Irish parish registers
Find Catholic kin with FREE release
It was an historic day for Irish genealogy when the National Library of Ireland (NLI) published digital images of its entire parish register collection online in July. Previously, the only means by which a researcher could view the majority of these registers was on microfilm in the NLI or by visiting the parish in question.
As many parishes did not allow access to the original registers, the NLI was often the only place where copies of these records could be consulted. Now you can search for the baptism or marriage of your Irish ancestors at registers.nli.ie.
The population of 18th- and 19th-century Ireland was largely Roman Catholic, the majority of whom were generally farmers and labourers, although there was also a small, but wealthier, Catholic merchant class. Small farmers and labourers were not in possession of significant land or property and, as such, did not leave much of a paper trail.
In the absence of 19th-century census returns, the only source in which many of our Irish ancestors appear prior to the start of civil registration in 1864 are Roman Catholic parish registers.
Every part of Ireland, including Northern Ireland, falls within a Roman Catholic parish. It is important to bear in mind that Catholic parishes differ in boundaries and often in name from civil parishes. A census return or entry in Griffith’s Valuation will direct you to a civil parish, but you must translate this into the corresponding Roman Catholic parish before you start looking for surviving registers. You can find maps of civil parishes and Roman Catholic parishes, as well as a listing of what survives for each parish online, at irishtimes.com/ ancestor/placenames.
Survival dates for Roman Catholic registers vary from parish to parish. There are registers from Dublin, Limerick and Cork that start in the 1740s, although many are incomplete.
In some cases, registers for parishes in western counties like Mayo and Donegal don’t begin until the 1850s or 1860s.
Records that survive from the 18th and 19th centuries are baptism and marriage registers – very few parishes maintained burial records. The registers were usually handwritten in Latin but you don’t need to run off and find a Latin dictionary as it can be easy to decipher each entry. The year, month and date are obvious.
Each baptism entry usually starts with the name of the child, then the parents, including the maiden name of the mother, followed by the sponsors (godparents). In some cases, the address of the family is recorded in the right-hand margin. The month and the first names are written in Latin, but are
generally simple to translate and, of course, the surname is unchanged, which means that searching the register by surname can often be the most effective and efficient method.
Roman Catholic marriage registers are quite sparse in terms of information and generally only record the names of the bride, groom and the witnesses. When an address is recorded in the parish register it is often unclear to whom the address pertains. Marriages usually took place in the parish of the bride, so a church marriage record for your ancestor should lead you to a baptism record for the bride in the same parish.
The groom, however, may have come from elsewhere. From the 1860s in Dublin city, Roman Catholic parish marriage registers began to record both parents of the bride and groom, whether they were alive and where they were resident. This practice slowly spread across the country and was generally standard by the end of the 19th century. If you obtain a civil marriage certificate for your ancestor in Ireland but cannot locate their birth using just their father’s name, a copy of their church marriage record may tell you the name of your ancestor’s mother, which should help to progress your search.
Roman Catholic parish registers are available online in several different formats and on various websites. The largest indexed collection can be found on subscription site rootsireland. ie. This collection originated from databases created by heritage centres in each Irish county in the 1980s but is incomplete for the counties of Cork, Wexford, Monaghan, Clare, Dublin and Carlow, and does not hold any records for Kerry.
On the website, you can only view a transcription of the record and not a copy of the original and the collection is replete with errors and missing entries.
Registers for the counties of
Kerry, Dublin city and parts of Cork are found online at irishgenealogy.ie, a free government website that includes some, but not all, copies of the original registers.
On ancestry.co.uk and findmypast.ie (accessible to findmypast.co.uk users with a World subscription) you will find a small number of transcribed parish registers. Their collections are expected to rapidly expand as they index the images recently released by the NLI.
The NLI released digital images of the original registers, but these are not indexed and require manual research.
Roman Catholic parish registers are a vital genealogical resource and may be the only place where you will find evidence of your Irish kin.
You can trace your Irish kin using the new collection of Roman Catholic parish registers that has just been released online
Grafton Street, Dublin, in the 19th century – parish registers from Ireland’s capital date from the 1740s