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Irish Church Records

   Prior to the start of civil registration in Ireland in 1864, one of the only sources of family information is church records. The vast majority of the population of Ireland has always been Roman Catholic, however because of religious persecution, the records of the Catholic church begin late, usually around 1820.  Understanding the history of Ireland is important as religion in Ireland is a political issue, as well as a spiritual one.   Here are some key dates:

1537 Henry VIII declared himself head of the Church of England (Anglican)

1560 The Church of Ireland became the State Church under Elizabeth I

1605 The Plantation of Ulster began

1634 Law passed required Church of Ireland registers to be kept (mostly ignored)

1637 Presbyterian worship suppressed by the Church of Ireland

1695 Penal Laws against Catholics in effect

1719 Toleration Act protected Protestant dissenters

1772 Catholic Relief Acts began to restore rights taken away under Penal Laws

1819 Presbyterian ministers required to keep registers

1829 Catholics became free to practice their religion

1869 Church of Ireland disestablished as State Church

1876 Law required Church of Ireland registers to be stored at Public Records Office

1922 Fire at the Public Records Office in Dublin destroys records stored there

   Part of the impetus for the Scots-Irish emigrations of the early 18th century was the suppression of Presbyterian worship and the effects of the penal laws on Protestant dissenters.   Unlike the chain migration of the 19th century (one family member came over and sent money back to Ireland to bring over the next family member) the Scots-Irish tended to emigrate in groups, sometimes including an entire congregation.  It wasn’t until 1872 that marriages performed by Presbyterian ministers were considered legal.  Prior to that time, make certain you also check to see if there is a marriage for your Presbyterian ancestor in the Church of Ireland records as only those marriages were considered valid.

   Although the Church of Ireland required records to be kept as early as 1634, the law was mostly ignored and records tend to start closer to the 1750's.  There are, however, a few churches where records do date to the 1600's.  Here’s the tragedy though.  Because of the law in 1876 (after the disestablishment of the Church of Ireland) that required registers to be sent the Public Records Office for "safekeeping”  and the subsequent fire in 1922, over 60% of the Church of Ireland records were destroyed.

   Because of the penal laws, the Roman Catholic records were just not kept.  The earliest ones appear in the late 1700’s mostly in the larger cities, with some not starting until the 1860’s or later.  

   As with all Irish research, the key is finding the parish and townland where your ancestors lived, and then identifying the time frame for the parish records.  If your research question is “When was Michael Daly born?” you must begin with a location, then a timeframe.  If Michael was born after 1864, then you can look for a civil registration record.  If the birth was prior to 1864, you will not find a civil record, but only a baptismal record.  You need to:

•  Identify the denomination

•  Identify the civil parish (which you can then convert to the Roman Catholic parish using a reference book such as Irish Records by James Ryan or Tracing Your Irish Ancestors by John Grenham.)

•  Determine if the date of the event is within the dates of available records.

•  Check the Irish Family History Foundation at RootsIreland (subscription) or IrishGenealogy (free) to see if they have indexed records for the time and place. (If you are not familiar with these sites you can learn more about RootsIreland here or IrishGenealogy here.)

   If  you find a record, do you have some piece of corroborating information (such as the parents’ names) that confirms you have the correct individual and not just someone of the same name.  Because of Irish naming patterns, given names occur multiple times in the same area.

   Happy Hunting and Happy St. Patrick’s Day!


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© Donna M. Moughty 2007- 2017