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Unpuzzling Irish Church Records

Steeple of St. Nicholas (Green)

St. Nicholas Church in Dundalk (Church of Ireland).  This church is also known as the “green church” because of the color of its copper steeple.  My great grandfather, James Sprague was a stonemason and worked on this church.

   Once you have worked through Irish Civil Registra-tion and arrived at the period prior to 1864, you’ll want to begin working through church records.  If they exist, church records may be the only record our Irish ancestors left.  In the past, finding and accessing them presented a challenge however, the digitization and indexing of these records over the past five years has made this process much easier.

   The first thing you need to decide is your ancestor’s  denomination.  Since Ireland is now and always has been primarily Roman Catholic you may think that’s an easy question, but it may not be…

    Take me for example. I was baptized Methodist, but raised in the Congregational Church...as a matter of fact, I remember coming home from Sunday School at the Congregational Church to pick up my younger sister and take her to the Methodist Church to be baptized.  I also frequently attended the Presbyterian Church with my grandmother.  In high school I decided to join the Episcopal Church and was confirmed there where I also married my Roman Catholic husband.  Two of my daughters were baptized in the Catholic Church and one in the Episcopal Church.  They were all confirmed Episcopalian.  I recently requested a copy of my husband’s Catholic baptismal certificate and discovered the record of our marriage was noted on the back (since he required a dispensation to be married in the Episcopal church).  Good luck to anyone in the future who tries to find my religious records…and I’m not all that unusual, especially when looking for  Protestant records.   We tend to shop more for our churches either as a matter of convenience…what’s the closest church, or who’s got the best preacher.

   The point here...You need to be open minded when researching religious records.

   So where do you start?  In order to find church records in Ireland (or just about any other record) you need to know the locality, preferably the townland, but at least the civil parish.  Once you know the locality you can determine the ecclesiastical  parish (which would likely be the same as the civil parish for the Church of Ireland but different for the Roman Catholic parish). John Grenham’s IrishAncestors site provides information on the church records of all denominations and the dates covered.  Go to the SiteMap and select the Civil Parish Maps>select the county>select the parish>on the right select church records.

Church records for Annahilt

County Down>Annahilt Civil Parish>Church Records

   When looking for the information on a place in Ireland check all records your ancestors left, and not just their records, but those of their siblings or other family members, witnesses, neighbors, etc.  Frequently someone other than your direct ancestor left the important information as to their townland in Ireland.  If you haven’t read my blog from March 6, “It’s all about location, location, location,” check it out for additional ideas.

   It’s also very important to understand that religion in Ireland was a political issue as well as a spiritual one.  Understanding the history of Ireland will help put religious records (or lack of them) in context and may explain why records are not where you expect them to be.  Next week I’ll cover some of the history.  Below are a some of the resources I use to determine what religious records exist.  Most of these books can be found in a library which has a good genealogical collection that includes Ireland.

    Happy Hunting!


Grenham, John. Tracing Your Irish Ancestors: The Complete Guide, Genealogical Publishing Co., Inc., Baltimore, 2012, 4th Edition.

Mitchell, Brian.  A Guide to Irish Parish Registers, Genealogical Publishing Co., Inc., Baltimore, 2009.

Moughty, Donna.  Quick Reference Guide: Irish Civil Registration and Church Records, 2017.

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



© Donna M. Moughty 2007- 2017