Prior to 1864, the only source for births, marriages and deaths in Ulster are parish registers. The population of Ulster was made up of Anglican, Presbyterian, Methodist and Roman Catholic communities. It is important to identify your family religion before you start your search (see Top Tip).
Some Methodist and Presbyterian congregations used their local Church of Ireland for baptisms and marriages, so make sure you include those registers in your search. Methodist and Presbyterian congregations were not organised by parish. The congregation that your ancestor attended may have been in a neighbouring parish. The 1837 Ordnance Survey of Ireland maps found at osi.ie illustrate the location of churches and meeting houses and parish boundaries and are a great way to identify the church most local to your ancestor’s address.
Parish registers are hand-written and can be difficult to read. Protestant congregations usually didn’t record the mother’s maiden name at baptism whereas Roman Catholic registers did.
There is an excellent guide to church records published online by PRONI ( www. proni.gov.uk/guide_to_church_ records.pdf), which describes the types of records generated by each denomination and lists surviving registers for each parish. The majority of Roman Catholic and Church of Ireland records are available online as transcripts at rootsireland.ie but check their source list to make sure they have the records you want. Many Presbyterian and Methodist records are only available on microfilm at PRONI. Roman Catholic parish registers for Ulster can also be freely viewed online at the National Library of Ireland ( registers.nli.ie).