Monday, 25 October, 2021
Share This:

Did your Irish ancestor marry in Ireland? If so, the clues hidden in Irish marriage records can unlock the door to your deepest Irish roots. Found a marriage record that presents more questions than answers? Discover how to interpret them, what's hidden in the detail, and more in this handy guide. 

Ten FAQs about Irish Marriage Records

Of all the records we might hope to see on our Irish family history quest, a glimpse at the marriage of both ancestors probably tops the list. For your family timeline, this key date not only defines the generation that followed but opens the door to discovering more about where they came from.

Marriage records in Ireland are a highly valuable genealogical resource. While Catholic and Protestant marriage in Ireland shared early Christian teachings on the sacrament of marriage the following differences in record-keeping should be noted:

  • Record-keeping of Roman Catholic marriages was banned until Penal Laws relaxed in the late 18th-Century. Catholic marriage records only date back to the late 1700s for larger towns and cities. For rural and poorer Catholic parishes, records only began in the 19th century (as late as the 1850s in the west of Ireland). 

  • The Anglican church was officially recognised as the Church of Ireland (COI) from 1580–1869. In 1876, the C of I was ordered by law to store its parish registers in the Public Record Office, Dublin (PRO). Not all parishes had complied with this order when the PRO went up in flames in 1922. So, one-third of COI parish registers, held locally, still survive today. 

  • During Penal times land-owning Catholics converted to the Church of Ireland (to protect their interests) and may have reverted to Catholicism in the 19th century once these laws relaxed (so look both ways); 

  • To see what records have survived for a specific parish, for which period, and where to find them, check out: John Grenham's Placename Index 

Whether you are just getting started or finding a record hard to decipher, this guide covers the most frequently asked questions and more. 


FAQ#1 How far back do marriage records go in Ireland? 

Compulsory civil registration of marriages in Ireland started on 1 January 1864. While the registration of non-Roman Catholic marriages began earlier, the full registration system only came into operation in 1864.

  • Church of Ireland, Presbyterian, and Jewish marriages have been civilly registered since 1845

  • Marriage records older than 75 years can be searched for free online.

  • READ MORE Irish Civil Records

Prior to 1864, church records are virtually the only direct source of records

  • marriages were recorded in parish registers

  • Catholic parish registers date back to the early 19th-century (with some exceptions)

  • many parish registers have been lost, destroyed, or are missing for other reasons.

You may need to refer to local records and archives as well as national sources. To learn what's available in your ancestral parish or county...

ASK OUR Volunteer Message Board


FAQ#2 What can Irish marriage records tell me? 

Marriage records in Ireland differ somewhat from what we may be used to overseas. How much information you can glean from them will depend on the type of record and the period it was recorded in. In Irish genealogy, the two main types of marriage record are:

Early Church Records 

Parish registers may be the only evidence of a couple's existence in 19th-century Ireland. Best used in tandem with the baptism records of a couple's offspring, the information within parish marriage records will be limited to:

  • the date of the marriage ceremony
  • the maiden name of the bride
  • the witnesses (likely siblings and siblings in law)
  • the parish of the groom (when different from the bride)
  • the stipend paid to the priest can hint at financial standing (compared to what others were paying)

if lucky 

  • address (rare in earlier records)
  • possible neighbors (marriages sharing the same date before Advent or Lent, would suggest a collective wedding in a central townland).

Civil Marriage Records in Ireland contain far more clues for the family historian, but only for ancestors who wed after 1864.*

  • address at the time of marriage (hopefully the family home, but not necessarily so if the occupation is "servant")
  • the fathers' names
  • whether the father was living or deceased (which can narrow down a death record search)
  • whether the couple were of full age* or minors (age was not recorded)
  • the venue in which the marriage took place (usually the bride's parish church)
  • the witnesses (usually relatives)
  • the celebrant (priest, minister etc)

Got a question about an Irish marriage record? Finding a record or entry hard to decipher?  We're here to help.

ASK OUR Local Volunteer Message Board


FAQ#3 How do I find civil marriage records in Ireland?

Old Irish civil records are now easily accessible online. SEE Irish Civil Records FREE Online

  • A 75-year (data protection) rule applies to marriage records online. 

  • For original certificates and more recent marriage records (less than 75 years), one must apply directly to the relevant General Register Office. 

Civil Records 

In order to narrow your search, it helps to know which Civil Registration District Office(s) applied to your ancestor and our volunteers are waiting to point you in the right direction. 

ASK OUR Local Volunteer Message Board


FAQ#4 How do I find church marriage records in Ireland?

Most surviving Irish parish registers have been immortalized on micro-film images. To help you navigate them (and avoid endless scrolling) well-transcribed databases are a must-have, and here are two of our favourites:

  • FamilySearch Ireland Marriages 1619-1898 (FREE) is highly recommended as you get started, to help you narrow down possible dates and parishes. 

  • RootsIreland (PAID) has the most extensive and easily searchable database of Irish church records anywhere online. One of its most powerful tools is the ability to search for your ancestor's name in other roles (e.g. as a parent, witness, or godparent).

Church Parish Registers  

To learn what's available in your ancestral parish or county...

ASK OUR Volunteer Message Board


FAQ#5 How do I read old handwriting? 

Old handwritten records can be tricky to read, especially when that vital clue seems illegible. Technology is here to help with transcriptions.

Catholic Marriages (in rural Ireland especially) were recorded in Latin and this too can present additional challenges in deciphering an entry. 

The "Italian" in the family

Some Catholic priests recorded the first names of all parties in Latin. As many traditional Gaelic given names didn't have an official Latin or "Christian" equivalent, each priest had his own creative way of addressing that challenge.  SEE Old Irish First Names & Aliases

In both cases, it helps to ask a local volunteer who is familiar with the local record sets and names. For help deciphering old handwriting in Irish records ... 

ASK OUR Volunteer Message Board


FAQ#6 What does "consanguinati" mean

Consanguinity & Kin: From 1835 marriage between kin (in-laws) was made void by law. Catholic dispensation sometimes ignored the laws of the land, and such marriages in violations of this Act made the children "illegitimate". 

The Latin term consanguinati on a marriage record indicated that the couple was blood-related (for which a special dispensation was required by the church). In those instances, the degree of kinship was also noted:

  • in tertius grado: second cousins

  • in secundus grado: first cousins

Other Latin terms common to Irish marriage records: 

  • viduus/vidua = widower/ widow; 

  • solus/sola = single (also coelebis / coeleba lit. celitate)

  • afinitatus = related through an earlier marriage of the two families.

  • matrimonium/copulatio/ copulati/ conjuncti = marriage

  • banni/proclamationes/denuntiationes = marriage banns


FAQ#7 What does "full age" mean?

Irish marriage certificates listed the ages of both the bride and groom as either "full age" or "minor".

A person of "full age" (having reached the "age of majority")* is legally an adult.

A  “minor” needed the consent of a parent/ guardian to legally wed. 

"Full age" on old Irish marriage certificates meant age 21 or older.  "Minor" means under 21 years.

*In 1972, the age of majority in Ireland was reduced from 21 to 18 years.


FAQ#8 What was the minimum age for marriage in 19th century Ireland? 

As the age of the bride and groom was not recorded, confusion often follows when other vital records don't match up: 

In many cases, we start out with an idea of an ancestor's age from a census or death record overseas then find a possible marriage record in Ireland, but the wedding date suggests your ancestor would have been 14 years old. Was that possible? How do I prove or disprove that?  

The age may not have been reported accurately in census and death records, so it helps to cross-reference birth/baptism records where possible. 

While there was no statutory minimum age in Ireland (prior to the 1972 Marriages Bill) women in Ireland did not marry before they were capable of bearing children.

  • Common law held the minimum age for marriage (irrespective of belief) to be 14 for boys and 12 for girls (but the consent of a parent/guardian was required for anyone under 21). The marriage of Protestants and Jews were governed by Common Law.  

  • Canon law set no minimum but a bishop had to approve any marriage where the groom was under 16 or the bride was under 14. Catholic marriage followed Canon Law.

  • Youth marriage was more frequent in the western counties in rural districts (country villages and towns with less than 2000 inhabitants). 

  • Between 1961 and 1963, for example, 129 marriages had involved 14- or 15-year-olds, and 25 babies had been born to 13- or 14-year-old girls. SOURCE)  

To make an educated guess, understanding the structure of Irish rural society before and after the Great Famine (1845-51) is key. The aftershock of the Famine changed the traditional age of marriage dramatically. 

Before 1845, early marriage was the norm (average age 18).

  • In rural Ireland, a good-sized potato plot (with a house thrown up overnight by the neighbours) could support a growing family;

  • Daughters and sons of Catholic tenant farmers came into an equal share of the family plot as soon as they married;

  • Matchmaking existed pre-famine among substantial framers and those with a reputation to keep. 

  • The tradition of "the eldest son inherits the land" was the reserve of the property-owning class;

  • About 10% of adults never married;

  • Marriage among the depressed and landless in rural Ireland was younger, yet the 1841 census shows and no trace of teenage brides. 

After 1850 marriage age was considerably older (brides age 20+, grooms age 30+)

  • marriage was willfully postponed until means allowed (e.g. a well-matched dowry or farm inheritance). 

  • the family farm was not passed on to the next generation until a parent died (or retired);

  • the incoming marriage dowry provided cash for other siblings (dowries/emigration/additional land/ business in town).

  • the shock of potato failure brought an end to sub-division so a dowry was needed

  • without land to his name, the chosen son had to delay marriage until his inheritance came in.  (In Ireland, an unmarried man was called a "boy" regardless of age).

  • to avoid emigration, celibacy grew in importance (unmarried daughters spinning at home, unmarried sons on the farms recorded as labourers) spreading to the west and the south

  • About 25% of adults never married. 

  • Those who "married out" (mixed marriages) tended to be younger than those who waited. 


FAQ#9 How do I work out the year of marriage? 

Most of us researching 19th-century Irish ancestors start out not knowing what year they were when they married in Ireland. To narrow down your window of research, an approximate year of marriage can be worked out by making an educated guess from: 

  • census records (age of the eldest child) or

  • baptism records (working back from age of the youngest child)

  • On average, an Irish woman could have borne children between the age of 15-45. Although food conditions often influenced fertility, more children were born per year of marriage where the education/occupational level of the parents was lower.

When a marriage took place pre-1864, how can we guesstimate when a parish register is riddled with gaps and omissions?

Whatever the way the records turn up, anecdotal evidence can inform how you proceed, depending on the period of research:

Before the Great Irish Famine

  • The groom was usually age 22 when he married (a little older if educated first);

  • The bride usually married at age 18 (age 16 if the family urgently needed a man to come in and help out, e.g. her mother was widowed);

  • The marriage took place in her home parish (the poorer the couple the more likely he was a neighbour) where she usually resided; a servant maid residing in her master's house in another parish she could request special permission. 

  • If the groom came from an outside parish, only the parish name (not the townland) was recorded as his address;

  • The witnesses lived locally and were likely to have been the relatives who were involved in making the match or introduction;

  • The couple's baptism window was 28 years and with 14+ pregnancies on average;

  • For the first 5 years of their marriage, a new baby could have been born annually;

  • After that, a child was born every two years (every 2-3 years towards the end); 

  • The godparents were siblings and siblings-in-law (in the case of small tenant farmers);

  • Baptisms took place in the family home, and usually within 3 days of birth;

  • The priest would have celebrated with the family and, in his state of inebriation, may not have recorded the mother's name correctly (e.g. mixing it up with the godmother) upon his return; 

  • If either was widowed with young children, they remarried quickly (after the 12-month mourning period). 

After the Great Irish Famine

  • The groom was significantly older. He could not wed without land to his name (and remained a "labourer" on the family farm until a parent died).

  • He was typically the youngest son, tasked with minding his ageing parents – the older siblings having emigrated (to send money home);

  • Having inherited the family farm, and now officially a "farmer" a young wife (half his age) with a matching dowry was sought out. 

  • The bride married age 20, the marriage took place in her home parish and matches were made from a greater distance (which could cross a county boundary). Matches were very often made at the fairs, so one should encircle the nearest market town and consider all directions;

  • The marriage witnesses were more likely to be close first cousins (one from each side). A priest who was a relative was also preferred; 

  • The couple's baptism window averaged 25 years. She went home to have her first babies (so they may be found registered in her ancestral parish, and not the one they were raised in);

  • A new child was born every two years (petering off to every three years towards the end);  

  • A Catholic mother could not attend mass after giving birth until she was "churched" (cleansed of sin) in the back sacristy;

  • Baptisms took place in the local church, records were better kept and included the address;

  • The godparents were close neighbours (siblings and siblings-in-law where possible, although emigration began to take its toll). If godparent choices appear to favour one side of the family, look beyond the parish for the other parent's family; 

  • If he was widowed with young children, he remarried quickly (after the 12-month mourning period). She, on the other hand, may have just had to manage.


FAQ#10 What hidden clues can I find in Irish marriage records? 

The Witnesses

A female witness was always recorded under her maiden name (regardless of marital status). Before the famine, the witnesses were likely to be siblings and siblings-in-law.

The Stipend

Catholic priests often recorded the "stipend" paid to the priest in the righthand column of the marriage register. A stipend of 0/0 is a tell-tale sign that the parent(s) were poverty-stricken and "pauper" was sometimes noted on the record. The rapid flight of the peasantry overseas following the Great Famine affected the income of Catholic priests, so fees were raised after the 1850s.  

Banns & Licences

Banns (the announcement of a couple's intention to marry) were used by all Christian churches in Ireland as a way of preventing an illicit marriage.

  • A banns (or bans) record indicates the parish was the home parish of the bride or groom.

  • A marriage licence (granted on the payment of a fee) allowed the couple to marry in a church that was not their home parish. 

People wishing to obtain a license to marry without having banns called were required to enter into a bond with the bishop of the diocese. Marriage licences (granted by the ecclesiastical courts of the Church of Ireland) survived the Public Record Office explosion of 1922 and record Protestant marriages from 1623 – 1886. 


Who were your Irish ancestors? Share their marriage details to their home parish and county to discover more...


Early footage of an Irish Wedding

1922 Wedding of Sean Mac Eoin


RECOMMENDED READING


We hope you have found the information we have shared helpful. While you are here, we have a small favour to ask. Ireland Reaching Out is a non-profit organisation that relies on public funding and donations to ensure a completely free family history advisory service to anyone of Irish heritage who needs help connecting with their Irish place of origin. If you would like to support our mission, please click on the donate button and make a contribution. Any amount, big or small, is appreciated and makes a difference.