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In 1605 Scottish Presbyterians began a massive migration into Northern Ireland. In the 1700s and early 1800s several groups split off from the Presbyterian Church. These congregations kept their own records. Most congregations started keeping records in the early 1800s.
In the 1700s and early 1800s several groups split off from the Presbyterian church. Seceding, non-subscribing, and reformed congregations were formed in many areas of Northern Ireland. These congregations kept their own records. In 1840 most of these congregations rejoined the main body of Irish Presbyterians. For a discussion and the names of the seceding, non-subscribing, and reformed Presbyterian congregations in Ireland, see the following book:
- Stewart, David. The Seceders in Ireland. Belfast, Ireland: Presbyterian Historical Society, 1950. (Family History Library book 941.5 K2ste.)
The following book lists Presbyterian congregations in Ireland and their ministers:
- A History of Congregations in the Presbyterian Church in Ireland 1610-1982. Belfast, Ireland: Presbyterian Historical Society of Ireland, 1982. (Family History Library book 941.5 K2h.) A more current list of Presbyterian congregations can be found online at: http://www.presbyterianireland.org/congregations/index.html .
Records kept by Presbyterian ministers include birth, baptism, and marriage records. These records are similar in content to Church of Ireland records except that mothers' maiden names are often given in the birth and baptism records.
The following Web sites will help you learn more about Presbyterian records.
Key Historical Dates
- 1559 John Knox brings to Scotland the teachings of the Protestant Reformation started by Martin Luther and developed by John Calvin.
- 1600 Presbyterian ministers are required to swear an oath to the Book of Common Prayer of the Church of Ireland. Refusal can result in being refused the right to minister.
- 1608- Plantation of Ulster. As a result of religious persecution in Scotland,
- 1610 Scottish emigration to Ireland begins with the settlement of the newly planted counties in Ulster.
- 1643 Presbyterian Covenant to establish and defend Presbyterianism.
- 1691 Presbyterian ministers are to have a degree to be ordained to the ministry. Most are educated at the universities in Glasgow and Edinburgh, Scotland.
- 1660 Over 100,000 Presbyterians have settled in Ireland.
- 1690’s The Synod of Ulster and the Synod of Munster are formed near the end of the 17thC.
- 1708 130 Presbyterian congregations are established throughout Ireland, but predominately in Counties Antrim and Down. Internal disagreements in the Presbyterian Church lead to the establishment of the...
- 1726 “Non-subscribing” Presbyterians. The Southern Association is formed.
- 1740’s Emigration to North America by Scots-Irish is significant.
- 1740’s Major division in the Presbyterian Church resulting in the formation of the “Seceders.” They form their own ecclesiastical council – the Secession Synod.
- 1744 First Church of Seceders opens near Templepatrick, County Down, Ireland.
- 1750’s Seceders divide into Burgers and Anti-burghers over the issue of the Burgess Oath in Scotland that would allow them to sit on town councils, but the issue has little relevance in Ireland.
- 1760’s Reformed Presbyterians or Covenanters split off due to their strict interpretation to uphold the Covenant of 1643. Split leads to “First” and “Second” Presbyterian churches in some areas.
- 1770’s Another wave of emigration to North America by the Scots-Irish.
- 1782 Marriages performed by Presbyterian ministers are legalized.
- 1798 Presbyterians take an active role in the rebellion to free themselves from British control.
- 1814 Establishment of the Belfast Academical Institute. Most Presbyterian ministers in Ireland are now educated here.
- 1819 Presbyterian ministers are required to keep a register of baptisms and marriages.
- 1840 The Synod of Ulster, which was the main governing assembly in Ireland joins the Secession Synod. Together, they form the “General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland.”
- 1844 Marriage Act of 1844 (effective April 1845) legalizes marriages between a member of the Church of Ireland and a Presbyterian. The effect is the start of a formation of a “Protestant alliance.” All Presbyterian marriages are registered in the General Register Office with those of the Church of Ireland.
- 1850’s Presbyterians in Ireland number 650,000 with 433 congregations.
The following records provide the most vital information.
These give the name of child, names of parents, usually the mother’s maiden name, date of birth, names of sponsors and the address (townland) of the parents. In the Presbyterian Church, the baptisms did not always closely follow the birth. This may have been due to a lack of diligence on the part of the minister or it may have reflected a lack of money to have the ceremony performed.
These list the name of the bride and groom, usually at least the father of the bride and sometimes the groom, date of marriage. After 1819, the names of two witnesses and the congregation of residence for the bride and groom were also required. The Presbyterian Church required prior notice of the intended marriage so some record of the event may appear in the Kirk Session Minute book even though the marriage registers may not exist. Although all marriages were to be performed in the church, it was common practice among the Presbyterians to marry in the bride’s home with the payment of a fee to the minister. Marriage in the home may have also generated a Marriage License Bond, the indexes of which still exist. Researchers should also check the Church of Ireland registers prior to 1782 on in instances where a Presbyterian married a member of the Church of Ireland prior to 1845. After the Marriage Act of 1844, marriages were to be performed with “open doors” before a district registrar. The completeness of the marriage records greatly increases.
These usually list only the name of the deceased and sometimes an age are recorded. In the more complete registers you may find the names of parents for a child and/or a townland of residence and occupation. Many Presbyterians are buried in Church of Ireland graveyards since the laws prevented non Church of Ireland conger-gations from maintaining their own graveyards. Prior to the 19th century, dissenting ministers were not allowed to perform burials unless a Church of Ireland rector was present.
Other Presbyterian Church Records
The session is the presiding council of a Presbyterian congregation. Minutes of session meetings often mention members of the congregation, appointments of committee members, and other items of congregational business. Occasionally records of births, christenings, and marriages are included in the minutes. Most session minutes are in local custody.
Certificates of Transference
These were a testament of the good standing of the person within their community. Often these ended up in the possession of the family and can sometimes be found among family papers in North America, Australia and other parts of the world.
Communicants' Roll Book
There are a number of lists of individuals who received communion at each Sabbath meeting. In some instances, remarks about births, marriages, or deaths may be included.
Locating Presbyterian Church Records
Writing for Information
Presbyterian ministers have custody of original Presbyterian records. See:
- 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.) This book lists the Presbyterian records in local custody.
The jurisdictions and addresses of local ministers can be found in:
- The Presbyterian Church in Ireland: Directory and Statistics. (FHL book 941.5 K24pr.)
The Public Record Office of Northern Ireland (PRONI) at http://www.proni.gov.uk/ has microfilm or paper copies of most of the Presbyterian registers for Northern Ireland and for the counties of Donegal, Cavan, and Monaghan. For a list of PRONI's collection of Presbyterian records, see James G. Ryan, ed., Irish Church Records referenced above. A list of the records on microfilm is found in PRONI's online 'Presbyterian Church Index.'
If you get a permission letter from the local minister, PRONI will make a copy of the film for you for a reasonable cost. See http://www.proni.gov.uk/index_to_presbyterian_records-2.pdf. This is only available for Presbyterian church records on film.
The Presbyterian Historical Society has copies of some of the Presbyterian and seceding Presbyterian records for Northern Ireland. The society's holdings are not complete. To determine which records the society possesses, contact the society.
Family History Library
The Family History Library has only a few Presbyterian Church records.
- Go to Family History Library Catalog
- Click on Place Search.
- Type the name of a parish and click Search.
- Select the name that matches your request.
- Scroll down and select the topic Church Records.
- Select a title.
- Click View Film Notes to find the film numbers.
1. Department of the Environment for Northern Ireland. An Irish Genealogical Source: Guide to Church Records. Belfast: Public Record Office, Northern Ireland, 1994. [Gives details of the Presbyterian Church records available on microfilm at PRONI.]
2. Durning, Bill and Mary Durning. The Scotch-Irish. La Mesa, California: The Irish Family Names Society, 1991.
3. Falley, Margaret Dickson. Irish and Scotch-Irish Ancestral Research, 2 volumes, Evanston, Illinois: privately printed, 1962. [Presbyterian Records, Volume 1: 377-411; Presbyterian Congregational Histories, Volume 2: 222-25.]
4. Foster, R. F., editor. The Oxford Illustrated History of Ireland, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1991.
5. Grenham, John. Tracing Your Irish Ancestors, Dublin: Gill and Macmillan Limited, 1992.
6. Kinealy, Christine. “Presbyterian Church Records.” In Irish Church Records, Their history, availability and use in family and local history research. James G. Ryan, editor. 2d edition, Glenageary, Dublin: Flyleaf Press, 2001. [Chapter 4: 69-105 is an excellent treatment of this subject.]
7. Knox, R. Buick. A History of Congregations in the Presbyterian Church in Ireland 1610-1982, A Supplement of Additions, Emendations and Corrections. Belfast: Presbyterian Historical Society of Ireland, 1996.
8. Loughridge, Adam. The Covenanters in Ireland, A History of The Reformed Presbyterian Church of Ireland, 2d edition, 2000; reprint, Belfast, Ireland: Cameron Press, 1987.
9. Maxwell, Ian. Researching Armagh Ancestors, A practical guide for the family and local historian. Belfast: Ulster Historical Foundation, 2000.
10. ——————. Researching Down Ancestors, A practical guide for the family and local historian. Belfast: Ulster Historical Foundation, 2004.
11. Presbyterian Historical Society of Ireland. A History of Congregations in the Presbyterian Church in Ireland 1610-1982. Belfast: Presbyterian Historical Society of Ireland, 1982.
12. Roulston, William. Researching Scots-Irish Ancestors – The essential genealogical guide to early modern Ulster. Belfast: Ulster Historical Foundation, 2005.