There are four Irish Civil Registration databases available on FamilySearch.org. In part one of this article, we reviewed each of these databases (to view part 1, click Part One). Here are some tips on how to search these databases to find your ancestors.
Names. Names have many variations, and the search on FamilySearch does not always pick them up. Go to a site like www.irishtimes.com/ancestor and fill in your surname. This website will give you some common spelling variations of your surname that you should use when searching on FamilySearch (or any site for that matter). Also note that O’ and Mc’ prefixes can be added or dropped, so try both ways.
Dates. There are several reasons why it pays to be flexible with dates. Even when you think you know how old someone was because you have a record that gives the age, such as a U.S. census record, people often did not know how old they were. This is particularly true of the Irish. I have found the average Irish man or woman thought they were two years younger than they really were.
One out of three Irish parents changed their child’s birth date in order to avoid paying a fine for late registration, so don’t go by the exact birth date. If the names and relationships match, that is more important than the date or place matching.
Places. A challenge peculiar to these databases on FamilySearch is that usually the exact townland was not indexed, only the registration district or the registration sub-district, which most people are not familiar with. A registration district incorporated a number of parishes and was called by the name of the largest town in the district. Therefore, you may not recognize the name of the registration district as being correct because it is not the name of the place you are familiar with.
Registration districts crossed county boundaries as well. You can go to a site such as www.seanruad.com to ascertain which registration district (also called Poor Law Union) your townland or parish belonged to. However, it is often best to begin your search with just the name of the county. The fourth database is an exception: search on the name of the registration district.
Sometimes the name of the county has been abbreviated on FamilySearch, other times the name of the county was not indexed at all (the place recorded for the event as just “Ireland”). That is why it is important to look beyond the first page of results, to try searching with just names and no place at all, and to try different combinations of search terms.
For more information on Irish civil registration, see the Ireland Civil Registration article in the FamilySearch Research Wiki.
FamilySearch offers free online classes on a variety of research topics, including one on Irish civil registration. You can view these classes on FamilySearch.org by clicking on “Learn” and then, under “Research Courses,” clicking on “View the Courses.”
So, take the names of your 19th and 20th century Irish ancestors and give them a whirl on FamilySearch.org. Just make sure you know enough about them so that you know they are your ancestor and not someone else with the same name and birth year!
(A fuller version of this article appears in the April 2011 issue of The Septs, the Journal of the Irish Genealogical Society International.)