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The Church of Ireland was decreed the State Church in Ireland in 1536 by an Act of the Irish Parliament. While members of the Church of Ireland were very much a minority, this granted broad powers to primarily the English settlers to be the ruling class. Among this ruling class, numerous records were created to document the laws enacted and to legitimize the displacement of the Catholic citizens. From this point forth, those not of the State Church (also known as the Established Church) began to slowly regain their privileges.
The parishes of the Church of Ireland served as governmental centers for the administration of matters of probate and matrimonial jurisdiction. Its prelates and clergy became important officers of the state and exercised a disproportionate amount of power relative to their small numbers. Membership in the Church of Ireland was fundamental to persons serving in any government position or to owning land and being able to maintain the core of their family wealth.
Historically, each parish in Ireland kept its own records. Because the Church of Ireland was the state or established church, these parish records were considered state records. In 1876 a law was passed requiring that Church of Ireland parish registers be sent to the Public Record Office (now the National Archives) in Dublin for safekeeping. This law was amended in 1878 to allow parishes with good storage facilities to retain their records, so not all parish records were sent to Dublin. Further, some ministers made copies of their records before sending the originals to Dublin. Thus, many Church of Ireland records remain, even though the records sent to Dublin were destroyed in 1922 when the Public Record Office burned.
Church of Ireland parish registers list christenings, marriages, and burials. The amount of information recorded varies from parish to parish and from minister to minister. Later records generally give more information than earlier ones. Because the Church of Ireland was the State Church, even people who did not belong to the church were sometimes listed in the church's parish registers. Consequently, it is wise to search Church of Ireland records regardless of your ancestor's religion.
Many Church of Ireland (parochial) records are in the hands of the local clergy. Some are deposited in the National Archives, the Representative Church Body Library, Dublin and the Public Record Office of Northern Ireland, Belfast. Church records may contain the following information.
Key Historical Dates
- 1534 Henry VIII of England enacts the Act of Supremacy enabling him to become the head of the Church of England.
- 1536 Irish Parliament declares Henry VIII head of the Church of Ireland and recognizes it as the State Church in Ireland.
- 1617 Early attempt to require the registration of baptisms, marriages and burials. Efforts are widely ignored by 1620.
- 1634 46th Canon of the Irish Church required the recording of “Christenings, Weddings, and Burials.” Copies of the records are to be returned to the Bishop of each Diocese.
- 1660 Restoration to the English Crown of Charles II. Conditions ease for Catholics.
- 1661 Reconstitution of Episcopal State Church – A separate commis
- sion also investigates Irish land ownership.
- 1807 pro forma registers instituted. The first are published by William Watson of Capel Street, Dublin. Registers were further improved in the 1820's. These standardized the recording of the information for births, marriages, and deaths.
- 1832 Irish Tithe Composition Act – provided for tithes to be paid to the State Church, the Church of Ireland.
- 1869 Disestablishment of the Church of Ireland as the State Church. All churches are to be equally recognized by the government.
- 1875 Act of Parliament proclaiming that the Church of Ireland parish registers are “public records” and as such must be deposited in the Public Records Office, Dublin. Parochial returns sent to the Bishops of each Diocese are also required to be deposited in the PRO, Dublin.
- 1905 Parish Register Society of Dublin begins the printed publication of Church of Ireland parish registers. They complete sixteen (16) before the destruction of the records in 1922 and abandon the project thereafter.
- 1922 Public Records Office burnt by fire. Most registers housed there were destroyed.
- re and explosion 21 June. Registers of 1,006 parishes are destroyed. Surviving registers number 637 with copies of the destroyed registers made prior to deposit numbering 124 and the Public Record Office holding an additional 23 copies of registers. Only three of the parochial returns survive.
- 1939 Representative Church Body Library (RCBL), the official library of the Church of Ireland located in Dublin, begins receiving Church of Ireland parish registers for preservation. As of 2006, the library held over 780 original parish registers or copies/transcripts, many of which pre-date Ireland’s civil registration which began in 1845.
Children were usually christened (baptized) within a few weeks of birth, though some christenings of older children or adults are recorded. Parish registers provide at least the name of the person christened and the christening date. They usually record the name of the father and sometimes the first name of the mother. They may also record birth date, legitimacy, father's occupation, and the family's place of residence. In larger cities, registers may provide the family's street address.
Pre-1845 parish registers usually provide only the date of marriage and the names of the bride and groom. Beginning in 1845, parish registers also include the place of marriage; the marital status, occupation, and place of residence; both fathers' occupations; and the names of witnesses (possible relatives). If the father was deceased, that fact was sometimes noted.
Couples were usually married in the bride's parish. Permission to marry was obtained in one of two ways:
- By banns. Couples were required by law to have the minister announce their intent to marry or post notice of their intent on the church door for three consecutive Sundays before the marriage could take place, unless a special license was obtained. This gave others time to object to the marriage.
- By license. A couple applied to the proper church authority, usually the bishop of the diocese or the Archbishop of Armagh, for a license to marry. An allegation and a bond were drawn up. The allegation listed the names of the bride and groom, their ages, marital statuses, and intended place of marriage. The bond was made to insure that all the information given was valid. The license granted permission to marry. Most Irish allegations, bonds, and licenses have been destroyed. However, some abstracts and indexes of these records for various dioceses remain. The indexes include the names of the intended bride and groom and the year their license was issued. To find marriage license indexes and abstracts available at the Family History Library, go to the Family History Library Catalog and do a Place Search for 'Ireland' and select the topic of 'Church Records.'
Burials usually took place in the deceased's parish within a few days of the death. Burial records give the name of the deceased and the date of burial. Sometimes they also give the deceased's age, place of residence, cause of death, and occupation. Occasionally a wife's burial entry will provide the name of the husband, and a child's entry, the name of the father. Stillbirths are sometimes recorded in the burial registers. Stillbirths are not, however, listed in christening records.
Some church records are in the collection of the Family History Library. The Irish Family History Foundation at www.irish-roots.net is the coordinating body for a network of government approved genealogical research centres in the Republic of Ireland (Eire) and in Northern Ireland which have computerized millions of Irish names in genealogical records.
Other Church of Ireland Records
The vestry is the presiding council of a parish. Minutes of vestry meetings often mention parishioners, appointments of parish officers, and other items related to the parish. Occasionally records of births, christenings, marriages, deaths, and burials are included in the minutes. They were divided between the Select Vestry and the General Vestry, these minutes detail the workings not only of the religious business of the parish, but also the civil functions since they were the State Church. The Select Vestry were a group of Protestants who paid rates and levied small local taxes to support the maintenance of the Church and its officers. The General Vestry imposed a local tax (cess) to maintain local services such as road building/repair, street cleaning, fire brigades, and parish constables. The surviving lists provide a nice census substitute for the civil parish. Records for the poor of the parish and for those who are involved in the administration of the parish are also to be found among the Vestry Minutes.
These were records of unwed mothers who were interviewed by the Churchwardens to determine the name of the father. In many instances, this may be the only clue to the parentage of an illegitimate child. In a number of cases, the Churchwardens were unable to persuade the mother to name the father and one can only suspect that there were instances when the wrong father was named.
These often provide a map of the location of the pews in the chancel and give the names of the parishioners who paid a fee for the pew and identify which pew they were assigned to for services.
The parish deeds are to be found both in the parish and in the Registry of Deeds, Henrietta Street, Dublin, Ireland. These are particularly useful for the tracing of prominent families prior to the beginning of the parish registers themselves. They are less significant for the general lay member. In some instances, parish property was sublet to tenants and the deeds in some rare examples may identify the names of tenants.
Web Sites For More Information
The following are Web sites that tell you more about Church of Ireland records.
Locating Church of Ireland Records
Many Church of Ireland registers were destroyed in the fire at the Public Record Office in Dublin in 1922. To protect against further loss or deterioration, most existing records have been filmed or photocopied and the originals or copies deposited in national repositories in Ireland. Some of the deposited church records are closed to the general public. To search these records, you must obtain written permission from the minister of the parish or the bishop of the diocese over that parish.
Many Church of Ireland parish records, Catholic parish records, and census records are being collected into repositories called Heritage Centers. Many Heritage Centers are part of a country-wide system -- the Ireland Family History Foundation -- which has begun to transcribe and index millions of the records. The index and transcriptions are currently available for on-line research at RootsIreland.ie for several, but not all, counties. After you have registered on the web site, you can search for free, but a fee of 5 Euros is charged to see the full transcription of a record.
Ministers were never required to send vestry minutes to Dublin for safekeeping. Consequently, most vestry minutes are in local custody, though some have been deposited at the National Archives in Dublin, the Public Record Office of Northern Ireland in Belfast, or other repositories.
To obtain information from a Church of Ireland record in Ireland, follow these suggestions:
- Request a copy of the record from the Representative Church Body Library Representative Church Body Library. A list of this library's parish records is found in:
- Ryan, James G. Irish Records: Sources for Family & Local History. Salt Lake City, Utah: Ancestry Publishing, 1988. (Family History Library book Ref 941.5 D23r.)
The library also has biographical sketches of Church of Ireland ministers.
- Request a copy of the record from the National Archives or the Public Record Office of Northern Ireland. To determine whether the Public Record Office of Northern Ireland has a copy of the record, consult the descriptive catalog of the office's holdings.
Here is a list of Web sites that include indexes to some Church of Ireland records:
- RootsIreland (the Irish Family History Foundation's searchable database of church records).
- Irish Genealogy (for Dublin City and the counties of Carlow, Cork and Kerry, so far).
Family History Library
Follow these steps to find the Family History Library film numbers for Church of Ireland records.
- Go to www.familysearch.org
- Click the Library tab
- Click Family History Library Catalog.
- Click Place Search.
- Type the name of a parish and click Search.
- Click on the name that matches your request.
- Scroll down and click the topic Church'Records'.
- Click on a title. Click View Film Notes to find the film numbers
Write to a Parish Church
Write to a parish minister to see if he will search his parish registers or vestry minutes for you. Ministers' addresses and jurisdictions are listed in the online Church of Ireland Directory.
1. Begley, Donal F., editor. Irish Genealogy – A Record Finder. Dublin: Heraldic Artists Limited, 1981.
2. Dean, J. L. B. Church of Ireland Handbook, a guide to the organization of the Church. Dublin: A.P.C.K., 1962.
3. Department of the Environment for Northern Ireland. An Irish Genealogical Source: Guide to Church Records. Belfast: Public Record Office of Northern Ireland, 1994.
4. Falley, Margaret Dickson. Irish and Scotch-Irish Ancestral Research. 2 volumes. Evanston, Illinois: privately printed, 1962.
5. Foster, R. F., editor. The Oxford Illustrated History of Ireland. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1991.
6. Grenham, John. Tracing Your Irish Ancestors. Dublin: Gill and Macmillan Limited, 1992.
7. Her Majesty’s Stationery Office. The Forty-first Report of the Deputy Keeper of the Public Records in Ireland. Dublin: Her Majesty’s Stationery Office, 1909. [A complete list of the Church of Ireland Bishop’s Transcripts deposited in the PRO prior to 1922, Appendix II, pp. 26-33, Family History Library microfiche only at the Family History Library – not available for distribution to Family History Center’s.]
8. Her Majesty’s Stationery Office. The Twenty-third Report of the Deputy Keeper of the Public Records in Ireland. Dublin: Her Majesty’s Stationery Office, 1891. [A complete list of the Church of Ireland parish registers that had been deposited as of 1891, Appendix IV, pp. 153-203, Family History Library book 941.5 K23dk.]
9. Refaussé, Raymond. Church of Ireland Records Maynooth Research Guides for Irish Local History Number 1, Dublin Irish Academic Press, 2000.
10. Refaussé, Raymond. “The Representative Church Body Library and the records of the Church of Ireland,” Archivium Hibernicum 49 (1995).
11. The Stationery Office. The Fifty-sixth Report of the Deputy Keeper of the Public Records and Keeper of the State Papers in Ireland, Appendix VIII. Dublin: The Stationery Office, 1931. [A complete list of the copies of Church of Ireland parish registers made by the clergy before depositing their registers in the PRO prior to 1922, pp. 416-420, Family History Library microfilm 990493, item 8.]
12. Ryan, James, compiler. Irish Church Records, Their history, availability and use in family and local history research. Glenageary, Dublin: Flyleaf Press, 1992.
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