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Roman Catholic Church Records

   In 1695 laws were enacted in Ireland for the Suppression of Popery - known as Penal Laws.  Clergy were banished; Catholics could not vote, hold office, or own property.  Between 1772 and 1795 Catholic Relief Acts began to gradually restore rights taken away by Penal Laws.  It was not until the Catholic Emancipation Act in 1829 that full rights were restored.  Although the majority of Catholic parish records begin in the 1820’s, some records, especially in the cities and around Dublin begin in the late 1700’s. There are also records that begin as late as the 1870’s.  Many early  registers are in Latin.  If you don’t read Latin it’s not a problem, you just need to know a few words.  Check for a Latin Word list

   The types of Roman Catholic records you will find include baptisms and marriages.  You’ll find few burial records prior to the 20th Century although there are exceptions.  You should always check records for the Church of Ireland for marriages and burials, especially if the family was at all well off.  You may find that the oldest son “converted” to the Church of Ireland so they could keep their land. Since there were few Catholic cemeteries well off individuals may have been buried in the Church of Ireland graveyards.  To find Catholic church records you need to know the name of the ecclesiastical parish.  During the Reformation, all of the Catholic churches were taken over by the Church of Ireland.  At the time of the Catholic Relief Acts there were few priests and churches, so the area covered by the Catholic parishes were typically larger than the civil parish and had different names.  If you know the name of the civil parish there are a number of resources that will give you the name of the Catholic parish.  

   You can use a reference book such as Irish Records to make the conversion.


Irish Records: Sources for Family and Local History, Revised Edition, James G. Ryan, Ph.D., Ancestry, 1997, p 564.

   A great new resource is the IrishAncestors site.  Go to the “sitemap” and click on “Civil Parish Maps.”  Click on the county, then civil parish and then on the right, click on Church Records.


IrishAncestors tells you the name of the parish, the dates for baptisms, marriages and burials, the location of the records and their status.  Always check to see what years are covered as it will be different for each parish.  In the case of Magheracloone parish, if I was looking for a baptism or marriage prior to 1836, no records exist.  

   During the summer of 2015, the National Library of Ireland digitized all of the images of the Roman Catholic records they held on microfilm and made them available on their website (unindexed).  Prior to that time, the only place to view most of these records was at the Library in Dublin. You could now scroll through the images from your computer.  

   In March of 2016 FindMyPast and Ancestry, in a joint project, indexed the images and made them available through their websites.  You do not have to have a subscription to access these records, although you do have to have a user name and password.

   It is important to remember that the National Library did not have microfilms of every parish. Go to their website and select “Search the Map.” Click on the map to select the county and Roman Catholic parish, and check to see the coverage.  Most of the records will end between 1880 and 1900.  

   Next week I’ll discuss the various indexes available for Roman Catholic records.

   Happy Hunting!

© Donna M. Moughty 2007- 2018