Groups and Programs; Hospitals/Healthcare; Ministries; Other Parishes; Religious Institutes; Sacramental Preparation Programs; Sacramental Records; and Vatican Correspondence
  • BUILDING MAINTENANCE/OPERATIONS: Equipment Maintenance; Inspections; Maintenance/Renovations; and Tenders/Quotations.
  • CEMETERY RECORDS: Burial Log; and Cemetery Lot Maps
  • FINANCE & ACCOUNTING: Accounts Payable/Operating Disbursements; Audits; Budgets; and Purchase Orders.
  • LEGAL: Accident/Incident Reports; Contracts and Agreements: Under Seal; Mortgages; and Property/Deeds.
  • PERSONNEL: Benefits; Employee Records; Job Descriptions; and Payroll.
  • PUBLIC RELATIONS/COMMUNICATIONS: Media Relations/News Releases; News Clippings; and Publications.
  • WRITINGS/SPEECHES: Homilies and Talks
    You may also want to keep SUBJECT/REFERENCE drop files for administrative purposes. These contain items such as brochures and news clippings and are alphabetically arranged by subject.

Ele​​ctronic Records

Is there a way to organize our electronic records?  How long should we keep our electronic records?
Parish electronic records should follow the same filing system used for paper records.  Furthermore, the type of information a record contains, not how it was created or in what format it is stored, determines how long a record should be kept.  We do suggest however, that vital records should be kept in hard copy since electronic records pose some very serious long term storage and access concerns.

The storage and organization of email can also be confusing. If an email message documents a vital parish decision or event, please print it out.  Otherwise, most email can be treated the same way as paper correspondence. File items in subject classifications that fit within your parish's paper and electronic filing systems so that email correspondence on a certain matter can be located and accessed easily. 

A parishioner researching their family history has asked to view to our old sacramental registers. Should we allow them access?
Access to original registers is absolutley not permitted! These books contain some of our most important records and can be very fragile. Repeated handling causes wear and tear to the books. Almost all historical registers have been digitized. Refer them to our webpage on Historical Parish Registers.

A genealogist approached our parish about their ancestors who were apparently parishioners here, but during a time in their lives when no sacraments would have been recorded. Where would their membership in our parish have been recorded?
You may be able to find some evidence of them if your parish has its own historical documents such as: parish censuses, pew rents, accounts books, minutes of meetings of various parish groups or committees. It would be up to you what you allowed an external person to view in your historical records.  We are always available to advise you.


How can I keep the records in the best possible condition?
A space for storing records should be prepared and kept clean, dry and secure.  This area should ideally be cool, dry, and dark with no direct sunlight and as little fluctuations in temperature and humidity as possible.  The ideal environmental conditions for a storage area are a temperature of 18-21°C and between 30-55% relative humidity (RH).  Ideally records should be stored in a filing cabinet or on metal shelving.  If metal cabinets or shelves are not available, pack items neatly and loosely in well labelled boxes.  All items should be clearly labelled, dated and identified.

Sacramental Registers are to be kept in a secure place, such as the parish safe, or a fire and water-proofed cabinet or drawer. Place the largest and heaviest books on the bottom and do not stack too high.

Large-scale bound materials (e.g. scrapbooks, architectural drawings) should be stored flat on a metal shelf. Books that are stored upright on a shelf should fit snuggly, with book ends for support.