Using church archives to do economic research…experiences from Northern Ghana

Fascinating post by , and ,

They point how in absence of reliable records/archives, one can use church records:

Forty years have passed since that meeting and yet similar statements still feature in the introductions of research papers on African demography. Even so, significant progress has undoubtedly been made in this field. The Edinburgh meetings stimulated much research during the 1980s, that took advantage of colonial censuses, hospital records as well as an array of oral sources (Cordell et al, 2016). Where attention has been paid, studies have tended to concentrate in Eastern and Southern Africa where Christian missions of all denominations embedded a new culture of record keeping. Despite the dominance of Islam in West Africa, Christian missions have also left their mark. Edward Morgan’s doctoral research turns attention towards Northern Ghana in West Africa, which is home to one of the oldest Catholic missions in the country.

From late February to early April 2017, Edward undertook his first fieldwork trip to Navrongo, where he photographed the entire archive of parish registers at the Cathedral Basilica of Our Lady of Seven Sorrows, in order to collect data for a historical reconstruction of the local catholic population. Here, he shares his experiences:

A range of historical population records are available to historical demographers. Perhaps the most relied upon for a reasonable sample of a population, especially in European historical demography, has been parish registers (Willigan et al, 1983). These registers, often archived in hidden corners of churches throughout Christendom, offer insights into the demography of communities – historic and contemporary – otherwise unrecorded by modern methods of data collection. Parish registers exist in several forms depending on location and time period, however they are generally records of baptisms, marriages and burials made by the church. They each contain valuable information of – amongst other things – birth and death dates which can be used to estimate the length of lives and give a real sense of the prevailing health conditions of the period.

For the most part, hidden corners of churches are where many parish registers remain to this day. Undigitised and often in very poor condition, perhaps the only record of some populations can be found in books falling apart at the seams. Few studies exist that attempt to capture the historical demography of Sub-Saharan Africa. Those that have, as Walters (2016) outlines, have used Christian baptism and burial registers to reconstruct birth and death patterns. My own doctoral fieldwork follows this style of research and recently took me to Navrongo in Northern Ghana, where I took up the task of photographing the entire archive of parish records held by the Catholic Cathedral in Navrongo, pictured above.

We have so many temples in India and atleast some big ones would also be having a lot of records. Wish they could be made available..


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