Using Parish Registers Online
5:00 p.m. Tuesday 28 June 2016
G05 Western Gateway Building
by Dr Paddy Waldron
Catholic Parish Registers
Dioceses and parishes
- Many Irish present day dioceses trace their boundaries to
decisions made at the Synod of Rathbrassil in 1111.
- Traditionally every diocese had access to the coast or
waterways, so that the Bishop could travel to Rome without passing
- Diocesan boundaries respect parish boundaries.
- 26 Catholic dioceses in Ireland at Catholic-Hierarchy
- 12 Anglican
- See map
Catholic Archdioceses, Dioceses and Provinces.
- e.g., Killaloe is
- a town in County Clare
- a civil parish in County Clare
- a municipal district of Clare County Council (since 2014); and
diocese extending over parts of
counties Clare, Limerick, Tipperary, Offaly and Laois, extending almost
(but not quite) as far as Borris-in-Ossory
in the Diocese
- Canon Law gives parish clergy responsibility for Catholic
registers, but they are usually influenced by diocesan policy.
- Catholic and civil parishes have both evolved from the same
- Their boundaries began to diverge post-Reformation.
- The Penal Laws created a scarcity of priests, resulting in
- Boundaries have diverged further post-Ordnance Survey.
- Catholic Emancipation in 1829 produced a Devotional
Revolution with a
great increase in the number of priests, allowing smaller parishes.
- The 20th century collapse in religious vocations is causing
to be reversed.
- Most parishes contain several churches with shared
registers, ministered to by the same parish priest (P.P.) and possibly one or more curates (C.C.).
- Gerard Curtin in Every Field Had a Name: The
Place-names of West
Limerick (Sliabh Luachra Historical Society, 2012) writes
The details on Catholic parish boundaries are
taken from research work
done by the Limerick Archives and Family Ancestry when they were in
operation at The Granary, Michael Street, Limerick. Some of their
research may not be seen as correct in a small number of parishes, as
my travels I came across varied opinions of Catholic parish boundaries.
In cases it was put forward that people in certain areas were paying
church dues to a certain parish or playing football or hurling with
another parish. However, where townlands are divided between parishes
whole situation was locally generally confused and it was decided to
the research stand ... the boundaries of the civil parishes and the
Catholic parishes were in almost all cases totally different.
- Today, parishes are often known by the name of the main
town or village; e.g., Kilfearagh/Kilkee, Killard/Doonbeg,
- To avoid confusion, I use a different name for the Catholic
for the civil parish whenever a choice exists, e.g. in the above cases, and even Killadysert (civil)/Kildysert (Catholic).
- Most rural Irish parishes actually have at least three
- (mediaeval) parish name
- (modern) town or village name
- the saint(s) (etc) to whom the church(es) in the parish
(mainly used by the diaspora, mainly in U.S. cities, who have grown up
with an affiliation to their urban parish and the associated saint(s)
(etc); it generally rings no bells with the native Irish living outside
- E.g. Kilrush, County Clare/Killaloe diocese:
- The National Library
Ireland in its old PDF parish register list
diocese and on its 2015 website lists
the Kilrush parish registers from August 1827 up to February 1881 as "St. Senan's".
- The absence of a placename from this parish title has misled
many users, some even assuming that the records are from the town of
Killaloe, more than 90km from Kilrush.
- There are no less than four churches dedicated to St. Senan in the area covered by these registers (and many other St. Senan's
churches in nearby parishes, as he is the patron
saint of West Clare):
- St. Senan's Church on Toler Street in Kilrush, dedicated to St. Senan on completion in December 1840;
- St. Senan's Church in Moanmore, dedicated to St. Senan on completion in November 1895;
- St. Senan's Church in Knockerra, completed in 1961, replacing an older church also dedicated to St. Senan and built in 1832; and
- the Teach Ceoil on Grace Street in Kilrush, now
deconsecrated, but known as St. Senan's Church when used by the United
Church of England and Ireland from its construction (which began in
1813) up to Disestablishment, and thereafter by the Church of Ireland.
- There are also two churches not dedicated to St. Senan in the area covered by these registers:
- St. Imy's Church in Killimer, built in 1840 and still in use;
- the old Kilrush Chapel at the junctions of Chapel Street,
High Street and Burton Street, built in 1801 and replaced by the new
church on Toler Street in 1840.
- Before the Synod of Thurles in 1850, marriages and baptisms often took place in the home of the couple or of the priest
- Hence, the online Catholic registers cover sacraments administered in private houses up to 1850 and in
- the old Kilrush Chapel from 1829 to 1840;
- the old St. Senan's Church in Knockerra from 1832 to 1848 (when Killimer and Knockerra became a separate Catholic parish);
- St. Imy's Church from 1840 to 1848; and
- St. Senan's Church in Toler Street from 1840 to 1881.
- but the online Catholic registers do not cover sacraments administered in
- St. Senan's Church in Moanmore, which had not yet been built; or
- the non-Catholic St. Senan's Church in Grace Street.
Types of access available
Depending on parish and date, you may have access to:
- Most parishes have a hard copy index to children baptised
and to grooms married.
Some parishes have similar indexes online, e.g. Ennis.
Online indexes can usually be searched only by using Ctrl-F in your web browser.
- Usually an attempt to fit the information into a slightly
more sophisticated database structure, searchable and sortable on some or all of the
Fitting into a database structure may include attempting to standardise
the spelling of Christian names, surnames and placenames.
- An attempt to copy the original register verbatim into
- Images of transcriptions
- Many registers which were in poor physical condition were
transcribed by a later priest or a trusted parishioner, e.g.
`Origins of the Parish of Kilmacduane' by Canon James O'Neill,
published posthumously as Chapter One of Cooraclare & Cree:
Parish of Kilmacduane: History & Folklore (p.44)
Fr. Doheny C.C. was transferred [from
Kilmacduane] to Miltown Malbay in 1921, and was succeeded by Fr Peter
Ryan [1891-1972], a native of Kilrush. Fr. Ryan, who was, incidentally, a great
historian, did great work on the Parish Registers. He copied the old
Baptismal Register which was practically illegible and, in bold
beautiful handwriting, left us a splendid register, a monument to his
zeal and ability ... He was transferred to Roscrea in 1927.'
The registers for the adjoining Doonbeg parish were transcribed by Mick Blake, N.T. [1891-1976].
The original registers for Terryglass parish are still available in the
parish, but the microfilmers worked from a modern transcript.
- Images of originals
- Most Irish Catholic parish registers were microfilmed by the National Library of
Ireland (NLI) many years ago, with a cut-off date in general of 1880.
- The original is always the best source, but is usually unavailable for reasons of conservation, distance, etc.
There are many other websites containing one-off index or extracts or
inscriptions for individual parishes or small groups of parishes. See,
for example, the collection hosted by Clare County Library.
- This website, based entirely on the NLI microfilms, was not launched until July 2015.
There are many gaps in coverage before 1880, for example parts of the
Kilkee, Ennistymon and Kilmacduane registers have never been microfilmed.
If the register you need has not been digitised, then lobby the local
The website includes undated maps showing Catholic parishes and Catholic dioceses
or Catholic parishes and counties. Do these maps reflect the boundaries
at a specific date?
- Formerly Irish Ancestors at The Irish Times
website, moved to a new domain name in May 2016.
For details of surviving parish registers which have not been
microfilmed, see, for example, Kilmanaheen.
The various publications from Flyleaf Press by James Ryan and
others also give dates of surviving registers available in various
- Ireland, Catholic Parish Registers, 1655-1915 is an index
to the online NLI registers, compiled jointly by Ancestry and
FindMyPast, and available to subscribers.
Ancestry has done its own digitisation of some (more recent) registers,
e.g. Crusheen, County Clare, Ireland, Catholic
Parish Registers, 1860-2014.
See also these earlier Ancestry databases:
Catholic Parish Baptisms, 1742-1881
Catholic Parish Marriages and Banns, 1742-1884
Catholic Parish Deaths, 1756-1881
Select Catholic Birth and Baptism Registers, 1763-1912
Select Catholic Marriage Registers, 1775-1912
Select Catholic Death and Burial Registers, 1767-1912
Select Catholic Confirmation Registers, 1775-1912
- The indexes appear to be divided into four separate databases on the FindMyPast website: Ireland Roman Catholic Parish Baptisms, Ireland Roman Catholic Parish Marriages, Ireland Roman Catholic Parish Burials and Ireland Roman Catholic Parish Congregational Records (confirmations etc.).
The FindMyPast version is "free to search forever".
- Before subscribing, check the page listing available sources by centre.
map is misleading and has duped many unwitting
researchers into subscribing in order to search non-existent extracts.
Where coverage overlaps, the Rootsireland extracts were made
independently of the Ancestry/FindMyPast versions.
Views originally cost EUR10 each in a pay-per-view model.
In the current subscription model, an annual subscription, which now costs EUR225, is limited
to 15,000 views. This works out as only 1.5 cent per view, or 99.85% less than the
rootsireland.ie has badly damaged its reputation by constantly closing
accounts which were deemed not to have made sufficient purchases.
Some extracts are now linked directly to the corresponding images on the NLI website.
Church and civil records are forced into the same template, so some field names are a little odd, e.g. "Sponsor 2 /
Some fields left blank in the extract may be present in the original,
e.g. sponsors are not included for baptisms for St. Michael's parish,
Limerick (ST. MICHAEL'S (RC)).
Some records are in the wrong category, e.g. confirmation records for Charlestown parish, Mayo (KILBEAGH/CHARLESTOWN (RC)).
- This website was set up to plug gaps in the Rootsireland
See list of current records and dates covered -
5th April 2012.
- Even when the underlying data is exactly the same
(Ancestry/FindMyPast), different search interfaces and
name-matching algorithms can produce different search results.
- Good search interfaces allow the use of wildcards when searching:
an asterisk (*) can be used to match 0 or more other characters.
- e.g. Bri* to find
Bridget and Brigid or Mic* to find Michael or Michl. or Pat* to find
Patrick or Patt or Pat
- Examples of Christian name variants and translations and
nicknames and abbreviations:
- Brigid/Bridget, translated to
Bedelia/Bidelia/Bedilia/Bidilia in Latin, then very frequently
abbreviated to Delia
- Morgan, translated to Pelagius in
- rootsireland's Christian name matching algorithm uses starts-with
matching, so it is usually best to enter just the initial or the first
two letters in order to pick up all possible abbreviations, and spelling and translation variations.
- But isolating all possible variants of Mary/Maria/Margaret/Peg or Edward/Edmond/Edmund/Ned or Bridget/Delia/etc. can be messy.
rootsireland's surname matching algorithm is usually excellent, but fails to
identify Redington as a variant of Mulderg (GGGgrandmother of United
States Vice-President Joe Biden).
- Turning off exact matching in the ancestry.com search algorithm usually produces a deluge of irrelevant results.
Shifting parish boundaries
- Two or more adjoining parishes were often split or merged.
- See table with
examples from `Kilrush Poor Law Union and the Parishes of West Clare'
the Clare Association Yearbook 2014 pp. 46-50.
- So check whether the townland in which your ancestors lived
was always in
the same Catholic parish that it is in today
- If Poor Law Union (PLU) and Dispensary District boundaries
did not respect
boundaries, then marriages in the local church could be registered in a
different PLU or Dispensary District from home births and deaths.
- e.g., there are eight
townlands in Kilmurry Ibrickan civil parish which lie in
Poor Law Union, with the remainder of the civil parish, including the
churches, in Kilrush PLU.
- GO MS 641 is a comprehensive history of parish boundaries
and surviving parish registers for Killaloe Diocese, apparently typed
in 1943, and microfilmed by the Genealogical Society of Utah in January
1950 (Film 0100239).
- Are there similar sources for any other diocese?
If you cannot find the record that you are looking for, then it
- may have been
- mistranslated or
- mislocated (by you)
- may be available offline only, or
- may not have survived.
Tips and tricks
- Ireland was a trilingual society:
- the ordinary people spoke Irish, but
- the church of the majority recorded their lives in Latin, and
- the civil authorities recorded their lives in English.
- The date in a baptism record is almost certainly the date of
baptism and usually several days after the date of birth, whatever an
index or extract may say.
- Marriages traditionally took place in the bride's home
- Many new brides also returned to their mothers' homes and
the birth and baptism of their first child.
- But once railway transport became commonplace, strong
farmers and the
merchant class often travelled to a more fashionable big town or city
weddings, e.g. Ennis, Limerick, Dublin, even London, nowadays Italy
- Marriages traditionally took place in Shrovetide: after
Nollaig na mBan (6 January) and before Ash Wednesday; see ecclesiastical calendar.
- The first child traditionally arrived around the following
- Infant mortality was high and names were re-used.
- From 1 January 1864, civil birth records are available as a
cross-check on baptism records
- The penalty for late baptism was eternal damnation; the
financial penalty for late
registration could be avoided by misreporting the birthdate, so many
thousands of babies appear to have been baptised days, weeks or months
before they were born.
- The Ne
Temere decree by Pope Pius X took effect on
Easter Sunday 19 April 1908; marriages after that date are in principle
endorsed on the baptismal records of both bride and groom.
- Most marriages of those baptised before the 1880 cut-off
for microfilming took place before Ne
- If you want a second opinion on difficult handwriting or poor images,
please share a link to the register, and not just a small screengrab,
so that the handwriting and layout can be studied in context by whoever is helping you.
Church of Ireland Parish Registers
rootsireland.ie and churchrecords.irishgenealogy.ie include some Church
of Ireland registers.
The Anglican Record Project
by Mark Williams is an ongoing endeavour to make the registers of
baptism, marriage and burial from Church of Ireland parishes available
in a digital format.
Representative Church Body Library
See TABLE OF CHURCH OF IRELAND PARISH REGISTERS
THROUGHOUT IRELAND (Baptisms, Marriages, Burials & copies).
Parishes and Unions
The Clergy of ... :
Biographical Succession Lists
available for many dioceses are very useful ways of telling
civil parishes had an active church and which were part of larger
From the Act of Union of 1800 to the Irish Church Act of 1869, the
United Church of England and Ireland was the Established Church in
Its records were required to be deposited in the Public Record Office,
where many were destroyed in the 1922 fire.
Copies of some were retained in the parishes and others were never
Permission is still required from the National Archives of Ireland as
copyright holder in order to publish pre-Disestablishment records.
Early Methodists often had baptisms, marriages and funerals performed
in the Established Church.
Dublin Dissent by Steven C.Ffeary- Smyrl (ISBN: 9781906353155) is a good guide to the records of other denominations in Dublin.