I had contacted the Catholic Church nearest the O'Hara family home to try to find the family's sacramental records, and was rewarded with only one: Mary's older sister Malinda was baptized in April 1905. They couldn't find any of the others.
I contacted the same Catholic Church, on a different occasion, to request sacramental records for my Quinn family, who also lived nearby, and was told that, despite a search, there were no sacramental records for any of them. "Must have attended a different parish," I thought. "They don't call Brooklyn the 'Borough of Churches' for nothing." But during a recent visit to my great-uncle's home, he was able to show me a copy of the baptismal certificate of my great-grandmother, Molly Quinn. She was baptized March 28, 1897 at that very church.
Anna Mary Quinn
28 March 1897
Using second-hand church records that are closed to the public is a dicey proposition, but I think we have to do it anyway. There are other avenues for some of the information on some of the records (parents' names are on birth certificates, but in NYC births were only unreliably registered prior to about 1900), but others - like godparents - are exclusively available from baptismal records. What is essential to understand - and what I didn't realize before - is that they can be positive evidence when they're found (Malinda O'Hara's godmother was Malinda McGlone, as recorded on her baptismal certificate), but never negative evidence when they're not (The lack of a baptismal record for Mary O'Hara suggests that the O'Haras moved or changed parishes between 1905 and 1908).
What is your experience with contacting churches for records not available for public use?