Church records – Finding parish registers

Today, we publish the third in a series of articles written by our guest blogger, Claire Santry, who is behind the excellent website Irish Genealogy Toolkit and her associated blog, Irish Genealogy News. Here Claire examines Chruch records.

Without one central repository for all surviving Irish church records, finding the parish register that holds details of your Roman Catholic or Church of Ireland ancestors may seem like mission impossible. The records that survive are scattered and incomplete. And even if you know the townland and parish where your family lived and the religion they practised, there’s no guarantee that you’ll find any relevant baptism, marriage or burial records because, quite simply, some of the registers no longer exist.
You may have heard about the 1922 fire at the Public Records Office (PRO) in Dublin that destroyed ALL Ireland’s historical records. While the fire was certainly a tragedy, it is not true that all records were lost. Huge collections of precious documents were nowhere near the fire and they still exist. Sadly, others perished, and among them were half of the registers of the Protestant Church of Ireland.
Around 800 survive (either as original registers, transcriptions of those that burned or as fragmented entries). More than 200 registers start in the 1700s and nearly fifty date from the 1600s (the oldest, for St John’s Dublin, in 1619). The remainder begin in the first half of the 19th century.
A good proportion of these records have been microfilmed and are held at the Representative Church Body Library in Dublin. Others are at the National Archives of Ireland. Those for Antrim, Armagh, Derry/Londonderry, Down, Fermanagh and Tyrone are also held by PRONI in Belfast.
Roman Catholic registers are easily to locate. They were not kept at the PRO so a fuller collection still exists. However, it was illegal for Catholic priests to keep registers for many years so there are few examples pre-dating 1800. Most start in the second or third decade of the 19th century, but there are some unfortunate parishes with registers that begin only in the 1860s.
All Catholic registers have been microfilmed and are available at the National Library of Ireland and, for the six counties of Northern Ireland only, at PRONI. LDS Family History Centers also have access to microfilms.
To start searching Irish church records, you need first to find the appropriate parish for your ancestor’s townland. You can do this on the free Townland Atlas.
With names, approximate dates and a parish, you can then start searching online. The LDS Family Search [www.familysearch.com] website is a popular and free first call but it’s a bit hit and miss. A better alternative for those with family from Carlow, Cork Dublin and Kerry is IrishGenealogy.ie [www.irishgenealogy.ie] which is also free. The largest database is provided by RootsIreland.ie. [www.rootsireland.ie] It’s a pay-to-view database with a huge collection that covers nearly all the island but you need to check the list of parishes included before parting with any money.

Read more about starting your Irish research from Claire at http://www.irish-genealogy-toolkit.com/trace-family-history.html

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