Understanding Spanish-period baptismal records

HISTORY MATTERS - Todd Sales Lucero - The Freeman

The National Historical Commission of the Philippines (NHCP) recently changed the birth date of national hero and renowned painter Juan Luna to October 25 from the previously accepted October 24. The change was based on Juan Luna’s baptismal record, which states that Luna was ‘tres dias nacido’ or three days old when he was baptized on October 27, 1857. The NHCP believes this was the convention at that time where the date of birth was counted as day 1. With this logic, the NHCP automatically concluded that Luna being three days old when he was baptized on the 27th meant he was born on the 25th.

However, the NHCP should not have been too hasty in concluding this. Perhaps unknown to the NHCP, it was not the common practice at the time that the date of birth was counted as the child’s day 1. Many records from Spain and Europe indicate that day 1 started a day after birth, although many parishes also counted the birth date as day 1. In the Philippines, some towns counted the birthday as day 1 while others counted after. So, contrary to what the NHCP believes, there was no such thing as a “standard” in identifying the birth date based on baptismal date alone. Different parishes throughout the Philippines during the Spanish period interpreted this differently.

Let’s use another national hero to illustrate this. We know that Andres Bonifacio’s birthday is on November 30, but based on references to his baptismal record (Tondo’s records are no longer available but we have references to the record from early biographies) he was three days old when he was baptized on December 2, which tallies with the NHCP’s logic in interpreting baptismal records. However, while church authorities in the Spanish period provided parish priests and their scribes with guidelines in recording births and other events, many friars still interpreted these rules in their own way, thus the differences in accounting for a child’s birth date.

Here are some examples to help us understand this further. The baptismal record of my great-grandfather, Isidro Lucero, who was born in Argao, Cebu, indicate he was baptized on May 16 and also states clearly that he was ‘nacio el dia quince de Mayo’, which means ‘born on the 15th of May’. This is, of course, what we all want to see in baptismal records: the dates of baptism and birth stated clearly. Unfortunately, this was not always the case, and most just give how many days a child was when baptized.

The baptismal record of Mariano Marcos, father of former president Ferdinand E. Marcos and grandfather of current president Ferdinand R. Marcos, Jr., indicates that he was a day old when he was baptized on April 22. Mariano Marcos’s birthday was on April 21, 1897, so in this case day 1 was a day after his birth. Former president Diosdado P. Macapagal’s baptismal record shows that he was baptized on October 12 and was 15 days old during baptism. His birthday was September 28, 1910, and here we see the difference from the previous record of Mariano Marcos. If we deduct 15 days from October 12, we get September 27 and not September 28th as his birth date is supposed to be, so this means that in Lubao, day 1 was on the actual day of birth.

So, what does this mean? This tells us that during the Spanish period, parishes did not always have the same standard in recording a child’s birth date. Some, like Argao, indicated both the date of baptism and birth. In places like Batac, the birth date was the baptism date less the number of days old when he was baptized. Then, in other towns like Lubao and Tondo, the birth date was day one. Thus, the only way to determine a parish’s standard is to carefully go through all the records.

So, no, there was no one single way of determining a person’s birth date from Spanish-period records. In the case of Juan Luna, the NHCP should carefully go through all the baptisms in the 1850s to see what the convention truly was in Badoc, Ilocos Norte.

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