Reviewing the Irish registers


The days have ticked along and I imagine many of us have crossed eyes from staring at the digitised Irish Catholic parish registers…I know I have!

Hasn’t the National Library of Ireland done us all proud? What a great program they have that even with all the Irish at home and abroad, the system didn’t crash, nor was it especially slow at the peak periods.

I’ve seen lots of Facebook comments on Irish county pages, celebrating discoveries and I’ve made a few of mine own…and still pondering some of the “missing”. But that’s the content for another post.

Meanwhile I thought I’d share some comments on using the program and then searching the registers themselves, even though the program is very intuitive and easy to follow. I recognise I may well be preaching to the converted here.

  • Try to restrain the urge to only search around a particular date: your ancestor may have “fibbed” about their age but more importantly you’ll get a feel for how that particular priest records events and a better sense of the parish. Were there lots of baptisms/marriages? Did they drop off after the Famine? Were there more marriages with consanguinity relationships? How common was your surname?
  • Check the sponsors as well to see whose events your family witnessed.
  • Some registers are only recorded in English, and some in a mix of Latin and English. You might find this dictionary handy to look up the English name for the Latin, or vice versa. eg William = Gulielmus; Dionysius + Dennis
  • Don’t assume the priest could spell accurately, or consistently! It’s common to see variations of the same Christian or surnames even in the same baptism/marriage entry. Sometimes it’s recorded in their formal name and others in their day-to-day nickname.
  • Try to get a better sense of the townland names for your parish. Use the Griffith Valuation page at AskAboutIreland to search for it. Sometimes to be tricky, the priest may even use a local name for the place…just be grateful that he’s narrowed their residence down more. In this case you may need to try a Google search: you may even find someone doing a One Place Study. This great site was recommended to me by one of my geminate, but I’ve forgotten which one …sorry!
  • Check there are not marriage entries interspersed with the baptisms: I’ve found several where marriages are on one page while baptisms are on the facing page.
  • Don’t forget that marriages usually occurred in the bride’s parish and sometimes the first child’s baptisms. You may need to search in adjacent parishes to find them, but also use the home-place of witnesses for clues. (Tip: Use the map of your county in the NLI program to see which ones are closest).
  • Burial is not a sacrament in the Catholic church (Extreme Unction is). Hence why you will not typically find your ancestors’ deaths in the registers…just give thanks when you do. If the Church of Ireland records exist it is worth checking them for burials.
  • All is not lost if the registers haven’t been digitised. Some may still be in the parish but you can also try these sources:
    • RootsIreland – make sure you go to the county and look at the registers which have been filmed (eg Broadford parish is missing in Clare). Just because the county is green on the map doesn’t mean they’re all there. This is a pay-to-view site after searching, but it’s also given me some events I haven’t found elsewhere.
    • Irish Times
    • FamilySearch: you might want to try this for clues on when your ancestor’s event may have been, remembering that after 1864 Irish civil registration applied to all (in theory at least). You could also check what microfilms are held in the Family History Library just to be sure they’re included in the NLI ones.
    • Consider that sometimes the priest annotated the baptism with the person’s marriage details when they occurred in another parish or overseas. It may be worth searching for this alone, or it may confirm you have the right person. A long shot, but worth a try.

So there you are my tips from sleuthing through some of the registers. I have so many more to follow up. Despite writing this a week or so ago, it’s only just going online now so I hope it’s of some use to people.

15 thoughts on “Reviewing the Irish registers

      • A fresh pair of eyes is always helpful. And it is tiring, looking at images which are sometimes quite faint, or where the ink has come through from the other side of the page. I hope your next look turns up some trumps!

        Liked by 1 person

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