Before you start your research in Irish church records, you must know the name of the place (town or village) where your ancestor lived and their religion. Parish registers were collected and remain at a local level, so knowing these vital pieces of information is crucial.
Irish Church Registers
For the period prior to 1864 church registers are the only records available of most births, deaths and marriages (and sometimes burials). The parish priest normally holds the original bound volumes of the parish registers. It is important to bear in mind that the creation of new Catholic parishes in the 19th century can sometimes mean that registers relevant to a particular area may be divided between two parishes. Helpfully the National Library of Ireland website includes details of the variant names of the parish too and this lessens confusion.
Irish Roman Catholic Genealogical records
Because the Church of Ireland was the state church in Ireland between 1537 and 1870, record-keeping during this period was difficult for the Catholic Church, meaning few records survive from before the latter half of the 18th century. Early records tend to be found in the more prosperous and Anglicized areas such as the towns and cities in the east of Ireland. Some fragmented Catholic records survive for areas such as Galway and Waterford city (1680s) and Wexford town (1671). Some urban registers date back to the mid-1700s (St Mary's in Limerick City (1745), or St Catherine's in Dublin (1740), for example). Other smaller parishes managed to keep their Roman Catholic baptism and marriage registers more or less intact from the early days (for example Wicklow (1747), Nobber in Co. Meath (1754) and Kilkerley in Co. Louth (1752)).
In the west and north of the country where emigration was high and had the poorest and most densely populated areas, the records often only begin in the mid or late 19th century. In general, however, the majority of registers begin in the early 19th century. Roman Catholic baptism, marriage and burial registers, unlike so many of their Church of Ireland counterparts, were not damaged in the 1922 fire.
Access to many of the digitised originals of these records can be found at http://registers.nli.ie
The catalogue held by the National Library of Ireland is the only complete, printed account of Catholic registers. It details the period covered by each set of registers, including gaps, up to 1880. The Church of Latter Day Saints (LDS) also possesses useful microfilmed collections. PRONI has copies of most Catholic baptism, marriage and burial registers covering the counties of Ulster province. Be warned though, many of the Catholic registers contain spelling errors, especially of place names, and some are not complete. The information contained in them can be hit and miss.
Baptismal records - Roman Catholic baptismal records usually include:
- Child’s name
- Father’s name
- Mother’s name
- Names of sponsors (godparents)
Marriage records - Roman Catholic marriage records usually include:
- Names of the couple getting married
- Names of witnesses
Information might also include:
- Residences (all four: couple and two witnesses)
- Fathers’ names
Relationships of the witnessed to the people getting married might be included, though this is much less common.
Where to find the Roman Catholic records - Roman Catholic Church registers were microfilmed in the 1950s and 1960s by the National Library of Ireland. 1066 of the 1153 registers were microfilmed. Since 2015, these registers can be accessed freely online through the National Library of Ireland's microsite Catholic Registers at the NLI.
IrelandXO Member tip: The map at the bottom of the home page Catholic Parish Registers at the NLI can be switched between Dioceses and Counties. This is often helpful to look at especially when the RC Diocese crosses County boundaries.
The Public Records of Northern Ireland (PRONI) carried out its own microfilming project. The records are the same as those held by the National Library of Ireland, but some records are later in date.
The Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter-Day Saints (also known as the Mormons) has an extensive collection of microfilmed parish registers. It holds 398 of the 1,153 parishes in the country. See www.Familysearch.org to access these records.
There are many websites which offer access to the records. Irish Genealogy (http://www.irishgenealogy.ie/) offers free access to some records, but not all. The project is on-going. Other centres such as the Irish Family History Foundation (http://www.rootsireland.ie/) offer access to the church records, but this is by paid access.
Transcripts and some images of Roman Catholic and Church of Ireland parochial registers of baptisms, marriages and burials for the pre-1900 period are currently being uploaded free of charge http://www.irishgenealogy.ie/
Church of Ireland Genealogical records
Members of the Church of Ireland were almost always a small minority of the total population. The records of each parish are proportionally less extensive than Catholic records, covering a smaller area, and are relatively easy to search in detail. Church of Ireland records (or what was then the Established Church), start much earlier than Roman Catholic records. These can begin from 1634 (now mainly found in urban areas), when they started keeping record of christenings and burials in registers. The majority of the records start from between 1770 and 1820.
PIcture: Church of Saint Thomas Inismore Aran Islande Circa 1900
Church of Ireland baptismal records usually show only:
- The name of the child
- The name of the father
- The mother’s Christian name
- The name of the clergyman
The address can sometimes be included. The father’s occupation is also included from about 1820.
Marriage records - Church of Ireland was the Established Church in Ireland. Recognition, was however, given to marriages from other denominations. This mean that marriages from other Protestant churches are recorded in some Church of Ireland registers. The information from these may only include the names of the couple and the name of the clergyman. From 1845, when marriages (not including Roman Catholic) were registered by the State, the information found in the marriage records, reflect those in the State records. This includes information such as, addresses, fathers’ name as well as occupations. More information may be found in Church of Ireland marriage banns and Marriage Licence Bonds. These Bonds (where money was lodged with the diocese in order to ensure the Church against there being an obstacle to marriage) were destroyed in 1922. The original indexes can be found at the National Archives of Ireland. The Genealogical Office hold abstracts of Prerogative Marriage Licence Bonds from 1630 to 1858 (GO 606-607).
Burial records - Church of Ireland usually recorded burials. The information included the name, age and townland. These registers can be of interest to other denominations. Their value comes from the fact that they can be only evidence which show preceding generations. This is because early burials often record the deaths of people born before the beginning of the register.
Where to find records - Church of Ireland parish registers for the period up to 1870 are public records. Registers are available for about one third of the parishes, however many were destroyed in the Public Records Office in Dublin in 1922. When the Church of Ireland was no longer the Established Church in Ireland in 1869, its records became property of the State. These included pre-1845 marriage records and pre-1870 baptismal and burial records. These were deposited at the Public Records Office, unless the clergyman could guarantee a place of safety for them. More than half of the total registers for the country (nearly 1,000 parishes) were stored at the Public Records Office ﾖ these were destroyed in 1922. Most surviving records are still held by the local clergy, although some are in the National Archives of Ireland and others are in the Representative Church Body Library in Dublin. Lists of these surviving registers can also be found at the National Library of Ireland.
The National Archives of Ireland has other useful documents for those searching Church of Ireland records. Among them include A Table of Church of Ireland Parochial Records and Copies by Noel Reid (Naas, 1994) with an Addendum of 2001. This contains a list of all Church of Ireland parish registers which show whether they survive and where they might be held. The names and addresses of the clergy are in the annual Church of Ireland Directory.
One thing to be aware of: Like census and civil records, it is necessary to be aware of recorded ages. It is best to check the age plus/minus five years. There are many variants of some surnames, and the researcher must take all possibilities into consideration. It is also advisable to keep a record of the exact period being searched, especially if searching multiple parishes
Most parish registers consist of baptismal and marriage records. These were recorded in either Latin or English. See our short Latin Lesson for some tips. This is a short list of the more unusual Latin names and their English equivalent:
Irish Presbyterian Genealogical Records
The Presbyterian Church records in Ireland are available although there are very few registers before 1820, and for those registers that do exist, many of them have gaps. The lack or registers is due to the fact that the Penal Laws affected the registration of marriages and burials in Ireland when the Church of Ireland was the Established church. This required that any marriage and/or burial in Ireland had to have a Church of Ireland official officiating and as a result, many marriages and burials of Presbyterians that took place may be contained in their local Church of Ireland registers.
Baptism registers do exist although they are less common. The Public Records Office of Northern Ireland has microfilmed nearly all of these registers and they are available to view at their offices. See PRONI for further information.
The Presbyterian Historical Society also holds some registers, and they can be contacted via their website at: www.presbyterianhistoryireland.com.
In addition, Roots Ireland also holds transcriptions of some registers and they can be contacted through the local Family History Centres around the country.
Find out more about the difference between civil and church parishes: IrelandXO Insight - Parishes Explained
READ MORE Irish Naming and Baptism Traditions
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