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Irish Genealogy:  Irish Civil Registration

Civil Registration IndexTracing Your Irish Ancestors 

Irish Civil Registration began in 1864 for all births, deaths and marriages, and in 1845 for Protestant marriages.  If you’ve discovered your ancestor’s town of origin, the next step is to check the Alphabetical Index to the Townland and Towns, Parishes and Baronies of Ireland  and write down the Parish, Barony, County and Poor Law Union.  The Poor Law Union became the Registration District so that will help you isolate the correct individual in Civil Registration.

Some things you should know about the Irish...they 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.  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!  And I remember her telling me that she was from Northern Ireland.  When I got her birth certificate, she was born on 12 December 1892 in Ballyshannon, Donegal.  My grandmother came to the US prior to the division of Ireland, but Donegal is in the Republic, not the North.  

Indexes to Civil Registration are 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 is alphabetical by surname, then by given name.  Be flexible about the surname spelling and check all of the alternate spellings.   After the given name the Registration District is listed, then a page and volume number.  Death records have the addition of the age of the individual at death.

This sample index is taken from John Grenham’s book Tracing Your Irish Ancestors and as you can see 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 districts, but for the others, that information could differentiate your ancestor which is why that information is so important.  

Although not a firm rule, Irish naming patterns suggest that the first son was named after the paternal grandfather and the second after the maternal grandfather.  If a family had five sons and they all named their first son after their father it doesn’t take long to have a large number of individuals, about the same age with the same name. Since the Irish were not very mobile and spent their lives close to where they were born (until they emigrated), you begin to see the identification problem.  Add to that the fact that many did not know their birth year requiring you search a range of ± five years and you might have ten or fifteen possibilities.  Hopefully, you have some other information to help differentiate your person.

The indexes were microfilmed by the LDS and are available in Salt Lake City and on loan to the Family History Centers.  The originals are available in the General Register Office in Dublin.  But, here’s the good news...they were also indexed as part of the pilot program for New FamilySearch.  I wrote about the process back in 2008 when I worked on these indexes and would recommend that everyone spend some time on a indexing project.  

A search for Michael Daly, born 1885±5 years turns up 10,624 results.  These are not all births, but it pulls records where a birth year is given (such as a death record).  Adding the registration district of Claremorris, however,  gives me two matching results with possibilities in other registration districts.

The next step is to write down the information needed to get a copy of this record.  The Family History Library has microfilm of birth certificates from 1864-1881 and 1900-1913.  All others have to be ordered from the General Register Office for €4.  In the example above, I would need to order both certificates to determine which was the correct individual (comparing the names of the parents or the townland).    The form requests specifics regarding the information found on the certificate, but I just put in the Surname, Forename and then from the Index, the Year (1886), Quarter (Oct - Dec or Q4), Volume (4) and Page Number (124).

The process is the same for marriage and death.  If you know the names of both the bride and groom, check the index for both individuals.  The year, quarter, volume and page number should be the same.

Before you begin to use the Civil Registration Indexes (online or off) I suggest you read the information provided in the FamilySearch WIKI.  When you get to the Civil Registration Search page, there is a link Learn More.  Whenever you work with a database you should read the information about that database to learn about the record source and what is included.  There is an additional link to related article which goes into detail on Civil Registration.

This should help you get started.  If you have an unusual surname (like Moughty <g>) you might be able to work with the Civil Registration Indexes without knowing the Registration District.

Happy Hunting!


© Donna M. Moughty 2007- 2013