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Civil Registration in Ireland

   Irish Civil Registration began in 1864 for all births, deaths and marriages, and in 1845 for Protestant marriages.  Even if your ancestors left before that time, it is likely that family members remained. Once you’ve discovered your ancestor’s locality in Ireland and have researched the jurisdictions, you’re ready to look for a civil record. Last week I discussed the importance of the Poor Law Union, as that is the jurisdiction that became the Registration District. So now, when you find 25 Michael Dalys in the indexes, you know to focus on the ones from the correct Registration District.

   Research in civil registration has become so much easier since last fall when added images of the civil registers to their website.  It’s not perfect, and there are limitations, but it is a joy to work with!  The Irish Data Protection laws allow births over 100 years, marriages over 75 years and deaths over 50 years to be accessed online.  Note that this limitation is only for  online records.  You can obtain records outside of the limitations either in Ireland, or by writing to the General Register Office either in Dublin or Belfast.  In some cases, the Family History Library has microfilms of later registers.  The initial implementation at IrishGenealogy provides the complete run of births from 1864-1915.  The marriage and death images are not complete…marriages cover from 1882-1940 and deaths from 1891-1965. The website indicates that they are currently working on updating the missing records, however there is no date for a further implementation.  There is also no indication of when or how they will add to the end dates, for example, increasing the births to cover 1916, marriages to 1941 and deaths to 1966.  Occasionally you will also find a record that should have an image, but it is missing.  This is usually because of an imaging problem and hopefully will be added in the future.

   In staring your research into civil registration, you should know that the Irish aren’t very good with dates and ages.  I suggest you be very flexible with dates based on information from US records.  You may, like me, have found that your Irish ancestors listed various dates or ages on different documents.  On various documents, my grandmother listed her birth date as August or December, 4th or 12th, in 1892 to 1895; she also listed her place of birth as Ireland or Scotland!  She also said she was from Northern Ireland.  When I got her birth certificate, she was born on 12 December 1892 in Ballyshannon, Donegal.  My grandmother immigrated prior to the division of Ireland, but Donegal is currently in the Republic, not the North (although it was part of traditional Ulster).  

   A bit of history…the indexes to civil registration were kept by event (Birth, Death or Marriage) then by year (after 1878 they are kept by Quarter, so there are four indexes for each year).  Each index was alphabetical by surname, then by given name. After the given name the Registration District was listed, then a page and volume number.  Death records had the addition of the age of the individual at death.  That meant if you were using the index books (in Ireland) or the microfilms (from the LDS) you had to search multiple books or films.  That changed in 2008 when FamilySearch created the first online index to civil registration.  But like every type of record in Ireland you needed to know the timeframe and place.  

   This sample index is taken from John Grenham’s book Tracing Your Irish Ancestors and under Pender, there are two Bridgets, two Daniels, two Elizabeths and three Ellens.  This index could be for one quarter of a year so how do you determine if one of these individuals is the one you’re looking for?   When I’m teaching I joke about “former ancestors”... the ones you’ve traced for years only to discover you’ve been researching the wrong person.  It happens more often than you think.  In this example, both the Daniels and Bridgets were born in the same registration district. In the past, your only choice was to order both certificates (at €4 each) and identify the correct individual based on the additional information in the register, such as the parents’ names or townland.  Yes, I have a file folder full of wrong registrations!  Now, you simply click on the word “image” to see the full page of the register. 

   Go to and click on “Civil Records.”  Type in your search criteria, including the type of record.  You’ll be ask to solve a captcha (to prove you’re not a robot) and to type in your name and accept the terms and conditions.  This is a free site, and no registration is necessary.

   If you have too many results, you can filter them down the left side.  Select one of the results and you will see a transcription of some of the information from the record.  If you’ve used the indexes on other sites, you’ll notice that this index gives a “Group Registration ID” in place of the Quarter and Page number.  If you need to order the certificate from the General Register Office they are currently accepting either the Quarter and Page or the Group Registration ID.  If the event falls within the guidelines above, you will find the word “Image” at the bottom.  Click on the word “Image” to see the image of the complete registration page.  

You can either select the specific registration to copy (I use a Mac so I just “grab” the image) or download the entire page.

If there are multiple people of the same name, you can identify your ancestor by the name of the townland or the parents’ names.  As you can see, you get the maiden name of the mother on a birth registration.

   In addition to the date and place, marriages will give you the names of the bride and groom, possibly their ages (full age would indicate over 21), occupation, address (townland) and the names of the fathers of both the bride and the groom along with their occupations.  Notice in the example below, both of the fathers are deceased.  Don’t forget to identify the witnesses and their relationship to the bride and groom.  

   A death certificate has the least amount of genealogical information.  You will get the name of the deceased, and date of death, his condition (bachelor, widower, etc), age, occupation, cause of death and the informant.  You always hope the informant is a family member you can identify, or the location will  identify this as the correct person.

On the above death for James Moughty, the combination of the location of the death, Ballynacargy, and the informant, Bernard, his brother of Aughnaboy, confirms the identify of this person.  

   Next week I’ll discuss other indexes for civil registration.

   Happy Hunting!

Check out my Quick Reference Guide #2  on Irish Civil Registration and Church Records

I’ll be speaking at the Fairfax Genealogical Society this coming weekend.  If you are in the area, I hope I’ll see you there.

© Donna M. Moughty 2007- 2018