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Unpuzzling Ireland's  Church Records - Part III

    In 1560 Church of Ireland became the State Church of Ireland and all other denominations were “Dissenters” and therefore subject to various forms of discrimination and persecution.  The disestablishment of the Church of Ireland did not occur until 1869.

   Although technically registers were required from 1637 this law was mostly ignored until between 1750 and 1800.  There are four churches with pre 1700 registers…3 in Dublin and one in Lisburn, County Antrim.

   The civil parishes of Ireland and the Church of Ireland parishes are one in the same…that’s why when you find the townland you need to look it up in the Index to the Townlands, Towns, Parishes, and Baronies of Ireland to determine the civil parish in order to find church records.  As the established church, records include various assessments and tax records which after the revocation of the Penal Laws, included Catholics as well.  One example of this is the Tithe Applotment, the tax paid by all to support the Church of Ireland.  The Church also had some disciplinary functions and handled all of the estate issues for probate.

   The main records you’ll find are christenings (baptisms), marriages and burials.  Children were typically christened within a few weeks of birth.  The records will include the child’s name, date of baptism (sometimes date of birth), parents and legitimacy (very important).

   Marriages were usually in bride’s parish and required permission to marry either by Banns or License.  Banns were an intent to marry announced or posted in the church for 3 weeks prior to marriage in order to give people the opportunity to object to the marriage  A License could be obtained for a fee from the church authority–usually bishop or diocese and required an allegation, information on the bride & groom, their marital status, and intended place of marriage.  A Bond had to be posted to ensure the information was correct.  Although the Allegations and Bonds have mostly been destroyed, some were  abstracted prior to fire.

   Burials do not include a great deal of information but you may find the parents’ names for children, and sometimes a residence or cause of death.

   Finally Vestry Minutes could contain any type of information that might name your ancestors, such as pew rentals, disciplinary actions or a parish censuses.  These records have typically not been microfilmed and are most likely still in local custody.

  Repositories for this records include the Representative Church Body Library in Dublin (actually Braemor Park on the ground of the Theological College).   It’s a short bus ride from the center of the city and houses all of the extant original records.

    The National Archives of Ireland in Dublin has microfilm of many of the records which survived the fire.  Remember, this is the state archive and because of the nature of Church of Ireland Records those that have survived are here (not so with the Catholic records).

   The Public Records Office of Northern Ireland (PRONI) in Belfast also has microfilm of extant records for Northern Ireland and traditional Ulster which is more than today’s North. For example they have the records for Leitrim and Monaghan

which were considered part of Ulster prior to the partition. 

   You may also find the records in local custody at the parish church and possibly transcribed by the Heritage Centres.  The Family History Library may have some records as well.  Check their catalog for the parish name.

Roman Catholic

   For Roman Catholic Records, remember that 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 buy property.  The Catholic Relief Acts gradually restored rights taken away by Penal Laws.  With the Catholic Emancipation Act in 1829 we begin to see Roman Catholic records.  Most rural Catholic records begin in the 1820’s (although some records in the cities and especially around Dublin begin in the late 1700’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 as Catholics did not have their own cemeteries and frequently individuals were buried on the farm in unmarked graves.  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 and since there were no Catholic cemeteries well off individuals may have been buried in the Church of Ireland graveyards.  To find Catholic church records...

1.  Identify the Townland and Civil Parish

2. Use a reference book to convert to the Roman Catholic parish


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

   Roman Catholic records can be found on microfilm at the National Library of Ireland (NLI).   You can download a list of parish registers from the link above.  The Family History Library has a collection of Catholic microfilms; you should search the catalog by both the civil and Roman Catholic parish names.  Registers are still in local custody, however the local Heritage  Centres have created a database of most extant records.

Presbyterian Church

   The ministers in the Presbyterian church were not required to keep records until 1819, although earlier records do exist, particularly in Down and Antrim.  The records vary significantly in form and content, but typically include baptismal records and marriage records.  Burial record were not typically kept because, like the Roman Catholics, they did not have their own cemeteries but there are exceptions to this as well.  Another excellent source for the northern areas are books of graveyard inscriptions.  Don’t forget to check the Kirk Session Minutes which include communicant’s roles, lists of new communicants, and letters of transfer out of the parish.  Most Presbyterian records are in local custody, however the Public Records Office of Northern Ireland (PRONI) has an excellent collection of microfilms.  The Presbyterian Historical Society in Belfast is another source, but PRONI has a better facility for checking the microfilms.


   The Methodist church was established in Dublin in 1747.  Their records include baptisms and marriages and are held in local custody.


   The Quakers spread quickly during Cromwell period but they were also persecuted under the penal laws as non-conformists.  Like the Presbyterians they saw relief  under Toleration Act of 1719.  Their records include monthly meetings minutes that dealt with births, marriages, deaths but also moving and migration records.  Most of the Quaker records have been microfilmed and are available through the Family History Library.


   The earliest Jewish records date from 1820 in Dublin.  The earliest migrations were the Jews expelled from Spain and Portugal.  The second migration in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s came from the Baltic States.  The records can be found at the Irish Jewish Museum in Dublin.


   The Huguenots were French Protestants who who because of persecution left France.  Although there were some early migrations (as early as 1551 into Wexford) the main migration was after 1662 with the “Act for Encouraging Protestant Strangers and others to Inhabit Ireland.”   They were allowed to become citizens and freemen of corporate towns.  Since most affiliated with either the Church of Ireland or the Presbyterians, their records can be found in those churches.  Although the earliest records date to 1668 for conformist churches in Ireland, many of these were destroyed in the 1922 fire.  There was a transcript  published by Huguenot Society of London prior to the the fire in 1922.  Copies are available at the National Library and the Family History Library. 


    Although the Baptists represented less than .5% of the Irish, they founded numerous schools in Ireland.   Their records include Minute Books with members roll (those that came and left the congregation), marriages (after 1845), obituaries and deaths.  There is no central repository for these records.  You can check manuscript collections at PRONI as well as the Irish Baptist Historical Society in Belfast.  Their records are in local custody and they are reluctant to allow genealogical research.


1.   Directory of Parish Registers Indexed in Ireland, 2nd Edition, Irish Family History Society, 1994.

2.  Grenham, John, Tracing Your Irish Ancestors, Dublin, 1999, 2nd Edition.

3.  Hayes, Richard J., Manuscript Sources for the History of Irish Civilization, G. K. Hall, Boston, 1965 (11 volumes). Supplement (3 volumes) 1979.

4.  Hutchison, Brian, C.G., FSA (Scot), Researching Irish Church Records...Conformist & Non-Conformist, Heritage Productions, Toronto, Canada, 2001.

5.  Lewis, Samuel, A Topographical Dictionary of Ireland, 2 vols. London, 1837.

6.  Mitchell, Brian,  A Guide to Irish Churches and Graveyards, Genealogical Publishing Co., Inc., Baltimore, 1995.

7.  ______,  A New Genealogical Atlas of Ireland, Genealogical Publishing Co., Inc., Baltimore, 1986.

8.  ______, A Guide to Irish Parish Registers, Genealogical Publishing Co., Inc., Baltimore, 2001.

9.  Ryan, James G. Ph.D., Irish Church Records, Their history, availability and use in family and local history research, Flyleaf Press, Dublin, 2001.

10.  ______,  Irish Records: Sources for Family and Local History, Ancestry, U.S.A., 1997.

11.  The General Alphabetical Index To the Townlands and Towns, Parishes and Baronies of Ireland, Dublin, 1861; Reprinted by Genealogical Publishing Co., Inc., Baltimore 1984.

12.  Research Outline:  Ireland, Family History Library, Salt Lake City


13.  Grenham’s Irish Surnames ($39.95)

14.  The 1831 Tithe Defaulters ($39.95)

15.  Memorials of the Dead ($29.95)

Web Sites

16.  Ancestry*

17.  The Church of Ireland

18.  Eneclann, Ltd

19.  Irish Family History Foundation

20.  Irish Genealogy

21.  Irish Origins*

22.  The Irish Times*

23.  History from Headstones

24.  LibraryIreland

25.  The National Archives of Ireland

26.  The National Library of Ireland

27.  Penal Laws

28.  Presbyterian Church in Ireland

29.  Public Records Office of Northern Ireland

© Donna M. Moughty 2007- 2018