Tracing your Irish roots can be tricky – there are so many variations of names and administrative districts used in the past (parish, townland, civil registration district, barony). It also helps to know what kind of religion your ancestors were.
Before Irish civil registration began in 1864, church records were the only option for recording life events. After censuses, workhouse and union records are valuable tools to use.
Before the start of civil registration in Ireland in 1864, most births were recorded in church records, and these are a significant source for researching Irish family history. Civil registration of marriages and deaths began in 1845 but for non-Catholic Christian, Jewish and civil marriages only. It wasn’t until 1 January 1864 that complete civil registration of births, marriages, and deaths began in Ireland, and from then on, it was compulsory to register all events.
Access to these records is straightforward. A series of annual indexes were created for the years between 1845 and 1958, which are arranged alphabetically by name. These are located online. You can also order official extracts from the original registers (charges apply).
The 1860s and 1870s are a perfect time to research as they contain an extraordinary amount of detail, including the father’s name, the mother’s maiden name, and the names of any brothers or sisters.
The General Register Office for the Republic of Ireland (GRO) and GRONI – the General Register Office for Northern Ireland (which has its search room in Belfast) hold all the birth, marriage, and death records from Ireland up to 1921. GRO and GRONI also hold adoption registers, births at sea and British consulate births abroad, and war deaths.
Before civil registration of births, marriages, and deaths began in Ireland in 1845/1864, church records were the only record of those events. If your Irish ancestor was married before that date, you should focus on church records to find the marriage details of interest.
Irish church records contain information about a couple’s marriage, including the bride and groom’s names, ages, marital status, parents’ names and occupations, and the place and date of their wedding. Historic Irish civil registration records also provide the names of witnesses to a marriage.
Civil marriages in Ireland were recorded starting in 1845; however, non-Catholic marriages were not registered until 1864. These records are indexed countrywide and free to use.
Before civil registration, some marriages were arranged without the banns being called. These marriages were known as ‘licensed’ or ‘allegations.’ These marriage bonds or allegations are available from the ecclesiastical courts in each church of Ireland’s diocese and survive the Public Record Office explosion of 1922. A marriage bond or allegation is a written document signed by the couple showing their intention to marry. The record may note a father’s name, residence, and the dates of their allegation or bond. This information is helpful to the researcher, but it needs to be proof of a marriage taking place.
The Civil Registers of Ireland cover births, marriages, and deaths. These are the building blocks of all family trees. Before 1864 they are supplemented by church records. Those born after 1864 are recorded in the Civil Registration Office (GRO). Between 1922 and 2022, Northern Ireland maintained its separate registers, but these have been merged with those of the rest of the country.
Only non-Roman Catholic marriages were registered before complete civil registration began in 1864. Civil registration districts were established parallel with 130 poor law unions formed a few years earlier under the ‘Act for the Relief of the Destitute Poor.’ The districts generally followed county boundaries, but 3-6 districts were in each, and some district names crossed counties.
For this reason, it is essential to know the county’s name, where an event occurred, the town where it occurred, and the registration district. This information can help locate the correct records.
Ideally, the researcher should have an idea of the date of an event and the name of one or more parents so that the proper record can be located. The researcher should also keep a research log to help him track his progress and the sources he has used. Citation information for this collection can be found on the collection details page and is a requirement when using this resource.
Before the civil registration of births, marriages, and deaths in Ireland in 1864, church records constituted the only record for most events. Many of these records have been lost or destroyed. Those that have survived contain valuable genealogical information.
In addition to civil birth, marriage, and death records, the PROI holds transcripts of church baptisms, marriages, and burials in various counties. These are not as comprehensive as the civil records but provide helpful family information, including the mother’s maiden name, birth and death dates, and place of birth.
Church records are also a good source for obtaining the date of death if recorded. In Ireland, a certificate of death notes the date, name of the deceased, occupation, parents’ names, and spouses’ names where applicable. In Northern Ireland, the date and place of death are noted, and since 1973, the deceased’s father and mother’s names have also been included.
The LDS has microfilmed the Civil Registers of births and deaths from 1864 to the June quarter of 1881, available online. There is a fee for searching them and ordering an official extract. There are also annual indexes for each year that can be searched free of charge at the General Register Office of Ireland and the General Registry Office of Northern Ireland (GRONI). Still, these only go back to about 1922.