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Notes on Edward Mason’s “Kaskaskia Parish Register” 

at the Diocese Archives at Belleville, Illinois

Robert Mazrim 2023


What is often cited as simply the “Parish Register” of the Church of the Immaculate Conception at Kaskaskia consists of several bound volumes of eighteenth and nineteenth century records now kept at the Diocese Archives at Belleville, Illinois. There is no single register from the church, and most vital records made by the church have been copied and / or rebound at various times during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. 


One of the most significant of these records, containing the earliest documents associated with the mission and the church, is the Registre de la Paroisse de la Conception de Notre Dame des Caskcaskias, a leather-bound volume with silver clasps dating to the nineteenth century. While the title implies a single, uniformly constructed record book, the volume at Belleville is instead a synthetic compendium. It contains original records, handwritten copies, and transcriptions made during the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. This compendium was assembled by historian E.G. Mason in 1879. A handwritten note on the fly leaf of the volume reads “Arranged by E.G. Mason, Chicago Ills and re-bound at his expense July 1879.”


Over the course of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, handwritten copies or photo reproductions of this synthetic volume have been deposited in various archives. A portion of this volume was the source of the oft-cited translations made by Eschmann in 1904 and published in the Transactions of the Illinois State Historical Society (Eschmann 1904). The citations of these records are generally not uniform and sometimes incorrect. In actuality, the volume at Belleville might best be cited as “Registre de la Paroisse de la Conception de Notre Dame des Caskcaskias” Assembled by E.G. Mason 1879. On File at the Diocese of Belleville Archives, Belleville, Illinois. 


While the actual composition of this volumes seems to be often poorly understood, Mason descried the compilation in detail in an address to the Chicago Historical Society (Mason 1881). He described the state of the records when he began the project: 


“A large portion of the church records of this parish, beginning perhaps with its establishment, and some extracts from those of the earlier mission, have fortunately been preserved to this day; and they throw many a curious and interesting side-lights upon the events of the times in which they were written. Of their authenticity, there can be no question. Some of them are still in the custody of the priest of the parish, and others are in the possession of a prelate [Right Revered P.J. Baltes] of the church that has labored so long and so zealously in the region of which these records illustrate the history. By his thoughtful care, the earlier books, which suffered damage at Kaskaskia in the flood of 1844, were removed to a place of greater security. And recently the volumes containing the entries made between the years 1695 and 1835 have been arranged and re-bound, and with proper care may remain a monument of the early history of what is now the State of Illinois for many years to come”

(Mason 1881: 6)


Mason’s compendium was apparently redeposited at the church in Kaskaskia after he completed the project. Attached to the marbled paper frontispiece of the volume is a typewritten page dated August 12, 1907 by St. Louis University Librarian Father J.C. Burke. The insert states that Burke found this volume, a second collection of baptism records, and various sacred objects at the Church on Kaskaskia Island. These were taken from the church at Kaskaskia and donated to St. Louis University archives. With the creation of the Diocese archives, the bound volume (“secured with silver clasps”) and the second volume (not discussed here) were then transferred to Belleville, where they remain today. 


Mason’s 1879 compendium includes records dating to the earliest decades of the Church of the Immaculate Conception during the Mission period, early Parish period, and extending into the early nineteenth century. It is a synthetic conglomeration of both first-generation (or "original") baptismal, marriage, and death records and (more commonly) transcriptions or copies made by priests over the course of the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. There may have been no single, consistent “register” kept for more than a few years during the Mission or early Parish era. However, an extant book cover preserved in the Mason binding (reading “Registrum pro anno 1696”), seems to suggest a bound register made while the mission was still located at Peoria. As indicated by a note made by Father De Beaubois in one of these documents (see Section Three), at least some such records were also kept on loose leaf paper and were already in some sort of disarray by 1720: 


“Everything read below is an official copy that I, N. Ig De Beaubois, S.J., priest at the parish of the Conception of Our Lady of the Kaskaskia, certify to be authentic and true to the original which I have removed for not being in order and because it was loose leaf and the present official copy has been signed by two witnesses who have verified the present with the original. De Beaubois S.J. July 25, 1720.”


Certainly, a number of records were lost long before the close of the French Regime. However, the Mason compendium volume serves as one the principal resources for vital records generated by the church at Kaskaskia, particularly for the pre-1730 era. 


These notes are intended to assist the researcher in understanding the context of this synthetic record and the changes it underwent during the colonial period. In order to best preserve each of the separate elements that were bound together for this compendium, each separate document (or intentional breaks in certain documents) are described here as “sections”, and have been divided as such in the digitally-enhanced PDFs that follow. The order of the pages as they were bound together in the late nineteenth century has not been changed in this digital version. 


From an examination of digital images of the Mason compendium, a total of seven sections have been recognized. These were ascertained through changes in paper type, the creation of new headings by various authors or copyists, or changes in record type. Mason added his own page numbers across the upper margin of the pages. The sections identified in this study generally align well with documents described by Mason in his lecture. Of principal interest here are Sections 1-5, which predate 1730 and which represent very early attempts to gather together the oldest records affiliated with the mission and church. Mason’s descriptions of each section open each discussion below.


Section One: Copy of Early Mission Era Baptisms


“In the re-binding has been preserved intact the old parchment cover of the first of these records, on which may be dimly traced in the faded ink the words ‘Registrum pro anno 1696’, but the remainder of the inscription is too indistinct to be deciphered.”


“The originals of these mission records have not been preserved, and we have in their stead a copy of a portion only, entitled “Extrait des Regitres de Bapteme de la Mission des Illinois sous le titre de l'Immaculeé Conseption de la S. V.” The copy itself, a small quarto of six pages, is in Latin …


With an entry made October 2d of [1719], the baptismal register of the mission proper seems to end; although a very few entries in 1732–3 and 1735 are appended, but these seem to belong rather to the parish.”

(Mason 1881)


What is labeled and partitioned here as “Section One” consists of six pages written in Latin (recto and verso) on plain paper that is approximately 3/4 the size of the following sections. It is titled “Extracts of the Registers of the Baptisms at the Mission of the Illinois of the Immaculate Conception.” This section clearly represents a compendium of the remains of baptismal records made during the Mission period (as early as the mid-1690s), with a copyist assembling entries in a mostly chronological order into a new register. The entries include baptisms made by Jacques Gravier, Julien Bineteau, Pierre-Gabriel Marest, and Jean Mermet.


The pre-April 1703 baptisms in this section would have occurred at Peoria or River des Peres. While the priests relocated their mission to the Kaskaskia River (then known as the Michigamea River) in April of 1703, some of the post-1703 entries may possibly have been made by priests still visiting the Peoria. The new mission at Kaskaskia became a parish in June of 1719 (e.g. Palm 1931), when Section Two of the Mason compendium was first drafted. However, there is some chronological overlap between Section One and Section Two, probably reflecting the ongoing attempts of various priests to pull together and organize various loose records.


The first entry, dating to 1695, is the record of the well-known baptism of the first child of Marie Rouensa and Michael Accault. This document proceeds in a chronological order, with the exception of two entries on the second page that postdate the arrival of the priests at the Michigamea (Kaskaskia) River, and the oft-cited note “Ad ripam Metchagamia dictam venimus.” 


The document is clearly an assembly of the remains of baptismal records made during the Mission period and through circa 1719. Here, the register jumps to 1732, where records of four baptisms that occurred in the early 1730s were added in the same hand. Finally, a note on the last page dates to April 1757 and was written in a different hand. 


The preserved cover bound into the Mason compendium with this section of documents bears the inscription “Registrum pro anno 1696” (according to Mason – it is now nearly illegible), and may belong to this record set. However, it was apparently begun in 1696 (according to the inscription), or a year after the first entry in Section One records. 


Section Two: Copy of Le Boullenger’s Baptism Records 1719-1720


“The next in order of these documents is a quarto of twenty-two pages, written in French, as all the rest of these records are, beginning with the "Registre Des Baptemes faits dans L'eglise de la Mission et dans la Paroisse de la Conception de Ne dame. Commencé le 18 Juin, 1719.” 

(Mason 1881)


Section Two beings a series of documents written on larger format paper, with lined margins. It is written in French, as are the remaining sections. The page numbers, however, carryover from the previous section, suggesting that they were added after Section One was bound or compiled with Section Two. This section contains six pages.


This section is titled “Register of Baptisms made in the Church of the Mission and in the Parish of the Conception of Notre Dame. Commencing June 18, 1719”. The document probably reflects a reorganization of baptismal records made in response to the formal creation of the parish, which also occurred in June of 1719. That reorganization brought with it new rules and requirements, and record-keeping in Kaskaskia may have responded to this change. 


Specifically, this section contains transcribed copies of baptismal records made between June of 1719 (when the parish was formed) through the spring of 1720. Some of the entries are out of chronological order, and the lack of witness signatures and general uniformity of the entries is reflective of a copy. While most of the baptisms were signed by Boullenger, the copyist of these document appears to have been De Beaubois based on the handwriting (McCafferty, personal communication 2022). De Beaubois also initiated Section Three. There is no way to assess how complete the record of baptisms in Section Two might have been, but it is a very early copy of what were surviving records dating to the first year of the Parish.


Section Three: De Beaubois’ Baptism Records 1720-1721


“And now another change takes place, and Kaskaskia is no longer in the pastoral care of a missionary or military chaplain, but has its regular parish priest. Father Nicholas Ignatius de Beaubois, who describes himself as “curé de cette Paroisse," signaling his accession by opening a new "Registre des Baptemes faits dans l'eglise Paroissiale de la Conception de Ne Dame des Cascaskias,” which he commences July 9, 1720. And this, perhaps, indicates the time of the substitution of a parish church for the earlier mission chapel. The entries preceding this date, made by Boullenger and Guymonneau are, as the manuscript plainly shows, copies, and not the original record…”

(Mason 1881)


This is apparently a register begun by De Beaubois in July of 1720. This section is written on similar margined paper as the proceeding. Section Three, however, contains some of the few first-generation registers predating 1722. This is indicated by witness signatures (in varying hands) along with occasional in-line or marginal corrections indicative of a working document. It also includes some older records (some signed by Boullenger) that De Beaubois copied into his register from loose-leaf papers. The entries span the period July 1720 through late 1721. Section Three is twelve pages long.


De Beaubois’ note regarding his copies reads:


“Everything read below is an official copy that I, N. Ig De Beaubois, S.J., priest at the parish of the Conception of Our Lady of the Kaskaskia, certify to be authentic and true to the original which I have removed for not being in order and because it was loose leaf and the present official copy has been signed by two witnesses who have verified the present with the original. De Beaubois S.J. July 25, 1720.”


Section Four: De Beaubois’ Death Records 1721-1727


"But next in order of time comes the Registre des Decedes dans la Paroisse de la Conception de Notre Dame des Cascaskias, Commencé le 4e de Fanvier 1721, which begins with "the death in the parish on that day, at two hours after midnight, of Adrien Robillard, aged about forty-one years, an inhabitant of the parish…." 

"The record of the deaths occurring in the parish, between the termination of this register in 1727 and the commencement of the burial register opened in 1764, has disappeared…"

(Mason 1881)


This section is missing the heading transcribed by Mason, but does begin with the entry concerning the death of Robillard. The first page has no formal heading, and is recognized by a shift in pagination (returning to Page 1), a change in paper (the paper is no longer margined), and a shift from baptism to death records. These entries appear to be in the same hand as the previous section, probably that of De Beaubois. One entry is made by Boullenger. This section appears to be a first-generation record. It is nine pages long 


This section concludes with a notable entry:


“On the eighteenth of December, 1727 died Zebedeé Le Jeune Donné of the Reverend Jesuit Fathers, having received the sacraments, and was buried in the parish church, under the second bench from the middle. The same day were transferred from the old chapel to the said church the bodies of the Reverend Fathers Gabriel Marest and Jean Mermet, religious priests of the Company of Jesus, Missionaries to the Illinois, who died at the said mission.” 


Section Five: Marriage Records 1724-1729


“After the first burial register, and in the same book, is a portion of the first marriage register of the parish, which begins abruptly in 1724, with the nuptials of Antoine and Marie, slaves of the Reverend Fathers the Jesuits…”


“The last entry in this marriage record is under date of June 7th, 1729, and for a space of nearly twelve years, or until January 3d, 1741, there is no register of marriages in this parish extant, and the book containing the intervening entries has probably been destroyed.” 

(Mason 1881)


The section begins with the simple heading (probably added after the fact) “1724, 1725, 1726, 1727, 1728, 1729”. It consists of first-generation marriage records made by De Beaubois, Le Boullenger, and Tartarin. It includes original signatures by witnesses. The section concludes with a June 1729 marriage, and is eleven pages long.


After Section Five, the present volume at Belleville breaks with Mason’s narrative of the documents that were included his 1879 leather-bound compendium. Here, Mason refers to another volume, not included in the present overview: 


“On the day last mentioned [January 3, 1741] it begins again, with R. Tartarin as Curé, and from that time on it is kept in a folio volume of 220 pages, apparently containing a complete record of the marriages at Kaskaskia, from 1741 to 1835…. The register runs on without a break well into the present century…” (Mason 1881).


Section Six: Miscellaneous 1765-1819 Death Records


“In a smaller book, the Burial Register begins again with this statement, “The old register of persons deceased in the Parish of the Immaculate Conception of the Kaskaskias having been filled, I have continued to register in the old book of accounts, of which a large part was blank. The Register of Deaths commencing only at this leaf, the 8th day of September, 1764." Of the old register, thus referred to, which probably filled the gap from Dec. eighteenth, 1727, to September 8th, 1764, no trace can be discovered, and it is probably destroyed. One of the first entries in 1764, by Father Meurin...."

(Mason 1881)


This section begins with a badly damaged page that may have no connection to the pages that follow. It may bear the date 1748. The following pages appear to represent a death record initiated by Father Meurin as early as 1764, continued by Father Gibault after 1765, and others after 1780. The last entries date to 1819. This is likely an incomplete portion of a larger record.


Mason described these records as a continued in a “smaller book,” so it is unclear if these are copies, or if that smaller book was disassembled and stitched into the larger synthetic volume. In any case, the section represents over half of the Mason compendium and is 54 pages long.


Section Seven: Continuation of Death Records 1827 - 1834


Between Sections Six and Seven are four blank pages, and then the records of deaths are resumed. The first entry dates to 1827, and the final in this ten-page section dates to 1834.




The volume at Belleville is a synthetic compendium curated and bound by E.G. Mason in 1879. It represents many of the then-extant Parish records from Kaskaskia. First generation “originals” from the earliest decades of the French regime are few, but many of the copies date to the colonial period. The first five sections of the Mason compendium appear to represent the earliest surviving Mission and Parish records affiliated with the Church of the Immaculate Conception of Kaskaskia. The remaining two sections span the second half of the eighteenth century and extend into the nineteenth century. For the researcher, these must be collated with other marriage and death records contained in separate volumes, at least one of which is on file at Belleville.

References Cited


Eschmann, Reverend C. J.

1904    Kaskaskia Church Records. Transactions of the Illinois State Historical Society for the Year 1904. Phillips Brothers, Springfield, Illinois.


Mason, Edward G.

1881     Illinois in the Eighteenth Century: Three Papers Read Before the Chicago Historical Society. Fergus Historical Series Number 12. Fergus Printing Company, Chicago.


Palm, Mary Borgias

1931     The Jesuit Missions of the Illinois Country 1673-1763. Ph.D. Dissertation, St. Louis University. The Sisters of Notre Dame,  Cleveland.

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