Ir­ish parish reg­is­ters

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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.

Mar­riage reg­is­ters

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

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