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SCU Digital Collections

About this collection

As all Roman Catholic clergy are obliged to do, the priests who staffed Mission Santa Clara kept meticulous records about the sacraments at which they officiated.


Over the past few decades, mission sacramental records have proven to be of inestimable value in helping scholars reconstruct the rhythms of life in pre-1850 California. These different kinds of records offer clues about daily life at Mission Santa Clara.


Careful examination of these records has enabled anthropologists to recover the size and location of a number of indigenous villages, and thus has immeasurably increased our knowledge of native California before the arrival of the Spanish in 1769. Our understanding of the patterns of authority and deference in the Hispanic community has similarly been enhanced by a careful study of these records.


  • Baptismal records usually contained:

    • name of the person baptized
    • names of his or her parents and godparents
    • baptized person's place of birth
    • any other information the priest thought relevant
  • Marriage records often contained:
    • names of both sets of parents of those being married
    • names of the official witnesses of the sacraments
    • in some cases, names of the witnesses who testified that the couple was able to enter into marriage according to the norms of Catholic sacramental theology
  • Burial records are often filled with tragic accounts of the deaths of many native children


painting of mission in 1849


Painting of Santa Clara Mission in 1849, by Andrew P. Hill. SCU Library




About the Project

The Mission Santa Clara Records Digitization Project was a collaborative effort involving the California Studies Initiative in the College of Arts and Sciences, the University Library Department of Archives and Special Collections, and the Early California Population Project (ECPP) at The Huntington Library. The project was funded by a grant from the SCU Technology Steering Committee.


The records here are best used in conjunction with the ECPP. The ECPP database on Mission Santa Clara allows researchers to access full information concerning individual records, and to consult a downloaded PDF of the original page on which that record is contained.


The Santa Clara University Digital Collection allows researchers to access individual pages without downloading them:



to magnify parts of each page for closer consultation:


image of page enlargement

and to search across multiple sacramental records:




It is our hope that researchers and genealogists will find these additional capabilities helpful in their projects, and that this joint digital effort will enable enhanced and deeper study into the history of the many peoples and groups who constitute the California we all share today.


Baptismal Records

The first baptisms performed by a Mission Santa Clara priest were on June 6, 1777, almost six months after the mission had been founded. On that day, Fr. Tomás de la Peña visited two Indian villages a few miles from the primitive mission complex and baptized twenty children who were ill. This gives us an important clue about what the priests had been doing for the previous six months. They had been able to establish working relationships with a number of the nearby native peoples. We cannot know with certainty what the parents of these children were thinking when they asked or allowed priests to perform the baptisms. However, it is not unreasonable to assume that at least some of them were hoping that the baptismal ritual might have a healing component to it.


The first baptism in the mission church itself took place on June 7, 1777. It was performed by Fr. de la Peña's colleague, Fr. José Murguía. He baptized a one-year-old boy who was presented by his parents, who lived near Coyote Creek. Fr. Murguia transcribed the parents' names as Ubsses and Yomeset, and gave the boy the na e José María. This was an important event in the early history of the mission. To underscore its significance, the highest-ranking Hispanic couple at the mission, Corporal José Ramon Bojorques and his wife María Francisca Romero, served as godparents.


Over the next 83 years, over 11,000 individuals were baptized at Mission Santa Clara. The last baptism in the records presented here occurred on December 30, 1850. The identity of the baptized person, Alvin Campbell, indicates the demographic changes that the gold rush was in the process of producing. The priest, Fr. José María del Refugio Suárez del Real, stated that Campbell, whose name he wrote as "Alvino," had been born on October 24, 1824. We don't know very much about this Campbell. The 1850 federal census recorded a gold miner in Tuolumne County named Alvin Campbell, who had been born in New York in the early 1820s, and this may be the same person. In any event, it is significant that the last baptism in these records was received by someone who probably came from the east coast of the United States. By 1850, the arrival of such people was dramatically changing California.

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Marriage Records

The first marriage performed at Mission Santa Clara was between José Antonio Romero and María Petra Aceves. They both were born in Mexico. Aceves hailed from Durango and came to California with her family on the Anza expedition. Her father was a member of the Mission Santa Clara military guard. Romero was from Guadalajara and came to California as a sailor. He was one of the original settlers of the Pueblo de San José, which was founded on November 29, 1777.


The wedding was held on January 12, 1778, exactly one year after the mission was founded. The day could not have been accidental. The establishment of San José was an attempt on the part of Governor Felipe de Neve to establish a counterweight to the missions in northern California, much as the establishment of Los Angeles four years later was an attempt to do the same thing in Southern California. The missionaries opposed the establishment of pueblos, which they correctly understood as attempts to weaken the power and influence of the missions. Thus having one of San José's original settlers married on the first anniversary of the mission's founding was an attempt by the missionaries to assert the symbolic pre-eminence of the mission over the emerging pueblo.


The last marriage record in this collection is also revealing. It was performed on April 28, 1851 by Fr. John Nobili, S.J., the first president of Santa Clara College. Fr. Nobili joined Enrique Parra and María Todd Sandoval in marriage. He recorded that, since the couple had already been together for a number of years, he exempted them from some of the ecclesiastical requirements for marriage preparation. This stance reflected the flexibility that most clergy were forced to adopt as they ministered on the Spanish, Mexican, and North American frontiers.

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Burial Records

The burial records at Mission Santa Clara are filled with accounts of the tragic deaths of many native children. In California, as everywhere else in the Americas, native peoples found themselves exposed to European diseases for which they had developed no immunity. The most vulnerable members of the communities, such as the very young, were especially susceptible to these diseases. In the California missions, the practice of forcing native people, especially young girls and boys, to live very closely together in dormitories increased their vulnerability to a variety of fatal diseases. The first burial record reflected this tragedy. Fr. Murguía recorded that on June 22, 1777 he buried a girl named María Luisa, who had been baptized only the day before by Fr. Tomas de la Peña.

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