Irish genealogy research can seem daunting, especially since civil registration began so late (in Ireland) in 1845 for non-Catholic marriages and in 1864 for all births, deaths, and weddings. However, recent digitization and other initiatives are making it easier than ever to trace your Irish family.
Most indexes and certificates for Irish births, marriages, and deaths are microfilmed together. They can be located on FamilySearch Catalog under IRELAND – CIVIL REGISTRATION or on the FSC films list under IRISH – CERTIFICATES.
Irish genealogy has a reputation for being hard, but the truth is that despite a 1922 fire that destroyed much, many valuable records survive. Civil registration began in Ireland in 1845 for some marriages and then in full force in 1864 for all births, deaths, and weddings. These records are vital to Irish family history research.
The records were copied in Dublin and then indexed, which is the source of our access to them today. The indices give the registration district, volume, and page of the register where the event was recorded. The quarter is also noted; for example, a birth record may say it was registered in the Jan-March, April-June, July-September, or Oct-Dec quarter.
These free Irish genealogy records include the date of birth, the mother’s maiden name, and, after a certain period in the Republic of Ireland (about 1900), the father’s occupation and, for single women, their husband’s name. The date of death is not always given, but when it is, the cause of death is included, and after a certain period in the republic (about 1955), the widow’s or daughter’s surname is also included.
These records are vital for Irish genealogy, but they are not without their pitfalls. For example, some parents, especially for births, would give a later date of birth than their church baptismal dates because to do otherwise would have incurred a fine.
Unlike other Irish records, Ireland’s civil registration of births, marriages, and deaths (BMDs) is considered complete—that is, the entire collection survives intact. Local registrars kept the original registers, often connected with dispensary doctors. Each quarter, a copy of the record was sent to Dublin to be arranged and indexed.
The first civil registration of marriages began in 1845, but complete registration only started in 1864. Until then, non-Catholic marriages and marriages performed by a minister or priest outside of the Catholic church were recorded.
When a wedding was registered, the registrar recorded both parties’ names and the marriage date. If the bride was a widow, her maiden name was noted. The names of witnesses are also registered, and the ages of both parties are indicated.
Civil registration was compulsory, and a penalty or fine was imposed for late registrations. This may have prompted some parents to give their children an incorrect date of birth to avoid the expense of a fine. For example, my grandfather in Clonakilty, County Cork, was baptized on Jan. 20. Still, his civil registration record lists him as being born on Feb. 13. The good news is that the local register was copied arranged in Dublin, so it survived intact. The indexes to the records are available for free on FamilySearch.
As with births, deaths were recorded in civil registration, which began in Ireland in 1864. The records are held by GRO (General Register Office Ireland), with GRONI (General Register Office Northern Ireland) holding the equivalent for Northern Ireland.
Like births, registration of marriages and deaths was compulsory. The collection of records survives because of that requirement, unlike the church parish records, which were not always kept. However, not all births, marriages, and deaths were registered, especially in the early years. There were many reasons for non-registration. For instance, some Roman Catholic families viewed the new civil system as unnecessary because baptisms were already recorded in a church. Families in remote rural areas often did not try to travel to the local registrar or dispensary doctor.
GRO indexes of the births, marriages, and deaths were transcribed and can be searched at FamilySearch free online, where they are found in the collection ‘Ireland Civil Registration Indexes, 1845-1958’. They are also available in the GRO’s research room on Werburgh Street, but there are limits on how many people can use a terminal.
It is also possible to order a photocopy (called a research copy) of a record from the GRO if you can’t find an entry on the database or want confirmation that it exists. See their website for application forms.
Before civil registration began in Ireland in 1845 for some marriages and in 1864 for births, deaths, and burials, church records were the only source of information on these events. Church of Ireland parish registers and a few Protestant dissenting meeting house notes in Northern Ireland are still available today, as are some non-Church of Ireland religious denomination records.
Before national civil registration began, the original registers of births, marriages, and deaths were kept locally by registrars in local districts, usually linked with a medical dispensary. Registrars created a quarterly return—a duplicate copy of the original register—of all the births, marriages, and deaths they registered, which were sent to Dublin. They were then copied at the General Register Office (GRO) and indexed—again, not always accurately or entirely. It is these copies that have survived.
Each county had its district, and each year was divided into four quarters, January-March, April-June, July-September, and October-December. The index books for each year are available in the GRO’s research room on Werburgh Street and have also been transcribed for free at FamilySearch.
These Irish civil records provide invaluable building blocks for your ancestry. They could be more perfect and give you only some of the information you want. Still, they can help to fill in the gaps in your family history, mainly if you know that your ancestor died after civil registration began.