Irish Vital Records
Are you searching for your Irish roots? Have you discovered Irish ancestors in the course of tracing your family tree?
Irish vital records - by which I mean birth, marriage, and death records - come from two different sources:
- Parish records, kept by the official (Anglican) Church of Ireland, and also, to a large extent, by the Roman Catholic Church (which, in the south of Ireland, was predominant, in terms of the religion of the majority of residents); and
- Civil records, in which the responsibility for recording vital records was removed from the parish churches and placed in the government's hands from January 1, 1864 for everyone, and for Protestant marriages, from April 1, 1845.
Irish Vital Records: Parish Records
Prior to civil registration, the only source of Irish vital records was the parish church. Some of the Protestant records, from the Church of Ireland, go back to the middle of the 1600s, while some Roman Catholic records go back to the middle of the 1700s. The latter were written in Latin until about the mid-1800s.
Up until the mid-1800s, the Church of Ireland was considered the only official church, and marriages were not considered legal unless they were performed in this church. Therefore, you may well find marriage records for members of nonconformist congregations, as well as for Roman Catholics, in the Church of Ireland registers before the 1850s.
St John’s, Church of Ireland, Parish of Woodschapel
Source: Kenneth Allen, via Wikimedia Commons
Church of Ireland parish records were considered government records, and as such, had to be deposited in the Public Record Office.
Roman Catholic parish records tended to include births and marriages, but very often did not record deaths or burials.
The Church of Ireland, on the other hand, did keep records of burials and related parish expenses.
As with England, Wales, and Scotland, the existence and extent of the records kept depended on the diligence with which the local minister or priest, or his designate, kept them up to date.
Also, the Irish vital records are subject to loss as a result of 'natural disasters', and the usual 'enemies' of old records - mould, dampness, mice, and so on. Many of the Church of Ireland registers were lost in a 1922 fire. Thankfully, a majority of the parish churches had kept copies. It is estimated that about 70% of the original records remain.
Parish Records of Births may include the following information:
- date of baptism;
- the child’s name;
- the parents’ names; and
- the names of the sponsors.
Sometimes, but not always, these records may include
- the townland *;
- the maiden name of the mother; and
- a note if the child was illegitimate.
* A townland was an ancient division of land, which seems originally to have been equated with a family's holdings. Now, a townland is the smallest of the administrative units of land, of which all other administrative units are comprised.
Curious Baby. Source: Wikimedia Commons.
The parish marriage records would contain the following information:
- date of marriage;
- names of the bride and groom
- names of witnesses; and
- occasionally, the name of the townland.
Some parish priests made note of marriages between second or third cousins, which were allowed by special dispensation.
Some also noted when a parishioner (usually a male) was married outside the parish.
Irish Vital Records: Civil Registration
Civil registration of Protestant marriages began on April 1, 1845.
Civil registration of births, marriages, and deaths, regardless of religion, began on January 1, 1864, and continued until 1921, when the Irish Republic won independence from Britain.
The six counties which comprise Northern Ireland remained part of the UK.
Both countries continued with civil registration of vital records for their respective counties, from January 1, 1922 to the present.
Civil records include the following information:
- date and place of birth;
- father's name and occupation;
- mother's name;
- informant of birth;
- date of registration; and
- signature of the Registrar.
An Irish bride and groom
ride to their reception in style.
Source: Wikimedia commons.
- date and place of marriage;
- names of bride and groom;
- ages of bride and groom;
- marital status (spinster, bachelor, widowed);
- place(s) of residence at time of marriage;
- names and occupations of fathers of bride and groom;
- witnesses to marriage; and
- clergyman who performed the ceremony.
After 1950, additional information provided on marriage records includes:
- dates of birth for the bride and groom;
- mothers’ names; and
- a future address.
Bell Tower at St. Patrick's Church, Drumquin.
The bell is rung at Weddings and Funerals.
Source: Kenneth Allen via Wikimedia Commons
- date and place of death;
- name of deceased (if a married woman, only the married name is given);
- age (sometimes an approximate age was given);
- marital status;
- cause of death and duration of final illness;
- informant of death (not necessarily a relative);
- date of registration; and
- Registrar's name.
Where can I find the records?
Clearly, there is a great deal of information with respect to Irish ancestry contained in the parish and civil records. Finding those records may greatly assist in expanding your ancestry family tree.
The location of Irish vital records is somewhat complicated, and somewhat explained, by Ireland’s history. All of Ireland (Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland) was part of the UK for many centuries. The south of Ireland resisted this from the start.
As noted above, after several centuries of unrest in the south, the Republic of Ireland gained independence from Britain in 1921. Northern Ireland remained part of the UK.
This has resulted in the records being located primarily in two places, as follows:
(a) Irish Vital Records in The Republic of Ireland:
- Church of Ireland parish registers in the Republic of Ireland are primarily located at the Representative Church Body Library in Dublin. However, not all of them are there. Some records are still held locally in the parish; some are in the National Archives in Dublin; and some are in locations scattered around the country.
National Library of Ireland, Dublin
Source: Wikimedia Commons./b>
- The National Library of Ireland houses the Roman Catholic parish records.
While the records for four Catholic dioceses (Cloyne, Kerry, Cashel and Emly) were closed to the public for many years, they were microfiched in 2008, and the microfiche copies are available for consultation, along with the other parish records.
Check with the Latter Day Saints (LDS) Family History Centre in your area to determine the availability of these records.
- With respect to civil records, the Dublin General Register Office has non-Catholic marriage records from 1845, and vital records occurring in all of Ireland (i.e., both the north and the Republic), from 1864 to 1921, for all parishes, for both the Church of Ireland and the Roman Catholic Church.
From January 1, 1922 and on, it has only records for the Republic of Ireland.
(b) Irish Vital Records in Northern Ireland:
The Latter-Day Saints have microfilmed many of the records from the early years of civil registration of births, marriages, and deaths in both countries. These are available at Family History Centers worldwide.
Online sources of Information
For those searching from afar, there are a number of free resources available to help you locate Irish vital records.
One such site is Roots Ireland, a website which consolidates the records from the various county family genealogy sites. You can register without paying anything, and free searches reveal the names you entered, the relevant year (birth, marriage, or death), and the county in which the record appears. You can drill down to the county level to see if any additional information is available. To view the full details of the record, however, involves payment of 5 euros per record.
Another is From Ireland.net, which has a genealogy section with a number of free searchable databases. Included are indices of civil records of births, marriages and deaths, and a list of Roman Catholic parishes as of 1836.
The latter can prove invaluable in searching for Irish ancestors, as Roman Catholic parishes did not follow the civil boundaries as the Anglican parishes did. Further, many new ones were added over time due to an increasing population in some areas, and some were combined due to declining population in other areas.
While the indices will not provide copies of the documents you are searching for, they will narrow your search considerably to a particular parish or county of Ireland.
Many paid subscription sites, such as Ancestry, World Vital Records, and Family Link, also provide Irish vital records.
Hopefully, I have provided you with at least a starting place for locating parish and civil records related to births, marriages, and deaths in Ireland. The best of the Irish luck to you on extending your family tree!
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