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Article Published September 10, 1999
When Your Irish Parish Registers Start Too Late
By: Kyle Betit
In Ireland, the average Roman Catholic parish register begins in about the 1820s, although some registers begin in the 1700s, especially in urban areas, and others do not begin until the 1860s, particularly in western counties of Ireland. Records of parishes of the Church of Ireland, the Established Protestant Church, may begin earlier, some going back to the 1600s. However, the pre-1871 parish registers of over half of the Church of Ireland parishes were destroyed when the Public Record Office of Ireland was bombed in 1922. The lack of relevant parish registers in the time period you are researching your ancestors in Ireland can be a significant barrier to research, especially when some other classes of records, such as the nineteenth century censuses, were also destroyed in 1922.
Determining When Relevant Records Start
The first thing to do is to make sure that you know when the earliest records for your parish start. Don't necessarily believe any one reference source; check a No. of sources and compare what they list for the parish of interest. Remember that some copies or transcripts of Church of Ireland registers destroyed in the 1922 fire had been made previously. The Representative Church Body Library (RCBL) in Dublin has published some of the earliest surviving Church of Ireland registers.
Also, a few earlier Catholic church registers have been located in recent decades and may be held by the Heritage Centre covering your particular county. Ireland has a whole system of Heritage Centres which have indexed church records and other sources for their counties (or part of a county). The Irish Genealogical Society International of St. Paul, Minnesota, and the Irish Family History Society of Naas, County Kildare, publish current listings of Irish heritage centres and the records that they have indexed.
Inventories of Irish church records include the following:
Brian Mitchell's A Guide to Irish Parish Registers lists church registers for selected denominations according to the civil parish and the year in which registers began.
The most complete inventory of Ulster church registers is the Public Record Office of Northern Ireland (PRONI)'s publication, An Irish Genealogical Source: Guide to Church Records which lists records held in Belfast repositories and in local custody.
A Table of Church of Ireland Parochial Records and Copies, edited by Noel Reid, lists records and copies located in repositories throughout the Republic, at the PRONI, and in local custody.
Raymond Refaussé's A Handlist of Church of Ireland Parish Registers in the Representative Church Body Library, Dublin lists registers deposited in the RCBL and is available on IHA Online web site: www.ihaonline.com
James G. Ryan's Irish Records: Sources for Family & Local History.
John Grenham's Tracing Your Irish Ancestors.
Other Church Records
Be sure to check the records of neighboring parishes and churches to see if any records of the ancestors were registered there. People moved around, and sometimes they lived an approximately equal distance from two or more churches. Also don't neglect the possibility that your ancestor may have switched denominations. Particularly for Protestants, records of a family may be found in the churches of more than one denomination.
There may be other types of church records available for the denomination you are researching besides the parish registers of birth, marriage and death.
1. Vestry minutes of the Church of Ireland record the administrative matters of the parish. Signatures of the members of the vestry who conduct the affairs of the parish are given. There are sometimes parish censuses and lists of poor parishioners. Most vestry minutes are held in local custody, although some have been deposited at the RCBL and the PRONI. The RCBL's significant collection is inventoried in Raymond Refaussé's A Handlist of Church of Ireland Vestry Minute Books in the Representative Church Body Library, Dublin.
2. Session minutes of the Presbyterian Church concern the daily affairs of the congregation and often predate the actual registers by as much as a century. Session minutes sometimes contain references to vital events such as marriage. No matter what an ancestor's religion, don't neglect to check the records of the Church of Ireland. It was common for Presbyterians, Methodists, Baptists, Congregationalists, and Quakers to be buried in Church of Ireland cemeteries until 1868. Historically many Catholics were buried in Church of Ireland graveyards some of which had specific Catholic sections. In the eighteenth century, it was common to find baptisms of Protestant dissenters (e.g., Presbyterians, Methodists, and Baptists) in Church of Ireland registers.
In most cases, local church registers will pre-date Irish civil registration, but there are exceptions, especially for Protestants. Registration of non-Catholic marriages began in April 1845. The recording of births, deaths and Catholic marriages started in January 1864. The registrars sent copies of entries to Dublin where they were indexed on a country-wide basis. There are yearly indexes for 1845-1877 and quarterly indexes beginning in 1878. The Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland have kept separate civil registration since the division of the island in 1922. Civil registration records are available at the General Register Office in Dublin for all of Ireland up to 1921, and many microfilm copies of Irish civil registration are held by the Family History Library (FHL) in Salt Lake City, Utah.
Other Sources to Utilize
Depending on the location where your ancestors lived and their social class, other useful record types may pre-date the local church registers. Four examples are: Tithe Applotment Books, cemeteries, Registry of Deeds and estate papers.
1. Tithe Applotment Composition Books
The tithe was a land-based tax paid by rural inhabitants for the support of the clergy of the Church of Ireland. Persons of all denominations paid the tithe. The Tithe Applotment Books were arranged by Church of Ireland parish and were compiled between 1823 and 1837. The Tithe Applotment Books are readily available in Ireland and elsewhere. The books for counties in the Republic of Ireland are at the National Archives. For counties now in Northern Ireland, the books are at the PRONI. Microfilm copies of all counties are available at many repositories including the FHL. Some heritage centres in Ireland have indexed the Tithe Applotment Books of their counties. These indexes will be examined by the centre staff for a fee. An Index of Surnames of Householders in Griffith's Primary Valuation and Tithe Applotment Books (commonly called Householders Index) is a surname index by county for all 32 counties; this set of books is available in many repositories in Ireland and abroad. (Editor's note... Griffith's index is also available on CD )
Most of the population in Ireland never had tombstones erected in their memory. Many tombstones have also been worn by the weather to the point of being unreadable. If a tombstone is found for an ancestor, important information such as birth and death dates or townlands of residence may be recorded. Relationships may also be given. Other than what is recorded on tombstones most Irish cemeteries historically did not have written records. However, the associated church may have kept burial registers, particularly Church of Ireland parishes. Many tombstone transcripts have been published privately in books and periodicals by local groups. Some unpublished transcripts have been made and are available in various repositories such as county libraries. Tombstone inscriptions from many Irish cemeteries have been indexed by heritage centres.
3. Registry of Deeds
Beginning in 1708 land transactions in Ireland were registered with the Registry of Deeds in Dublin. Because registration was not compulsory, not every land transaction was registered. The Registry of Deeds contains deeds of sale, lease agreements, marriage settlements and wills. The records of the Registry of Deeds from 1708-1929 are available on microfilm from the FHL.
4. Estate Records
Estate records are the private papers of the landlords of Ireland, those who held tracts of land and leased or rented property to the occupiers of that land. The majority of inhabitants in Ireland prior to the twentieth century leased or rented rather than owned their house and land. A leaseholder held property for a set No. of years with the possibility of renewal, while a renter could either hold a rental agreement for a certain period of time or rent from year to year. Various records were created as a result of the relationship between the occupiers of the land and the landowners. In the time period prior to the advent of church records, estate papers may be among the only sources available for tracing the poorer classes. Often the landowner of the estate was a member of the nobility, landed gentry or Church of Ireland clergy. Land was also held by the Crown, the Church of Ireland, London guilds, and various companies.
A wide variety of records and information may be found in estate papers. Two of the most frequent types are rent rolls and leases. Other records found in estate papers include estate maps, emigration lists, petitions to the landowner, wills, freeholders and poll lists, mortgages, eviction records, and account lists. Estate papers are found in a No. of repositories in Ireland, Great Britain and elsewhere. The researcher first needs to identify the landowner's full name and title. The next step in using estate papers is to determine where the landowner's estate papers are deposited or if they are retained by the family. Many estate papers are deposited at the PRONI, the National Library of Ireland and the National Archives of Ireland. A No. of inventories of estate papers have been published. For further information about how to trace estate papers, see the details in the chapter "Estate Records" in Betit and Radford's Ireland: A Genealogical Guide.
Family History Library
35 North West Temple
Salt Lake City, UT 84150, USA
British Isles Ref Tel: (801) 240-2367
Irish Genealogical Society International
Minnesota Genealogical Society Library
Location: 5768 Olson Memorial Highway, St. Louis Park, MN
Mailing: Box 16585, St. Paul MN 55116, USA
Tel: (763) 595-9347
Irish Family History Society
P.O. Box 36
National Archives of Ireland
Tel: (01) 4783711
Fax: (01) 4783650
National Library of Ireland
Tel: (01) 6618811
Fax: (01) 6766690
Presbyterian Historical Society
Belfast BT1 6DW
Tel: (01232) 322284
Public Record Office of Northern Ireland
66 Balmoral Avenue
Belfast BT9 6NY
Tel: (01232) 251318
Fax: (01232) 255999
Registry of Deeds
Tel: (01) 6707500
Fax: (01) 8048408
Representative Church Body Library
Tel: (01) 4923979
Fax: (01) 4924770
References and Further Reading
Betit, Kyle J. and Dwight A. Radford. Ireland: A Genealogical Guide. Salt Lake City: The Irish At Home and Abroad, 1998.
Grenham, John. Tracing Your Irish Ancestors: The Complete Guide. 2nd ed. Dublin: Gill and Macmillan, Ltd., 1999.
Hood, Susan. "Church of Ireland Records at the Representative Church Body Library, Dublin," The Irish At Home and Abroad 6 (2) (2nd Quarter 1999): 55-61. email firstname.lastname@example.org for a copy
An Irish Genealogical Source: Guide to Church Records. Belfast: Public Record Office of Northern Ireland and the Ulster Historical Foundation, 1994.
Mitchell, Brian. A Guide to Irish Parish Registers. Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Co., 1988.
Reilly, James R. "The Sacred Tenth: The Tithe Applotment Book as a Genealogical Resource," The Irish At Home and Abroad 3 (1995/96): 4-9.
Ryan, James G., ed. Irish Church Records. Dublin: Flyleaf Press, 1992. Ryan, James G. Irish Records: Sources for Family & Local History. Revised ed. Salt Lake City, UT: Ancestry, 1997.
Trainor, Brian. "Tithe and Valuation Records for Ulster c.1823-c.1930." Appendix in Ulster Libraries, Archives, Museums & Ancestral Heritage Centres, by Robert K. O'Neill. Belfast: Ulster Historical Foundation, 1997.
More Irish Resources