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Using Church Records in Irish Research

   This morning in my email, I had an update from Ancestry on “How to use religion records in family history” with a link to a downloadable guide.  

Ancestry also added a 5-Minute Find on Searching and Using Baptismal Records.  The guide is a good basic overview of using religious records, so I’d like to add to it some specifics when researching Irish.  

   As stated in the guide, frequently religious records pre-date civil registration.  In Ireland, this may (or may  not) be the case depending on the denomination and locality.  Church of Ireland records date back into the 1600s, however over 60% of the records were lost in the fire in 1922 at the Public Records Office.  Roman Catholic records start much later, some as early as the late 1700s, but most after 1820.  Last week I was working on a client consultation with ancestry in Monaghan where the records for the particular parish started in 1871…7 years after civil registration.  Presbyterian ministers were not required to keep records until 1819 although there are some records back into the late 1700s. It’s all about locality in Ireland!  There were other denominations as well in Ireland, Quaker, Methodist, Baptist, Jewish, but these represent a very small part of the population.

   You need to begin your church research in the country where your ancestors emigrated and the guide has some good pointers on how to identify the church or clergyman using City Directories. When you find these records make sure you identify all of the people named in the record, especially the sponsors or witnesses.  These are most likely family or close friends  who might have come from the same place in Ireland…another key to your ancestral homeland.  

   When requesting Roman Catholic records, make sure you request all information in the record.  It was not uncommon for a priest to ask for proof of baptism prior to marrying a couple.  Since the Catholic church considers its records to be private, you’ll receive a form from the church when requesting records.  If there is information in the register that doesn’t have a blank on the form, you’re not likely to get it unless you ask for it.  When writing to, or speaking with the church, make sure they understand that you are looking for a location in Ireland.  Below is a copy of the form from St. Bernard Church in New York for the marriage of Thomas O’Malley and Alice Martin.  However, clipped into the register was a letter from the parish priest in Ireland giving Alice’s baptismal information, names of her parents, sponsors and the townland in Ireland.  Prior to finding this record, the only information I had was Carrickmacross.  As it turned out, the townland of Dooah was less than 10 miles away from Carrickmacross, but in another civil and ecclesiastical  parish.  Had I researched the Alice Martin in Carrickmacross, I would have had the wrong person.  Our ancestors would frequently mention the largest town in the area, rather than their specific locality.

   Once you know the townland or parish in Ireland, use the General Alphabetical Index to the Townlands and Towns, Parishes and Baronies of Ireland to identify the civil parish.  This information has also just been put online by the Irish Genealogical Research Society for free (always good).  Once you know the civil parish, you will need to convert this if your ancestors were Catholic.  I use either James Ryan’s book, Irish Records: Sources for Family and Local History or John Grenham’s Tracing Your Irish Ancestors to determine the Roman Catholic Parish and to check the dates for surviving records and their location.  Irish Records also provides information on other denominations.  Both of these books can likely be found at your Library if they have a genealogical collection, or in my Store under Irish Resources.  (Ryan’s book is out of print, but used copies are available.)

   Once you’ve identified the parish you can check to see if the records are online at either the Irish Family History Foundation or  Also search for the county genealogical society, website or local parish, some of which have additional transcriptions.

   Happy Hunting!

Is your Society looking for a speaker for your 2014-2015 program year?  I’m available for onsite lectures, all day seminars or workshops as well as webinars on methodology, technology, the Internet and, of course, Irish research.  

Check out my Lectures or Email me.

© Donna M. Moughty 2007- 2018