Sarah Walters

Counting Souls: parish registers for historical demography in Africa

Abstract: Parish registers exist throughout Christian Africa, representing a promising source for historical demography in this data-poor region. Registers have been collected from the oldest Catholic parishes in Malawi, Tanzania, Uganda and Zambia, including half a million events dating from 1880-present. In this paper, I reflect on how the methods of European historical demography need to be adapted for this missionary and youthful church context. I describe the challenges of censoring and selection, and show how understanding the influence of the church on the moral organisation of reproduction – and vice versa – is integral to the statistical analysis of the quantitative data.