A Genealogical Embarassment Of Riches – Part 2

There was some very good news for Irish genealogy recently with the release of the Catholic Parish Registers from the National Library of Ireland on July 8th

                                          National Library Of Ireland

Previously these records had only been available to consult in the Catholic churches directly or on microfiche in the National Library of Ireland. They were also available on the paid site Roots Ireland.

But why are these records so important for researching in Ireland?

Ballyporeen Parish Record

Ballyporeen/Templetenny Parish Record Excerpt

As I have mentioned in previous blog posts no census records survive prior to 1901, with the exception of some fragments from various 19th century census. Civil Registration for Catholics was only introduced in 1864 and the Public Records Office fire of 1922 has meant that many other records have been lost to us forever. Surviving records such as Griffiths Valuation and the Tithe Applotment books were never meant as census records and typically only list the head of household.

The Parish Registers on the other hand in some cases go back as far as the 18th century, which is much further than most have been able to dream of tracing our family history so far. There are a number of caveats which need to be kept in mind when using these records though.

  • Only baptisms and marriages are covered. Records of Catholic burials weren’t kept up until the early 20th century.
  • The registers kept by the National Library in most cases only extend as far as the 1880s. For anything later than that researchers will have to consult with the individual parishes.
  • The registers are not indexed or searchable. While it’s only a matter of time before one of the big genealogy companies, such as Ancestry or Findmypast gets around to doing this, in the meantime consulting the registers means scrolling through each set of records to find what you are looking for.
  • The handwriting can also prove to be an initial stumbling block. Some people have described it as spidery. Compared to modern handwriting it takes a lot of getting used to.
  • The use of Latin names can also lead to some confusion. Remember this was at a time long before Vatican II, when Latin was still used for nearly everything in the Catholic Church. It’s worth searching online for a good list of Latin names and their English equivalents when examining the registers.
  • Some parishes are missing. When the registers were initially being photographed back in the 1950s some were missed due to human error. This will happen with any transcription of records to another medium. There were also parishes that simply did not exist at this time and only became seperate entities later on.

That being said these records are still an amazing rescource. It’s obvious that a lot of thought went into the website design to make it user friendly. You can type the parish name into the search box or zoom in on the map to locate it. The records themselves are clear and legible. You can zoom right in and adjust the contrast settings if a particular page is difficult to view. When you open a record you can also go straight to a particular year, which is a huge bonus given how many baptisms and marriages took place in a typical year. Once you locate your ancestors in the register you can download a copy of that specific page.

There are also some ways to make searching easier. It might sound counter intuitive but when you first start, look for a date you already know about. If you have a specific date for an ancestors marriage or baptism then try to find that first. It will give you an opportunity to understand the layout of the registers and to get used to the handwriting.

There were some concerns from some of the Local History Centres, who run the Roots Ireland website, throughout Ireland that making these records freely available would inevitably mean the end of their business. Up until now they had been the main repository for transcripts of the registers. However it is my belief that the opposite will happen. For a lot of visitors to Ireland looking to trace their ancestors, these centres will still be one of their first stops because they hold transcripts of the records and because of their local knowledge. A subscription to Roots Ireland can also be helpful for using their transcripts in parallel with the registers.

The online registers might not be perfect but they are an amazing resource and hats off to the National Library for all their hard work and dedication in getting them online. The future of Irish genealogy is looking very bright and I wonder what other previously inaccessible records we can look forward to.

You can find the registers online at http://registers.nli.ie/

A Genealogical Embarrassment Of Riches – Part 1

Often when Irish genealogy is being discussed the topic of the Public Record Office fire of June 1922 will come up. At the beginning of the Irish Civil War in 1922, members of the Anti-Treaty IRA took control of the Four Courts and adjacent Public Records Office. In the course of trying to remove them from the building, the newly established Irish Free State army opened fire with mortars. There is some disagreement on what caused the Public Record Office fire, and whether the Anti-Treaty forces intended all along to destroy the records, but it inevitably led to the loss of nearly 1000 years of records concerning Irish history. For those unfamiliar with the events of this period Claire Santry provides an excellent overview of what exactly was lost. The losses include the majority of pre-1901 census records, with only fragments from these 19th century census surviving.

Public Record Office Fire, Dublin 1922

This is of course a tragic event in Irish history and often of great frustration to anyone looking to trace their ancestors back further than the mid-1800s. It could be be argued though that this has led Irish genealogists to be more determined in tracking down other surviving records. In recent years the process of scanning records and turning them into digital images has allowed for much greater access. This led the Irish government to set up the website www.Irishgenealogy.ie.

Visitors to the website can explore a number of very useful rescources, including transcriptions of some church records and also the Index to Historic Civil Records. Civil registration was relatively late in being introduced to Ireland. Although officially beginning in 1845, the Catholic Church refused to participate until 1864. This means a large portion of the Irish population was not registered for the two decades prior to 1864. Regardless of this the Civil Records are hugely important but the addition of the Indexes came with a slight hiccup. Originally added in July 2014, they were soon taken down because of concerns raised by the Data Protection Commissioner. Fortunately a compormise was reached and they were uploaded again recently. Under the new agreement the Indexes to Birth Records over 100 years, Marriage Records over 75 years and Death Records over 50 years are searchable.

Before diving into the Indexes it is important to remember that they are only indexes. As such the information they contain is meant to act as a guide to the more detailed records. For example when searching a birth record, the index will tell you the name of the individual, their date of birth, registration district and the group registration ID. Once you have this information an application must be made to the General Register Office in Dublin for the full certificate. The research office, which handles genealogical enquiries, is currently located at Werburgh Street. The cost of printing a certificate is €4 provided you have the information from the indexes. If you need to conduct a specific search covering a maximum of 5 years the fee is €2. A general search covering any number of years is €20 per day. It is also possible to apply for a certificate online.

An example of a birth certificate from the GRO can be seen below

Irish Birth Certificate

Irish Birth Certificate

Of course there are also other websites such as www.familysearch.org (free website run by the Church of the Latter Day Saints) and www.findmypast.ie (paid subscription website) which also contain copies of the indexes. These can be useful for crossreferencing Index entries. Just because information has been digitised doesn’t always mean it’s correct. Unintentional errors can still creep in so it is advisable to double check any records you come across before purchasing a certificate.

This is far from being the only good news regarding Irish genealogy and but the other recent advances deserve a fuller blog post to discuss them in more detail