For the period before 1864, church records provide the only record of most baptisms, marriages and burials. The best general introduction to church records are by James G Ryan (ed), Irish Church Records (Dublin, 1992) and by Steven C ffeary-Smyrl’s Dictionary of Dublin Dissent: Dublin’s Protestant dissenting meeting houses, 1660-1920 (Dublin, 2009).
Most parochial registers (regardless of denomination) for the northern counties of Ireland are available on microfilm in PRONI and the best guide is An Irish Genealogical Source: Guide to Church Records (PRONI, 1994).
Catholic parish registers
Original parochial records (baptisms, marriages and burials) of the Roman Catholic Church remain with the relevant parishes. Microfilms of parochial registers are available at the National Library of Ireland for most Roman Catholic parishes in Ireland for the years up to 1880 and in some cases up to 1900. The National Archives has a copy of the National Library’s list of the parish registers. The names and addresses of the clergy are given in the annual Irish Catholic Directory.
Church of Ireland parish records
Parochial records (baptisms, marriages and burials) of the Church of Ireland (Anglican Church) often remain with the relevant parishes. They survive for about one third of the parishes throughout the country. Those for the pre-1870 period are public records and the registers may also be available in original or microfilm form at the Representative Church Body Library.
Generally the parochial registers held in the National Archives (original, copy or microfilm) do not post-date 1880 though some range into the 20th century and these can be put in geographical context using a map of the dioceses of the Church of Ireland at the beginning of the 20th century
There are microfilm or other copies in the National Archives of the surviving Church of Ireland registers for the dioceses of Ferns, Glendalough, Kildare and Meath, as well as many from other parts of the country and a list of the parish registers on microfilm and their respective microfilm numbers held in the National Archives can be searched online.
PRONI holds copies of all surviving Church of Ireland registers for the dioceses of Armagh, Clogher, Connor, Derry, Dromore, Down, Kilmore and Raphoe. As well as covering all six counties of Northern Ireland, these dioceses also cover counties Cavan, Donegal, Louth, Monaghan and part of county Leitrim which are in the Republic. Copies of those registers from within the Republic which were microfilmed by PRONI, are held by the RCB Library.
A list of all Church of Ireland parish registers which indicate whether they survive and where they might be held, is available in the National Archives and is reproduced in A Table of Church of Ireland Parochial Records and Copies by Noel Reid (Naas, 1994) with an Addendum of 2001 while the names and addresses of the clergy are given in the annual Church of Ireland Directory. A list and a card index of registers in the National Archives as well as lists of transcripts and abstracts may also be consulted in the Reading Room.
Records of marriage licences provide information concerning some Church of Ireland marriages before 1845. People wishing to obtain a licence to marry without having banns called were required to enter into a bond with the bishop of the diocese. The licences and bonds do not survive (in most cases), but the indexes to the bonds lodged in each Diocesan Court and the Prerogative Court are available in the Reading Room, some of which have been published. Betham’s abstracts of Prerogative and Dublin Diocesan marriage licences give further details while other records of marriage licences are indexed in the testamentary card index, available to consult in the Reading Room.
Alternative research sources
Supplementary to the registers themselves, alternative research sources include thirteen volumes of searches in Church of Ireland parochial returns (generally baptisms but sometimes also marriages). The searches were requested in order to ascertain whether the applicant in the period c.1908-1922 but mainly c.1915 -1922, was entitled to an Old Age Pension based on evidence abstracted from the parochial returns then in existence in the Public Record Office of Ireland.
While many of the searches were negative, those which were positive provide valuable genealogical data though they are not copies of church records and cannot be used to recreate lost registers. There is a comprehensive finding aid in the National Archives to all parishes covered by those searches and it is also available to search online.
Sometimes only one search – against a specific individual – has been recorded from a given parish. Multiple searches against various individuals in city parishes have been recorded in volume thirteen, listed in ‘Parish Registers and related Material’ which is available in the Reading Room.
Another source for research is the religious census of 1766, authorised by the Irish House of Lords in March of that year ‘to return a list of the several families in their parishes to this House on the first Monday after the Recess, distinguishing which are Protestants and which are Papists, as also a list of the several reputed Popish priests and friars residing in their parishes’ – a list held in the National Archives of the returns for each diocese is available to search online.
An additional source of research is the transcripts of parish registers made for genealogical purposes. While much of the abstracted data is relevant to a given surname only, the wealth of material transcribed can lead to partial reconstruction of registers. Among the best of these genealogical transcripts must be mentioned the parish searches undertaken by Gertrude Thrift (mainly for Dublin), by James Grove White (mainly for Cork), by Tenison Groves and by TU Sadlier. Some collections are indexed according to surname, of which the Thift Abstracts are the best example, otherwise the listing is according to parish. Parish registers searched for genealogical purposes will be found listed in the M [miscellaneous] finding aids in the National Archives or listed by the surname of the researcher, for example in the Thrift card index.
Copies of parish registers still extant which have been microfilmed or copied will be found listed in the Church of Ireland card index in the National Archives. Copies of vestry minutes and preachers’ books etc will also be found enumerated and indexed under the name of the parish.
In the 1950s and again in the 1980s, a systematic programme of microfilming Church of Ireland parish registers was undertaken, with the most comprehensive filming being done in the eastern part of the country. There is a card index to all filmed parish registers for the 1950s filming, arranged under the name of the parish. There are bound finding aids to the later filming – bound by diocese and then arranged according to union and then by parish. The microfilms of Church of Ireland parish registers are freely available to the public.
Further information on Church of Ireland records, their survival or otherwise, may be obtained from the manuscript volume kept in the Reading Room of the National Archives entitled ‘Table of Parochial Records and Copies’, compiled by Margaret Griffith from parochial returns made c.1875 and 1876 (see Appendix to the Ninth Report of the Deputy Keeper of the Public Records in Ireland) and updated returns made in 1891 (see Appendix to the Twenty Third Report of the Deputy Keeper of the Records in Ireland).
The ‘Table of Parochial Records’ is updated on a continuing basis to include information on the microfilming project undertaken in the 1950s and to record those records, or copies thereof, now in the custody of the Representative Church Body Library, Dublin.
Transcripts (and some digitised images) of Roman Catholic and Church of Ireland parochial registers of baptisms, marriages and burials for the pre-1900 period are currently being uploaded free of charge on www.irishgenealogy.ie/index.html hosted by the Department of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht.
Records not organised on a parochial basis
Records of the Jewish community in Ireland, including birth records, may be held in the Irish Jewish Museum at 3 Walworth Road, Dublin 8.
Records of the Methodist Church in Ireland include registers of baptisms and marriages of the Irish Methodist circuits and chapels. Many are held by the Wesley Historical Society in Ireland in Belfast (which also has a small archive collection in Dublin). Many Methodist records have been microfilmed by PRONI and researchers should consult Steven C ffeary-Smyrl’s Irish Methodists – where do I start ? (Council of Irish Genealogical Organisations, Dublin, 2000) for a guide to Irish Methodist records.
Records of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland comprise registers of baptisms and marriages and many are held by the Presbyterian Historical Society in Belfast. Most Ulster Presbyterian records have been microfilmed by PRONI.
Records of the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers) in Ireland contain transcript registers of births, marriages and deaths from the 17th century onwards. These are held by the Religious Society of Friends Historical Library in Dublin or the Religious Society of Friends, Ulster Quarterly Meeting in Lisburn.