I was looking through Catholic baptismal records, while doing genealogy, when I realized that I didn't know what the purpose of godparents is. What is their purpose? Why are they recorded? Are the godparents held accountable for anything?
A good explanatation is given in "The Role of Godparents" by Fr. William Saunders
As per Code of Canon Law 872 - 874 the rules are as below:
Can.872 Insofar as possible, a person to be baptized is to be given a sponsor who assists an adult in Christian initiation or together with the parents presents an infant for baptism. A sponsor also helps the baptized person to lead a Christian life in keeping with baptism and to fulfill faithfully the obligations inherent in it.
Can.873 There is to be only one male sponsor or one female sponsor or one of each.
Can.874 §1. To be permitted to take on the function of sponsor a person must:
Be designated by the one to be baptized, by the parents or the person who takes their place, or in their absence by the pastor or minister and have the aptitude and intention of fulfilling this function;
Have completed the sixteenth year of age, unless the diocesan bishop has established another age, or the pastor or minister has granted an exception for a just cause;
Be a Catholic who has been confirmed and has already received the most holy sacrament of the Eucharist and who leads a life of faith in keeping with the function to be taken on;
Not be bound by any canonical penalty legitimately imposed or declared;
Not be the father or mother of the one to be baptized.
So the primary purpose is to take care of the Catholic faith formation, and it does not hold them accountable to taking care of the child in the future.
In times of old, it was not uncommon for the parents of a child to die, leaving no relatives behind. In such a case, who would get the child? Perhaps the church, if parents where part of it, or the child would be on its own. Thus, I think god parenting came out of need for the child. It is called compassion.