During the late 1980s and early 1990s, local centres in Ireland began a project to index records making them available, for a fee, through county Heritage Centres. This was a time of high unemployment in Ireland, and young people were trained on computers by having them transcribe these records. Initially each county was to have a Heritage Centres and the records were “owned” locally. Each centre operated independently and the quality of the work varied. Some of these centres were not financially viable and closed at which point their records became unavailable. Much of the research was commissioned long distance and if you visited a centre, you could not conduct your own research.
The Irish Family History Foundation and their website at rootsireland.ie, is a non-profit organization that now oversees the creation of these databases and provides a central repository for records created by its member organizations. Their databases include church records of various denominations, civil registration, gravestone inscriptions, Griffith’s Valuation and Tithe records, some census returns and ship passenger lists. Records vary greatly by county depending on what has been indexed by the local centre and some counties do not participate in this service. You do have to register in order to use the site, but once registered, you can search to see what records might be available. Payment for search results and transcriptions are done in credits, i.e., one credit for search results and 25 credits for a transcription. You can purchase credits using your credit card that are valid for one year. I usually keep a balance as I frequently purchase transcriptions. 25 credits cost €5 (about $7 or .28 per credit), however if you purchase in bulk, €50 for 450 credits the cost drops to about .15 per credit). Each time you purchase credits you get an equivalent number of free searches, i.e. 25 free searches for €5 or 450 free searches for €50. Like civil registration indexes, there is not enough information in the index to positively identify your ancestor. You won’t know until after you’ve purchased a transcription whether or not you have found the correct record, but once purchased you immediately receive access to the transcription. In one case I was lucky enough to find an 1825 baptism on an individual in Dublin. Once I paid my €5, the transcription gave me the parents’ names and confirmed I had the correct record. IFHF currently has over 20 million records online.
To begin, go to the IFHF website and look at what counties have records available online. Most of the surviving records are on this site with the exception of Kerry, Cork & Ross and Dublin city which are on the IrishGenealogy.ie site. Just this morning, I tweeted that IFHF has announced the first records for County Clare are now on their site. It is important to go the List of Sources and search on your county for a list of the specific records indexed for the county and the timeframes. If parish records for the time and place of your ancestors do not survive, you’re not going to find the records on this website!
If you have an uncommon surname (like Moughty) you can search the entire database, however in most cases you’ll want to limit your search to a county and a specific timeframe. For common surnames there are likely to be thousands of records. You can request records for a date, ± 0 - 20 years. You can also specify the father and mother’s names which may help to narrow down your search for all of the children of a couple. For example, a search for Daly, born 1880±10 years in Mayo with a father John and mother Mary, returns 14 records. If you know the name of the siblings, you might be able to narrow down your choices.
Although I have an aversion to pay per view sites, this one is valuable in identifying pre 1864 church records, as well as civil records after 1864. Like all online databases, you need to be flexible with your searches. Names were written down however the priest decided to spell them. Although most of my results are spelled “Moughty,” I have found some records under “Mooty” as well as “Muchty.” Transcription errors are also possible and I have also found records of my family assigned to the name Murtagh (an entirely different family, but one living in the same general area). If you are not getting any results with the mother/wife’s maiden name it may be because the name was not recorded.
If you haven’t already used this site, give it a try. IFHF is currently providing 100 free index searches for new registrations. Even if you are planning to visit Ireland and search the original microfilms at the National Library, using this database to isolate the parish and date will make your microfilm search much easier.
Do you want to research in Ireland? Joining a research group is a great way to become familiar with the records. Check out the 2014 trips to Dublin and Belfast.