Forever Preserved: Genealogical Records after the Bohol Quake

Five days after the destructive quake that struck Bohol last October 15, there have been over 2,000 aftershocks and around 200 deaths reported. The numbers are still rising.

Not to discount the lives that have been damaged and lost, the most poignant images of this calamity are probably those of the centuries-old Catholic Churches that have been destroyed. Some were even levelled to the ground. These were the first imagery seen on the news, and they will forever be etched in history as reminders of this tragedy. In natural disasters like this, historical records (and in this context genealogical) are the other significant casualties.

Various Bohol Churches Photos after the Earthquake by @Amirkimpoy Twitpic

Loon Church: before and after. This church was levelled to the ground. (hoto by @LailRara Twitter)

As an advocate of records preservation, one of my first concerns were the records found in these churches. What of them at the face of this great catastrophe? Were they destroyed along with the structures they were housed in? Fortunately, A little recollection and a quick search on the catalog in FamilySearch erased my worries.

Years back during my stint at the Family History Support Center, I remember some friends who were preservation technicians for FamilySearch talking about their experiences in microfilming Bohol records. One specifically recalled working on records in Baclayon, the second-oldest of the churches in the island. The next thought that came was how far back were they able to microfilm. Here is what I found from the catalog search:

TOWN CHURCH RECORDS PRESERVED
Alburquerque 1869-1999
Antequera 1881-1983
Baclayon 1747-1999
Balilihan 1840-1980
Calape 1870-1983
Catigbian 1939-1975
Clarin 1922-1975
Corella 1881-1981
Cortes 1769-1990
Dauis 1752-1985
Dimiao 1827-1963
Garcia Hernandez 1858-1971
Loay 1812-1962
Loboc 1884-1995
Loon 1753-1967
Maribojoc 1767-1973
Panglao 1697-1992
Pilar 1872-1999
Sevilla 1901-1957
Tubigon 1852-1964
Valencia 1871-1966
Tagbilaran 1742-1970

As can be seen here, the Catholic churches of  Baclayon, Loon, Loboc and Dauis, that were initially reported as totally destroyed, have had their earliest extant records preserved. The project, which entailed the microfilming of records of genealogical value, has been on-going the the Philippines since the early 70s and started in Bohol in the 90s. This was a collaborative project of FamilySearch and the Diocese of Tagbilaran, through Bishop, Most Rev. Leopoldo S. Tumulak D.D.

Preserved?

When record custodians agree to have their collections preserved, FamilySearch captures images of each record (books, documents, etc.) and stores copies at the Granite Mountain Records Vault in Utah, U.S.A. The record owners are then provided with a copy of their records in microfilm format or digital copies stored in hard drives. They are also given unlimited access to their preserved records online, via FamilySearch’s website. These microfilmed and digitized records are protected from the elements, thus virtually preserving them “forever.” When calamities like floods, fire, and earthquakes strike and damage the original records, the record custodians can always request a copy of their collection from FamilySearch free of any cost.

An example of this scenario happened in Bacolor, Pampanga in 1991 when the Our Lady of the Holy Rosary parish church was half-buried in lahar after the Pinatubo eruption. All of their church records were completely ravaged by the flood, but fortunately, FamilySearch has microfilmed their records from 1680 up to 1962. They were given a copy of their records upon their request.

What of the records?

As of writing, the people of Bohol are still trying to pick themselves up from the fatal blow of this destructive  force of nature. People’s lives are more important and it is understandable that everyone is trying to make sure that the affected citizens are being attended to. But after all has been said and done, people will ask the question ‘what of our records?’ Reports are yet to come in as to what extent has this quake and the series of aftershocks that came with it (not to mention the rains that came after) has affected the genealogical records in the 48 towns of Bohol. But by merely looking at the photos of the fallen churches, one is inclined to conclude that the event might have had its toll on the fragile records as well. It is safe to say however, that the 22 churches that include the hard-hit towns of Baclayon, Loon, Loboc, and Dauis, can rebuild most of their records collection with the help of FamilySearch.

There is hope.

Thus we see here the great benefit of proper records preservation. The magnificent churches of Bohol that housed records for over 300 years have finally succumbed to the power of nature, and most probably along with the crumbled structures are gone the valuable records of our Catholic brothers and sisters. It will take time to rebuild the buildings, but 300 years of written history can now be easily restored (at least the data that are in them). It is my sincere hope that the rest of the towns in Bohol (and other towns in the country) who have not had their records preserved will still be able to salvage much of their records collections for future generations, and finally collaborate with FamilySearch to digitize what’s left of their documents.

To my Boholanon friends, fear not. Some, if not much of your genealogical history is intact. You may visit http://familysearch.org anytime to learn how to access them.

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