The most important source of information for the genealogist is parish
records. However, there is much
confusion concerning the existence or availability of Irish Church records.
The first problem is to identify which records exist for a particular area
and the period covered. The
parish is an administrative unit, be it ecclesiastical or civil. In
general, the Church of Ireland
parish boundaries follow those of the civil parish, but in the 18th and 19th
centuries new parishes were
formed or old parishes were united with others depending on the population
of an area, and the
religious present in that area. Many of these changes are recorded in
Directory (PROPER REFERENCE!!) (1838). Roman catholic parish boundaries are
to define, these have changed over the years and they are often called by
differing from the name of the civil parish in which they may be found.
Religions such as the Methodist and Presbyterian do not have parish
structures. Some did have their
own church areas and these too may have changed in time, such as the
circuits of the Methodist
The information contained in parish registers differs, depending on the
person who kept the register.
Many registers were simply notebooks and on the death of the person who
created the register these
were often considered the personal property of that person by their family
and kept or destroyed by the
family accordingly. Later registers were in a printed format, yet, the
registrar may not have filled in
For some baptismal registers we find the name of the father and the mother,
the mothers maiden name,
the townland that they came from, the names of witnesses and where they
lived and the fathers occupation.
For others, we find simply the names of the people involved in the ceremony,
nothing more. Some
registers are written neatly, some others are very difficult to read.
Marriage registers may contain the names of the parties being married, their
fathers names, their
ages, their occupations, their townlands and the names of the witnesses.
ROMAN CATHOLIC RECORDS
There are very few Catholic records which pre-date 1800, a handful were
begun in the very late 18th
century (1796-98). In general, baptismal and marriage records date from the
1820's-30's, and there
are few burial records. Some records are written in English, while others
are written in Latin.
Roman Catholic parishes often spread through more than one civil parish and
so while searching
records it is often necessary to read the records of a few parishes. Most
Roman Catholic parishes
had a parish church and several other churches or chapels in the same
parish. Sometimes only one
register was kept for the whole parish and then other times each
church/chapel had its own register.
Quite often, there is no indication of townlands for the persons involved in
the ceremony, making it
very difficult to identify ancestors.
The National Library of Ireland has microfilmed many of the pre-1880
registers for all counties and
continues to do so. PRONI in Belfast has microfilm copies for all Roman
catholic parishes contained
within the six counties of Northern Ireland, it also has copies for most of
the parishes in counties
Donegal, Cavan and Monaghan and some for counties Louth and Leitrim.
The Diocese of Cashel and Emly is the only Catholic Diocese which does not
give permission to view
CHURCH OF IRELAND RECORDS
Until 1871 the Church of Ireland was the state church in Ireland.
Disestablishment occurred in 1871
and in 1875 the Parochial Records (Ireland) Act was passed which declared
that marriage registers
dated pre 1845, and baptismal and burial records pre 1871 were public
records and should be deposited
in the Public Record Office of Ireland in Dublin. Parishes opposed this Act
and there was a further
Act passed in 1876 which allowed these records to remain in local custody
provided there was provision
made for their safe keeping. By 1922, the records of 1,006 Church of
Ireland parishes had been
deposited in the Public Record Office, 637 parishes kept their records in
local custody. All but four
of these records which had been with the Public Record Office for
safe-keeping were destroyed by fire
in the Four Courts in Dublin in 1922.
This was a loss to all, not just members of the Church of Ireland, because
these registers also
contained information on those of other religions. Conditions in Ireland
during the time of the Penal
Laws 1691-1760, gave the Church of Ireland the exclusive right to administer
baptism, marriage and
A complete list of all parish records which were sent to Dublin can be found
in the '28th Report of
the Deputy Keeper of Records in Ireland, 1896 and in this is given the
period covered by the baptisms,
marriages and burials of each parish.
Only baptismal, marriage and burial registers were covered by the Parochial
Records Act (1875) and it
was these types of records which were sent to Dublin, all other records
(such as Vestry Minutes) kept
by any parish were maintained locally.
METHODIST CHURCH RECORDS
When John Wesley came to Ireland in the mid 18th century people joined the
Wesleyan Methodist Society
from all denominations but remained in their own churches. Methodist
preachers were not allowed to
baptise children (1804) and so Methodists brought their children to the
Established Church. There was
a split in the Methodist church in 1816 - the Primitive Wesleyan Methodists
maintaining a link with
the Church of Ireland and the Wesleyan Methodists who allowed their
preachers to baptise children.
Primitive Wesleyan baptismal registers begin in 1860 and in 1878 the
Primitive Wesleyan Methodists
and the Wesleyan Methodists united.
The Society of Primitive Methodists which began in England in 1812 was also
found in Ireland from
1832, and a third branch of Methodism - the Methodist new Connexion also
Methodist churches did not have their own burial grounds and so few burials
Some may have been registered in Church of Ireland registers. Separate
baptismal registers do begin
in the 1830's and the Methodist Church in Ireland does have a volume of
baptismal entries from all
over the country, which contains some baptisms from 1815 to 1840.
Many Methodist churches in the six counties of Northern Ireland have had
their registers and other
records copied by PRONI as have those from counties Cavan, Donegal and
Methodist registers can vary for a locality depending on the circuit,
baptismal registers are
usually for a circuit, while churches kept their own marriage registers at
least from 1845 onwards,
when civil registration of Church of Ireland marriages was introduced.
PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH RECORDS
The Penal Laws applied to all those who were not members of the Church of
Ireland, the state church
in Ireland and so, while Presbyterianism was introduced to Ireland in the
17th century, it was
illegal for a Presbyterian Minister to perform a baptism or marriage, as it
was also for Roman
Catholics. Information on Presbyterians is also to be found in Church of
Ireland registers for
this early period. As with Methodist Churches, Presbyterian churches rarely
had their own burial
grounds and again there are few burial registers.
Many places have more than one Presbyterian church, referred to as 1st, 2nd,
3rd. These were
the result of dispute over doctrine, the choice of minister, or simply
because the congregation
had grown too big and needed new accommodation. Many of the churches known
under these titles
originally began as seceding congregations - congregations who objected to
an Act of Parliament
in 1712 which accepted patronage as a method of appointing ministers.
were re-united in 1840 into the Synod of Ulster.
Presbyterian records are held by the Presbyterian Historical Society for
some of the counties
of Northern Ireland and also churches in the Republic, particularly those
records for churches
which no longer exist. PRONI has copied those for the nine counties of
RELIGIOUS SOCIETY OF FRIENDS (QUAKERS)
This society began in Ulster in the mid-17th century, mainly around Lurgan,
Co. Armagh and
Lisburn in Co. Antrim. Record keeping was very important, birth, marriage
and burial records
exist from the 17th century. Documents are maintained by the libraries of
the Society of
Friends in Antrim and Dublin.