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The original content for this article was contributed by The National Institute for Genealogical Studies in June 2012. It is an excerpt from their course Research: Irish Ancestor by Dr. Penelope Christensen. The Institute offers over 200 comprehensive genealogy courses for a fee ($).
Finding the Right Parish
Since civil registration for everyone in Ireland did not start until 1864 the only previous records of vital events took place in the parishes. In order to access christening, marriage and burial information in parish records the researcher needs to identify both the religious denomination and location of their ancestors.
The major denominations were Roman Catholic, Church of Ireland (Anglican) and Presbyterian and there are several smaller groups. The researcher should pursue family clues to establish which denomination is most likely. In addition, one needs to find the parish, or at least narrow down the area to a manageable number of parishes. This is done by extensive and efficient use of family information and other sources.
To find addresses do get all of the civil registration certificates for births, marriages and deaths for your direct ancestors. If stuck, then branch out and get those for other members of the family, making sure to use the inexpensive methods described in this course wherever possible.
Census and the several census substitutes can lead the researcher to the right parish. Are there any wills or obituaries, not just for ancestors but for other members of the family or their employers? Perhaps your grandmother was the last surviving sibling of her generation and nobody wrote an obituary. Her brother may have died much earlier and she may have provided information on the family's origins and emigration for a newspaper or church magazine obituary.
Was there a member of the family, not necessarily your ancestor, who served in the British Army? This was a very common avenue of employment for poor Irishmen. His discharge documents will give his exact age and date of enlistment, plus his parish and county of birth and many are available through FSCs, the rest by mail from the National Archives at Kew in London. At least some of his siblings are likely to have been born in the same village. Likewise did someone enter another service such as the British Police Force, Post Office or Royal Navy. Enlistment and pension records giving similar details are available on microfilm or by mail. The possibilities are only limited by your own imagination.
Some indexes to parish registers are available online, in print and some have been microfilmed by GSU and these can be found in the FHLC - PLACE SEARCH - IRELAND - COUNTY - VILLAGE/TOWN/PARISH - CHURCH RECORDS - INDEXES.
The Irish Heritage Centres are in the process of indexing all the extant parish registers, as well as many other key genealogical sources. There is a fee to use their services, but it will be worth your while to start you off in the right parish. In addition the local Family History Societies in Ireland welcome your enquiries, as many have useful indexes and publications.
Even if your ancestors were not Episcopalian do check the Church of Ireland registers because complex laws made attendance compulsory as explained briefly below. If the registers you need do not seem to be available on film then write to the parish priest or vicar for details of a specific event. It is wise to remember that many are very busy and some have more enthusiasm for genealogy than others – but some researchers have had wonderful success with this method. There may be a standard charge, but in any case a donation to church funds should be offered.
Church of Ireland (Anglican)
The Church of Ireland, (the Established, Protestant, Anglican or Episcopalian church), had the allegiance of a small minority of the population. However, it was the established church of the country prior to 1871 and its boundaries were those used by the state for censuses, taxation and land surveying i.e. the civil parishes. Maps of Church of Ireland Dioceses and civil parishes can be found in both Ryan and Mitchell’s texts. There were far more Church of Ireland parishes than Catholic ones, but the great majority of the population was, of course, Catholic. This meant that Church of Ireland parishes were smaller in area as well as far smaller in membership, which has led to smaller, well-kept and better-preserved registers.
Many, particularly urban, Church of Ireland (C of I) registers have survived from the middle 1600s, but the majority commence somewhere between 1770 and 1820. Of the approximately 1,600 original C of I parish registers about 1,000 had been deposited in the PROI (Public Record Office of Ireland) located in the Four Courts Building in Dublin by 1922. In addition the parochial returns, which were extracts similar to bishops transcripts in England, were also deposited there. During the troubles that year these, together with census returns, probate materials and countless other precious documents were destroyed by fire and explosion.
Fortunately many parishes had proper safes in their vestries and were able to retain their records, and many others made copies of their registers before depositing. In addition other transcripts and extracts of some have been found in the intervening years. Nevertheless a huge deficit in C of I parish records exists. Finding the location of all these surviving originals and transcripts in Ireland itself is fraught with problems. For the researcher using a FamilySearch Center, life is much simpler. They are indexed according to the geography of their origin, not their present location.
Church of Ireland registers contain christening, marriage and burial sections, and often also include vestry books. These are the minutes of the early parish council and can contain much detailed information on the everyday life of parishioners. It is important to recognize that since the Church of Ireland was the Established Church, it was the only place where legally valid marriages could be performed. Although marriages by other denominations were often recognized in practice, this status did persuade many of other faiths to marry, and indeed be christened and buried, in the C of I. You may find a Catholic marriage is followed by a C of I one to ensure adherence to both faith and law. The Church of Ireland records are vital for families of all denominations as they were often the only place to go – for example the Presbyterians were not allowed to have their own burial grounds until 1868.
Roman Catholic Church
The Catholic Church had entirely different diocesan and parish boundaries, and each parish was larger both in area and in population and may overlap county boundaries. A source of confusion is that many Roman Catholic parishes are known by more than one name. Maps are provided by both Grenham and Mitchell and Grenham most helpfully lists all the alternative parish names. Many such parishes had several out-churches or chapels of ease. This has resulted in huge registers for the genealogist to wade through, coupled with poorer record-keeping and preservation.
Historically the Catholic Church of the majority of the population was hugely discriminated against from the 16th to the 19th centuries. Record-keeping suffered immensely and the researcher is shocked to find that very few Catholic registers survive from before the late 18th century. Generally speaking the towns and anglicized east have earlier-surviving records. The western and northern counties were the poorest, hence contributing most to the mass emigration to the Antipodes and North America. Their church registers were the least well-kept and preserved; many of these do not start until the mid-19th century.
Unlike the Church of Ireland, the Catholic Church created many new parishes in the 19th century, predictably in the growing towns. There are over 1,000 sets of registers but not all are open to the public, even in Ireland. Although the LDS Church was given permission to microfilm the registers throughout the country, the permission to view them at the FHL and to circulate to its FSCs has since been withdrawn by the Catholic Church in Ireland.
Catholic registers contain christening and marriage sections but very few record their burials. The christenings usually give the mother's maiden name. With marriages after 1864 the church registers are more detailed than the civil ones, giving the names of both parents of each party. Dublin became the fashionable place to be married in the late 19th century, so do check there as well as the local area.
As is typical of the Catholic Church, Latin is often used, particularly in early records and in Irish-speaking areas. This is really not a great problem to the researcher as the entries are in simple, standard formats and although first names are Latinized, surnames and place names are not. There are various Latin aids available, for example the Latin Genealogy Word List produced by the Family History Library and McLaughlin’s guide.
The third largest church in Ireland is the Presbyterian, with a concentration of members in the province of Ulster. It has been divided into many sects, some with Scottish connections. Historically they suffered persecution along with the Catholics, and heavy emigration, two-thirds of the Irish emigrants to North America in the 18th century being Presbyterians.
For legality prior to civil registration many Presbyterians, particularly those with property, married and christened their children in the Church of Ireland. The church has a much looser structure than the two main denominations, there being no overall parish structure but congregations developed where there was sufficient demand and people attended wherever and whenever they wished. It is therefore much more difficult to track them down. Presbyterian Church records start much later than the Church of Ireland, are sparse and unorganized, and contain few burials.
Availability of Church Registers
The general method for finding church records of any denomination is to first ascertain the village, town or civil parish, and then check the FHLC – PLACE SEARCH - IRELAND - COUNTY - VILLAGE/TOWN/PARISH - CHURCH RECORDS. The records of the established church are just noted by their name, but other denominations such as Roman Catholic, Presbyterian, Methodist, Quaker have their denomination noted). An example of an FHLC listing is shown below.
Chart: FHLC Entry For An Irish Church Register
|IRELAND, DUBLIN, DUBLIN - CHURCH RECORDS|
| The registers of baptisms, marriages, and burials in the
Collegiate and Cathedral Church of St. Patrick,
Dublin, 1677 to 1800/ transcribed by C.H.P. Price;
edited by J.H. Bernard. -- [S.l.: s.n., 198-?]. -- v.
109p. -- (Parish Register Society of Dublin; no. 2)
| Photocopy of original published: Dublin: Parish
Register Society of Dublin, 1907 (Alex. Thom and
Co. Ltd.) Includes index.
Also on microfilm. Salt Lake City: filmed by the
Genealogical Society of Utah, 1971. on 1 microfilm
If the FHLC does not have what you need then contact the local Heritage Centre in Ireland. Although many parish registers have been lost there are many surviving Vestry Minutes for C of I parishes, particularly for the period 1790-1815 and they contain parish censuses as well. An example of a Roman Catholic marriage in 1887 where Latin is still in use is given in chart 19. The husband is in the army and the marriage took place in Booterstown near Dublin. Catholic registers are exceptional in that both parents’ names are given as well as their residence, in this case in two other countries.
Following this are some other materials which will be found useful in interpreting parish registers:
- Latin given names
- Calendar changes in 1752
- Phonetic spellings
- Abbreviations used in registers
- Terms used for illegitimacy
Chart: Latin Versions of Common Given Names
Note: Sometimes found with alternate spellings; for example: ae for e, au for al.
Not Included: Mens’ names that are virtually identical to the English except for the suffix -us, -ius, or -dus. Women’s names ending in -a and -ia.
|| Mark, Maurice |
|| Ellen, Helen, Eleanor
|| Henry, Harry
|| Piers, Peter|
|| Nicholas (f)
|| Isabel, Elizabeth
|| James, Jacob
|| Joan, Jane
|| Jowet Ivote
Information in this Wiki page is excerpted from the online course Research: Irish Ancestor offered by The National Institute for Genealogical Studies. To learn more about this course or other courses available from the Institute, see our website. We can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org
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