Irish civil registration: How to find records of BMDs etc.

by Paddy Waldron

Last revised: 22 July 2014

Introduction:

There is a clear need for a clear guide to using the birth, marriage and death (BMD) records of the Irish General Register Office (GRO) as they appear online (at familysearch.org and elsewhere from 23 January 2009 and before; and briefly at irishgenealogy.ie from 3 July 2014 to 17 July 2014) and offline (in the custody of various governmental quangos). This page is an attempt to gather all the relevant information into a single place.

Outline:

  • Sources
  • Principles
  • History
  • Administrative divisions and procedures
  • Sample records
  • Access to original records
  • The official online indexes debacle of July 2014
  • Using the official indexes
  • The familysearch.org copies, transcriptions and extracts
  • Comparison of websites and search interfaces
  • How to find the LDS film number for an Irish birth, marriage or death record
  • Obtaining images
  • The potential for errors
  • What about the "etc."?
  • Sources

    This page is largely intended to update the booklet IRISH CIVIL REGISTRATION -WHERE DO I START?, in the light of the great advances in the provision (initially by third parties) of online access to Irish civil registration records since its publication, back in 2000. This invaluable booklet, written by Eileen M. O Dúill and Steven C. ffeary-Smyrl, is the starting point for those wishing to understand the General Register Office and its records. It was published by CIGO, the Council of Irish Genealogical Organisations, which started life as GROusers, a thoroughly justified acronym for General Register Office Users Group. More than two decades later, the subjects of CIGO's current campaigns still include the General Register Office.

    The booklet can be ordered online by clicking on the title above. However, much has changed since it was published.

    Claire Santry has written a similar guide to this as part of her Irish Genealogy Toolkit.

    Principles

    In Ireland, as in the other parts of what was the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland when civil registration was introduced in the mid-nineteenth century, birth, marriage and death records are considered to be public records. Different principles apply in other jurisdictions, where such records may be considered to be private records.

    Among the reasons for making such records public are:

    In jurisdictions where birth, marriage and death records are considered private records, financial institutions and other organisations often assume that the person carrying a birth certificate, or even just knowing information contained on the birth certificate, is proven to be the person named on the birth certificate. Those born in Ireland, or the United Kingdom, should be extremely wary of dealing with any organisation which makes this totally false assumption.

    Birth and marriage certificates are among the documents listed on polling cards for Irish elections as evidence of identity, but must be accompanied by a further document which establishes the address of the holder in the constituency or electoral area.

    There are possible conflicts between the principles underlying civil registration legislation and the principles underlying data protection legislation. These conflicts do not seem to have been the subject of much public debate in Ireland until raised on the front page of The Irish Times on 21 July 2014 (here and here).

    History

    Civil registration of births, marriages and deaths was introduced in England and Wales only, but not in the rest of the then United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, in 1837. Civil registration of non-Catholic marriages was introduced in Ireland on 1 April 1845. A much better system of civil registration was introduced in Scotland in 1855, requiring the names (including maiden surnames) of both parents of bride and groom to be shown on marriage certificates and those of both parents of the deceased to be shown on death certificates.

    Civil registration of births, of all marriages, and of deaths was introduced in Ireland for events on or after 1 January 1864 under An Act for the Registration of Births and Deaths in Ireland [20 April 1863; 26 & 27 Vict. c.11]. Unfortunately, the Irish system was based on that used in England and Wales and not on the much better system used in Scotland. Section 52 of the 1863 Act anticipated the needs of future genealogists and required every registrar to

    "allow Searches to be made of the Register Book in his keeping".

    The shortcomings of the 19th century Irish system were not fully rectified until the 21st century, when the 1863 Act was repealed by the passing of the Civil Registration Act 2004. The 1863 Act had also been amended by the passing of the Social Welfare (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act, 2002.

    Unfortunately for genealogists, the 2004 Act contained no provision along the lines of Section 52 of the 1863 Act, so withdrew direct public access to the registers of births, deaths and marriages at the same time as it improved the content of new records.

    Before 2004, several organisations had taken advantage of the direct public access to registers to do some wholescale copying. In particular:

    The official civil registration system currently in use in England and Wales still lags behind that introduced in Scotland in 1855 in terms of its usefulness to genealogists. That in Northern Ireland was improved (for example, to finally include parents' names on death certificates) with the passing of the Civil Registration Act (Northern Ireland) 2011.

    In July 2012, the Irish system was the subject of a report from the Office of the Ombudsman entitled Hidden History? - The Law, the Archives and the General Register Office. The Ombudsman found that birth, death and marriage records held by the GRO, and which are more than 30 years old, should be available for public inspection under the National Archives Act 1986, promising a return to the pre-2004 situation.

    The Ombudsman wrote:

    "any study of the lives of women who lived and died in the so-called Magdalene Laundries would ideally involve an examination of the death registers for the relevant districts where the Laundries were located. The same holds true for any research on children who died in the care of reformatories and industrial schools."

    This point has become even more topical as the world media have reported on Catherine Corless's research into the Bon Secours Mother and Baby Home in Tuam and on research into similar institutions.

    On 23 July 2013, the Irish Cabinet approved a memo on the Civil Registration (Amendment) Bill 2013 [sic], proposing (a) that the inclusion of fathers’ names on birth certificates would become compulsory and (b) that registrars could refuse to issue a marriage registration form if they suspected that the intended marriage was a “sham” marriage of convenience. (Irish Times report here.) A press release on 3 July 2014 said that the Minister for Social Protection would

    "shortly be publishing the Civil Registration (Amendment) Bill 2014 [sic] in which I will be providing for certain historic records to be made available online direct to the public."

    Kieran Feely, director general of the GRO, summarised the history of civil registration in Ireland in his evidence to the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Environment, Culture and the Gaeltacht on 28 January 2014 during its debate on Capturing Full Value of Genealogical Heritage.

    Administrative divisions and procedures

    Irish civil registration records have been compiled since 1845 by the quango whose successor today variously calls itself the The General Register Office, An tSeirbhís um Chlárú Sibhialta and The Civil Registration Service. According to http://www.hse.ie/eng/services/Find_a_Service/bdm/Certificates_ie/aboutus/, "The Civil Registration Service is part of the Health Service Executive and was previously known as Births, Deaths and Marriages." According to http://www.welfare.ie/en/Pages/Overview%20of%20the%20Department.aspx, services of the Department of Social Protection include "administration by the General Register Office (GRO) of the Civil Registration Service (for the registration of births, adoptions, marriages, civil partnerships and deaths in the State)."

    There are several related web domains:

    The Registrar's Districts established in 1845 coincided with the 130 Poor Law Unions (PLUs) established a few years earlier under the 1838 Act 'for the more effectual Relief of the Destitute Poor in Ireland'; one registrar of marriages was appointed for each PLU.

    Between 1848 and 1850, an additional 33 PLUs were created by subdividing and reorganising the boundaries of some existing Unions; these changes did not change the Registrar's Districts for civil registration of marriages, which remained unchanged until full civil registration was introduced in 1864. See workhouses.org.uk for a full history of Irish Poor Law Unions.

    In 1851, under the Medical Charities (Dispensary) Act, dispensary districts were formed within each Poor Law Union, initially an average of between four and five five per union.

    When full civil registration was introduced in 1864, the dispensary doctor generally became the Registrar of Births, Marriages and Deaths, his (probably not yet her!) Registrar's District coincided with his Dispensary District, and he reported to a Superintendent Registrar, whose jurisdiction coincided with one of the 163 revised Poor Law Unions.

    Thus, for example, Corrofin (sometimes spelled Corofin), one of the new Poor Law Unions, formally declared as a Poor Law Union on 22 February 1850, does not appear in the marriage indexes until 1864.

    Corrofin is just one of the placenames for which the spelling used for civil registration purposes differs from that commonly used today; as of 10 July 2013, Google reports 382,000 hits for "Corofin" but only 35,400 for "Corrofin". For other examples of such spelling variations, see this Clare Past Forum discussion.

    There are excellent maps of dispensary districts (and the district electoral divisions into which they are subdivided for purposes not associated with civil registration) at logainm.ie. If one knows the townland in which an event took place, one can identify the district electoral division in which it lies from the census website. These maps will then identify the dispensary district in which it lies. Finally the townland index will identify the Poor Law Union in which it lay in 1851, which will generally be the Superintendent Registrar's District in the indexes. (Unions such as Glin (1891) and Tulla (1907) were abolished much later, leading to further complications.)

    It is widely acknowledged that for a variety of reasons not all births, marriages or deaths were registered, and others were registered incorrectly. There were fines for late registration, which acted as an incentive to lie, so it is very common to find that the birth date on a birth certificate is later, often considerably later, than the christening date on the corresponding baptismal certificate. This was one way of avoiding the fine. This failure to register or to register truthfully is the first of the several steps where there is scope for errors.

    Registrars were generally required to send copies of birth, marriage and death records to the General Register Office in Dublin on a quarterly basis. This copying process is the second of the several steps where there is scope for errors. The copies sent to Dublin were in the registrar's handwriting. The originals, which he retained, contained the original signatures of informants, brides, grooms and witnesses.

    The General Register Office compiled annual indexes up to and including 1877 and quarterly indexes thereafter. This indexing process is the third of the several steps where there is scope for errors.

    Under the Anglo-Irish Treaty signed on 6 December 1921, the island of Ireland was partitioned into the six counties of Northern Ireland and the twenty-six counties of the Irish Free State, now the Republic of Ireland. Castleblaney Poor Law Union (Superintendent Registrar's District) was also partitioned, as it straddled the new border. The General Register Office of Northern Ireland was established to continue civil registration in Northern Ireland. This page deals only with the records of the General Register Office in Dublin, which cover the whole island up to partition, but only the twenty-six counties thereafter.

    In recent years, the General Register Office headquarters has moved from Dublin to Roscommon and there have been various revisions to the network of local offices.

    Under Section 20 of the Social Welfare and Pensions (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 2013, signed on 28 June 2013, the Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht may perform certain functions previously reserved to an tArd-Chláraitheoir, a Superintendent Registrar, a registrar or an authorised officer under the Civil Registration Act 2004. The Minister used these powers to make the civil registration indexes available at irishgenealogy.ie from 3 July 2014.

    Sample records

    To understand the system, it may help to see

    Access to original records

    Prior to the enactment of the Civil Registration Act 2004, researchers and other members of the public could browse registers of births, deaths and marriages from any particular time period or geographical area for a small fee.

    The GRO's own internal computer system allows its staff to search the birth index from 1864 to date, the marriage index from 1920 to date and the death index from 1924 to date. The general public are not permitted access to this facility.

    The original indexes show only the Superintendent Registrar's District (Poor Law Union) in which the event occured. For unusual names, this is generally adequate, but for common names it is totally inadequate.

    To identify correctly the certificate required, the client needs to see either the Registrar's District or the event location recorded on the certificate itself.

    For some considerable time after the passing of the 2004 Act, some (if not all) local registration offices still allowed clients, by appointment, to browse the original registers in order to find the appropriate certificate. Under the 2004 Act, as implemented at most local offices, clients must order large numbers of certificates on a trial-and-error basis, at enormous cost, in order to locate the correct certificate.

    Minister Martin Cullen confirmed in reply to a parliamentary question on 12 February 2008 that the GRO still provided a family history/genealogical research service, apparently glossing over the restrictions introduced in 2004.

    Hearsay suggests that the County Limerick office at Newcastle West and the Limerick City office at St Camillus (as recently as February 2009) both allowed clients by appointment to handle and search the original books containing the full BMD entries. The attitude at St Camillus was that the client should do the research as the staff do not have time. North Tipperary at Nenagh used to allow inspection of original registers. County Clare at Ennis has withdrawn this facility on the grounds of lack of space. County Laois also has no such facility.

    None of these centres allow clients to use the computer.

    The official online indexes debacle of July 2014

    Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, Jimmy Deenihan, and Minister for Social Protection, Joan Burton, unveiled a set of official online indexes at the Royal Irish Academy in Dublin on Thursday 3 July 2014. This happened eight days before a Cabinet re-shuffle saw the former demoted, as had been widely predicted, and the latter promoted. Subsequent events suggest that the timing may have been rushed so that Deenihan could achieve one of his two big genealogical objectives before leaving office. The more high profile promise in the 2011 programme for government to release the 1926 census returns during his term of office had been stymied by objections from the Central Statistics Office. Within a couple of weeks, objections from another quango would stymie this initiative also. Ten days after his demotion, Deenihan's photograph remained under the "Welcome from the Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht" on the irishgenealogy.ie home page, but the full welcome message was returning a 404 error..

    These indexes went offline indefinitely on Friday 18 July 2014 with this rushed and uninformative message on both the Irish-language and English-language versions of the website:

    "Civil Records Search temporarily unavailable

    Further update will be provided."

    As noted above, the full story was made public by The Irish Times on 21 July 2014 (here and here). It quoted the objections of the Data Protection Commissioner, Billy Hawkes, who has long had a much higher public profile than his counterpart in the GRO, Kieran Feely, who was not consulted or quoted by The Irish Times. Hawkes described the online indexes as

    “a treasure trove for people of evil intent”

    and said that

    "it’s a totally different thing to go in and pay a fee and get [it] in a physical form and having the whole lot available online"

    and that

    "nobody thought about this and it’s a particularly shocking example, frankly, of the public service falling down on the job.”

    He also referred to

    "the need for organisations to carry out privacy impact assessments before they considered projects."

    During their brief period of availability, the official indexes supplemented, but did not replace, the unofficial indexes available via familysearch.org (see below). Every entry in the familysearch.org indexes was, in principle, also in the official irishgenealogy.ie indexes.

    Some reports (for example, the CIGO press release of 4 July 2014) said that the irishgenealogy.ie indexes included all BMDs up to 2013 and The Irish Times said that they "would have easily yielded information on minors", but I was unable to find any births after 1995.

    The Minister for Social Protection did announce during her remarks at the launch that officials in the GRO would assist historians researching the mother and baby homes controversy and the forthcoming Commission of Investigation into mother-and-baby homes.

    Using the official indexes

    While the strength of the Data Protection Commissioner's objections raises fears that these indexes may never be restored, I will leave the technical details here in the hope that they will be of use in the future - or of use to the government officials tasked with clearing up the mess.

    To use these indexes, bookmark the advanced search form.

    When you first visit this bookmark, or return to it after a short break, you will be required before searching to make a new application to an tArd-Chláraitheoir to search the indexes to the Births, Death, Marriages and Civil Partnerships registers. Once you have fully completed the application once, a few keyboard shortcuts will allow you to complete it quickly for later searches: point-and-click the First Name box, <Down><Down><Tab><Down><Down><Space><Enter>. Alternatievely, you can cheat and just enter any two initials instead of your full name.

    In order to proceed from the search form to your first search results, or to any search results after a short break, you will have to solve a captcha. The Irish Times referred to the potential for the indexes to be “scraped” or harvested by commercial or other interests; the captcha was clearly intended to remove this potential threat.

    It appears that the application and captcha last for an unspecified short time interval from the last search. You can search for hours without having to go through the procedure again, but if you take a short break you have to make the application and enter the captcha again.

    The search algortihm has a number of flaws; for example a search for "McCarthy" does not find "Mc Carthy" and a search for "O'Meara" does not find "O Meara". More understandably, a search for "MacMahon" does not find "McMahon".

    There are sections on the form for births, marriages and deaths. It appears that anything filled in in these sections is ignored unless the corresponding birth, marriage or death box is also ticked. For example, entering First & Middle Name(s) and Last Name and entering 1880 in the Year From and Year To boxes of the deaths section will return all births, all marriages and all deaths in all years matching the names entered.

    Some index entries include a precise date, some include the traditional quarter, and some include just a year. When the `Date of Birth' (or marriage or death) is just a year, it appears to be the year of registration rather than the year of birth (or marriage or death, as appropriate).

    Some marriages are indexed in a single entry including the names of both husband and wife; other marriages generate separate index entries for husband and wife, leaving the researcher to try to match them up.

    The husband and wife are referred to in search results as "Party 1 Name" and "Party 2 Name" ("Last Name" and "2nd Party" in the search form) or vice versa. For example, searching for Last Name Durkin and 2nd Party O'Brien produces two results:

    Marriage of THOMAS DURKIN and Bridget O'BRIEN on 07 March 1927

    and

    Marriage of HENRY DURKIN and MARY O'BRIEN on 20 November 1921.

    However, searching for Last Name O'Brien and 2nd Party Durkin produces two completely different results:

    Marriage of PAUL O'BRIEN and TARA DURKIN on 12 June 1998

    and

    Marriage of MARGARET O'BRIEN and PATRICK DURKIN on 01 September 1934.

    In three cases, Party 1 Name is the husband, but in the fourth it is the wife. So it appears that two searches are required for any marriage - even if there is no ambiguity about surname spellings (O Brien, Durcan and Durkan are all possibilities in this case).

    In a sample of 112 marriages which I have copied and pasted to my own genealogy database, Party 1 Name is the husband in 77 cases and the wife in the remaining 35 cases.

    Dara McGivern recommended this strategy for quickly finding a marriage where the index entry includes both parties' surnames:

    There are many death records in which the Deceased Age at Death is "N/R" rather than an integer, for example 13 of the 15 Thomas Crowes who died between 1912 and 1922 inclusive.

    Many Irish-language names appear to be missing fadas (accents).

    In the official version of the indexes, there appear to be no middle names at all, and in many case no quarters of registration, so the familysearch.org versions of the indexes, which include these (see below), will still be superior in some cases.

    Similarly, when a widow (or, more recently, divorcee) remarries, the official online index appears to include her in the index under her maiden name only. The familysearch.org versions include an extra entry (or entries) under the surname(s) of the previous husband(s) of widows who remarried.

    In some cases, the "SR District/Reg Area" is returned as the name of a county which never gave its name to a Poor Law Union, such as "Clare" or "Dublin". This field is called "Civil Registration District/Office" in the advanced search form but "SR District/Reg Area" in the search results. Conversely, if the index entry says something like Limerick, it is very difficult to tell whether it refers to county Limerick or to Limerick Superintendent Registrar's District, which includes the area around Limerick city including much of south-east county Clare, but doesn't include most of county Limerick.

    In many cases, the familiar PLU/year/quarter/volume/page co-ordinates are replaced with a "Group Registration ID" of between five and seven digits. It is not clear whether this can be used to order a copy of the full record; presumably revised order forms have been issued to coincide with the online unveiling. There does not seem to be any pattern to these numbers. The births of one apparent single family of four children registered in Ennis are numbered rather randomly as 86066 in 1900, 4804621 in 1903, 404865 in 1905 and 715087 in 1907. I have found twins, registered on the same page, with Group Registration IDs of 6639891 and 6640399, separated by 508. Life would be a lot easier if twins had consecutive Group Registration IDs!

    There were many minor errors. In my own entry, my mother's maiden surname was misspelled (Dunkan for Durkan). Another friend could not immediately find her birth as her own surname was misspelled (Darby for Darcy).

    You might also like to read Claire Santry's review.

    The familysearch.org copies, transcriptions and extracts

    My previous attempts to do this (here and here and here) have been thwarted by the regular wholesale changes to the familysearch.org website. These changes, many for the better but some for the worse, have been a cause of great inconvenience to those that have invested considerable time and effort into understanding, documenting and exploiting the previous versions of the familysearch.org search interface. The following is a summary of the present situation with direct links to the online databases containing extracts from Irish BMD records.

    Some time after 1958, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (also known as the Mormon Church) was permitted to microfilm Irish civil registration records up to 1958 (inclusive) and filmed all the indexes, many of the birth registers, and marriage and death registers up to 1870.

    In the years since 1958, there have been a number of schemes to transcribe these films. The indexes have theoretically been fully transcribed, but the registers only partially transcribed. Some of the parts that have been transcribed have actually been transcribed as often as four times (identified by the system origins Ireland-ODM (two versions), Ireland-VR and Ireland-EASy). This transcription process is the fourth of the several steps where there is scope for errors. The transcribers were generally not Irish and therefore not familiar with Irish handwriting, the Irish language, Irish surnames or Irish placenames. They were also working from microfilm copies which may have been out of focus or difficult to read for other reasons.

    On 23 January 2009, these transcriptions first became available wnithin the familysearch.org domain at pilot.familysearch.org; they have been moved around within that domain frequently since that date.

    The following announcement appeared in August 2011 at

    http://pilot.familysearch.org/recordsearch/start.html#c=fs%3A1408347&p=collectionDetails:

    August 23: Last Day for Record Search Pilot! Record Search Pilot will be replaced by FamilySearch.org. Thank you! Record Search Pilot has been a great success. Your feedback led to the first phase of an improved search experience on FamilySearch.org. Look for more of your ideas to be implemented in the coming months. Why is Record Search Pilot ending? The Pilot website was never intended to be permanent - it was a place to gather and test ideas. It was never designed to handle more records, more features, or more visitors. In order to fully implement improvements, we need to end the Pilot and shift resources to our main website.

    The 2011 changes appear to have removed the facility to search or filter or sort by things like middle initials, etc., etc.

    The links from this page were valid as of the date that they were inserted, but past experience suggests that further changes may be required in the future.

    Due to conflicting information on the familysearch.org website, it is quite unclear what the Irish databases on the site contain and do not contain. These are the best descriptions that I can provide.

    FamilySearch.org: Irish Civil Registration Indexes

    The indexes only to birth, marriage and death records, as microfilmed by the LDS Church in Abt 1959. They cover non-Catholic marriages from 1 Apr 1845 to 1958 and all births, marriages (Catholic and non-Catholic) and deaths from 1 January 1864 to 1958. Up to 1922, they cover all 32 counties of Ireland; thereafter they cover only the 26 counties of what in that year became the Irish Free State (now the Republic of Ireland).

    Some sample counts for a randomly chosen decade suggest that the transcriptions are probably complete:

    Births
    1930 63,328
    1931 62,130
    1932 61,457
    1933 58,253
    1934 62,664
    1935 63,104
    1936 63,619
    1937 60,149
    1938 59,565
    1939 60,710
    Marriages
    1930 29,656
    1931 29,063
    1932 28,584
    1933 29,184
    1934 31,765
    1935 31,732
    1936 33,309
    1937 33,509
    1938 33,366
    1939 33,285
    One might speculate that the dips in marriages in 1932 and in births in 1933 may have had some connection to the International Eucharistic Congress held in Dublin in 1932.
    FamilySearch.org: Ireland Births and Baptisms
    Advertised on the same page as "1620-1881" and "1864-1881" but appears to include primarily transcriptions of selected fields from almost all birth certificates from 1864 to 1881. Most of the Irish databases at familysearch.org are based primarily on civil registration records, but small numbers of church baptism records are also included in this database. There are 5,296,208 records, but many certificates have been transcribed as often as four times (system origin: Ireland-EASy, Ireland-ODM x2 and Ireland-VR).
    If the system origin is Ireland-VR, then the extract may include a line like:

    baptism/christening place: 439, KILMIHIL, CLARE, IRE

    As these are civil records, "baptism/christening" is a misnomer. Almost invariably, you will discover that the placename given is actually the dispensary district in which the birth was registered. Furthermore, the number inserted before the name of the dispensary district appears to always be the page number used in the civil registration index.
    The following table shows the number of (not necessarily unique) records by year:
    1864 170,581
    1865 182,177
    1866 224,370
    1867 322,177
    1868 400,509
    1869 401,448
    1870 398,031
    1871 387,959
    1872 378,532
    1873 336,962
    1874 298,195
    1875 276,575
    1876 235,062
    1877 214,845
    1878 211,283
    1879 218,084
    1880 189,467
    1881 28,944
    1882 56
    1883 60
    TOTAL 1864-1883: 4,875,317

    The fluctuations from year to year probably reflect variations in the input duplication rate more than variations in the birth rate. Similar tables could be drawn up for individual counties by using both Place and Year field in the search form.

    FamilySearch.org: Ireland Marriages
    Advertised on the same page as "1619-1898" and "1864-1870" but appears to include primarily transcriptions of selected fields from almost all (424,447) marriage certificates from 1 Apr 1845 to Abt 1870 (obviously not including pre-1864 Catholic marriages).
    FamilySearch.org: Ireland Deaths
    Advertised surprisingly consistently as "1864-1870" and appears to include primarily transcriptions of selected fields from a small sample (51,249+) of death certificates from 1864 (12,622), 1865 (6,306), 1866 (22), 1867 (19), 1868 (41), 1869 (289) and 1870 (32,148).

    Copies of the familysearch.org database are also available on the ancestry.com and findmypast.ie websites.

    As of 21 Sep 2011, the indexes are available to subscribers at ancestry.com via the following links:

    Sometimes it is clear that a record has been mistranscribed (e.g. the volume number may not match the PLU and quarter, or the year may not match the film number). To find birth, marriage or death records which may have been mis-indexed or mis-transcribed or are otherwise difficult to locate, advanced searching of the ancestry.com database can be carried out by using the various arguments which can be appended to the base URL,

    http://search.ancestry.com/cgi-bin/sse.dll?

    Multiple arguments are separated by the & character. The following table is an attempt to identify some of the possible arguments.

    rank=0
    First name gsfn=
    Last name gsln=
    Sex sx=
    FHL film number f1=
    Quarter f3=Dec
    Year rg_f6__date=
    or Year f6= (does it need a trailing space?)
    Interval (+/-) rs_f6__date=0
    Poor Law Union/Superintendent Registrar's District f7=
    Volume f13=
    Page f14=
    gskw=
    prox=1
    Database db=fsirelandcivregmarriage
    ti=0
    ti.si=0
    gss=angs-d
    gl=
    gst=
    Results per page hc=50
    Results to skip fh=200
    fsk=CIAACgwAAAKK
    Pages to skip pgoff=4

    For example, to find all the marriages on page 132 in Kilrush PLU in the fourth quarter of 1888:

    http://search.ancestry.com/cgi-bin/sse.dll?db=fsirelandcivregmarriage&f3=Dec&f6=1888&f7=Kilrush&f14=132

    As of 21 Sep 2011, Births and Baptisms are also available to subscribers at ancestry.com via the following link:

    Comparison of websites and search interfaces

    As of 3 July 2014, there are at least four websites which genealogists can use to search Irish civil registration records: familysearch.org, ancestry.com, findmypast.ie and irishgenealogy.ie. Each has its advantages and disadvantages. The first three are based on the same underlying digital indexes, although corrections to one do not necessarily propagate promptly to the other two.

    John Grenham wrote in The Irish Times on 1 April 2013 that 'there are no ready-made searches for ... familysearch.org, and these are essential.' This is why there were no links from the search results at irishgenealogy.ie to familysearch.org after the relaunch of the former site in March 2013. The same column pointed out that 'The main obstacle [to using genealogy as a marketing tool] is no longer the lack of online records (although there remain some shameful exceptions — General Register Office, I'm looking at you).'

    familysearch.org and irishgenealogy.ie do not have any easy way of searching for all the marriages on a given page of the register; all that one can do is open the search interface in two browser tabs, and then look for the groom in one tab and for the bride in the other tab, until one finds an entry in each tab with matching index co-ordinates.

    ancestry.com and findmypast.ie show all the entries on the relevant page in the results of a search of the marriage index.

    As of 13 Feb 2013, ancestry.com has added a "Records on Page:" field, containing all the other names from the same page, to the initial search output for a marriage search; it is no longer necessary or possible to "click to see others on page". While this former link to the other marriages on a page sometimes did not work if some of the other fields are omitted from the initial search URL, it was still a useful start in searching for mis-placed records (see section on the potential for errors below). By 11 Dec 2013, the heading on mouseover for the list of potential spouses had been changed, rather misleadingly, to "HOUSEHOLD MEMBERS"; clickthrough still uses "Records on Page:".

    The four different interfaces each use their own algorithms for matching of personal names and place names, and each interprets wildcards (*) differently. Trial and error is required to check whether searching using a county name will locate all entries in a Superintendent Registrar's District which straddles the county boundary.

    Special care is needed when searching for surnames beginning with Mc, Mac or M' and surnames beginning with O'. The indexes from 1865 to 1908 (inclusive) record most such surnames with M' at the beginning. The familysearch.org transcription also uses M', but the irishgenealogy.ie transcription appears to have used Mc. When looking for exact matches in the familysearch.org version, one must use, for example, M'Namara, for these years. Better still, use a wild card search (m*namara) which will match all three possible spellings. Sometimes the apostrophe in O' surnames is omitted completely, and sometimes it is replaced with a space. Multiple searches may be required to account for all of these possibilities.

    How to find the LDS film number for an Irish birth, marriage or death record:

    First use Ireland, Civil Registration Indexes, 1845-1958 to find the quarter, volume and year in which the event was registered.

    Then follow the link below to the catalogue page for births, marriages or deaths, as appropriate, and find the film number by scrolling down or searching in your browser until you locate the quarter, volume and year that you are looking for (in the left-hand column). The corresponding film number that you need will be in the right-hand column.

    There are both major and minor gaps in the coverage.

    Births catalogue page:
    Pre-partition indexes are on films 101041 (1864) to 101079 (1921).
    Early certificates are on films 101080 (1864 volume 1) to 101219 (1870 volume 20) and 101220 to 101228 (various supplements); films 255810 (1871 volume 1) to 256068 (1880Q4 volume 5); and films 257857 to 257860 (1881Q1).
    Certificates for 1881Q2 to 1899 are not available on LDS films.
    More certificates are on films 1419540 to 1419541 (1900Q1); and films 257861 (1900Q1) to 258168 (1913Q4).
    Certificates for 1914 to 1929 are not available on LDS films.
    A final run of certificates are on films 258169 (1930Q1) to 258441 (1955Q1).
    Marriages catalogue page:
    Pre-partition indexes are on films 101241 (1845-7) to 101264 (1918-21).
    Early certificates are on films 101265 (1845) to 101571 (1870) and 101572 to 101574 (various supplements).
    Post-1870 certificates are not available on LDS films.
    Deaths catalogue page:
    Pre-partition indexes are on films 101582 (1864-5) to 101608 (1920-1).
    Early certificates are on films 101609 (1864) to 101727 (1870) and 101728 to 101734 (various supplements).
    Post-1870 certificates are not available on LDS films.
    Post-1922 (26-county) indexes catalogue page:
    Post-partition birth indexes are on films 101229 (1922-1925) to 101240 (1949) and 257844 (1950) to 257849 (1957-1958).
    Post-partition marriage indexes are on films 101575 (1922-1926) to 101581 (1948-1949) and 257850 (1950-1952) to 257852 (1955-1958).
    Post-partition death indexes are on films 101735 (1922) to 101744 (1948-1949) and 257853 (1950) to 257856 (1957-1958).

    John Grenham's Tracing Your Irish Ancestors (4th edition, 2012, p.4) has a nice one-page summary of the above information and the corresponding information for Northern Ireland, but my version does contain a few typographical errors.

    The films containing the indexes are unlikely to contain any information which is not in the excerpts from these films transcribed on the familysearch.org website. The films containing the certificates contain a great deal of information which is not included in the extracts from these films transcribed on the familysearch.org website.

    Obtaining images

    There are at least five different sources of images of Irish birth, marriage or death records:

    Before wasting EUR4 or more on an image from the GRO itself, check whether the record that you are interested in has been microfilmed and is available free.

    irishgenealogy.ie

    For a few parishes in a few counties, PDF images of Church of Ireland marriage registers (which, from 1845, generally used the same template as the civil registration system) are available online at irishgenealogy.ie

    familysearch.org

    The LDS films mentioned above are available in the normal way at LDS Family History Centers around the world, including the Irish centres in Cork, Dublin and Limerick.

    As of 9 July 2013, familysearch.org has introduced an online form (replacing a previous order-by-email system introduced around January 2013) for ordering free copies of images from any LDS microfilm, including the Irish civil registration microfilms. Please read the relevant Wiki page before filling in the form. Although all that is required to uniquely identify the image requested is generally a film number and a page number (and in the occasional cases where there is more than one volume per film, the volume number), requests may not be processed if they do not include names, a place and a full date. Five images can be requested in each order and one order can be submitted per e-mail address per month. Here is a sample order summary, as displayed after successful submission of an order.

    If the record that you want has neither been imaged for irishgenealogy.ie nor microfilmed by the LDS Church, then you will have to deal with the authorities in Ireland.

    Dublin research facility

    The easiest way to get images is to visit the main public research facility in Dublin, which has changed location on a number of occasions.

    Up to around the 1980s, it was located in the Custom House, along with the General Register Office functions now located in Roscommon. This appears to be where records were microfilmed, so that familysearch.org still invites users to cite the source of its information as "General Registry, Custom House, Dublin, Ireland".

    From there, it moved to Joyce House, 8-11 Lombard Street East, Dublin 2, until around November 2007.

    It then moved to the 3rd floor of the Irish Life Centre on Abbey Street in Dublin, where the research room was easily accessible by public transport users, as the red Luas light rail line passed the door.

    It was reported by Claire Santry on her Irish Genealogy News blog on 17 July 2013 and by The Irish Times on 20 July 2013 that the research facility was scheduled to move to a new location in "a delapidated former Dole Office on Werburgh Street" in Dublin, because the lease on the Irish Life Centre property was due to expire at the end of August 2013..

    The Office of Public Works stated that Werburgh Street was seen as a temporary move until more suitable accommodation is identified in the long term.

    The Irish Life Centre facility closed on Tuesday 24 September 2013 and the Werburgh Street facility opened on Monday 30 September 2013.

    This research facility holds all indexes up to the present in hard copy only (available to the public for a fee) and images of all the transcripts sent in by the local offices each quarter (not available to the public).

    The genealogist should order for EUR4 per record (cash only) at the Dublin research facility a Microsoft Word formatted .doc file with embedded images of the handwritten records desired. The order will be e-mailed, usually on the next working day. This e-mail service was introduced on a pilot basis in November 2012, and runs in parallel with the old service under which paper photocopies are sent out by snail-mail. There is no need to pay any more than EUR4 for records up to 1958.

    If you want less than six records and are prepared to wait, you can take paper copies away with you (but will then have to scan them yourself if you wish to add them to a genealogy database on your computer!). It was reported on 16 July 2014 that the GRO had decided to increase the number of hard copies of certificates it would produce per day for visiting researchers from five to eight, provided it could still deliver an efficient service.

    In January 2013, the price of a certified copy was increased from EUR10 to EUR20. These are necessary only for those applying for citizenship or proving their right to an inheritance.

    There are a number of reasons why the modern transcripts often supplied, in particular as certified copies, whether typed or handwritten, are not appropriate for genealogical purposes:

    Remember to bring cash, as more modern forms of payment are not accepted (don't forget that the civil registration system is a 19th century invention).

    The images supplied currently show only the record requested even though there are normally several records on the same page. This is a major impediment to research. Before this recent change in policy (probably coinciding with the passage of the 2004 Act), photocopies of full pages from the register used to be routinely supplied. The use of genealogical records provided out of context in this manner has been described as akin to "reading the bible through a keyhole". If a registrar's handwriting is difficult to decipher, then the larger the sample of that handwriting available for comparison the easier the task of deciphering becomes. Even more importantly, practice as to the use of the word `deceased' in the Father's Name and Surname column in the marriage register varied widely from one registrar to another. If the word `deceased' appears in an adjoining marriage record, then the likelihood that the fathers named in the record of interest were alive at the time of the marriage is greatly increased.

    Roscommon

    The head office is in Roscommon.

    If you can't visit the office in Dublin, then you can look at the GRO website run from Roscommon for details of how to order images. Claire Santry reported on her Irish Genealogy News blog on 12 July 2013 that this website "is to be scrapped" but that there would be a "new online presence ... aligned with the Department of Social Protection's website." On 22 October 2013, she reported that "the GRO's virtual Head Office has also been moved and has taken up full residence within the Department of Social Protection's website."

    The required application forms for births, adoptions "marriage's" [sic, with apostrophe!], "civil partnership's" [sic, with apostrophe!] and deaths could be downloaded in Irish or English in Microsoft Word .doc format from a page which promised that `applications for certificates are processed as speedily as possible'. As of 31 October 2013, that page was being diverted wrongly, but should probably be diverting here.

    The price of photocopies (EUR4) is hidden in a footnote to the main price list on these forms.

    One might expect that to avail of this offline service one would need to check the familysearch.org transcriptions of the indexes for (superintendent) registrar's district, year, quarter, volume and page number which are required for the walk-in service in Dublin. However, there is no place on the downloadable application forms to include these details! It is probably no harm to include them anyway. Equally bizarrely, the application forms do ask for details like Mother's Occupation which are not included in the original records, at least during the early period likely to be of most interest to genealogists.

    Payment can be by cash, cheque or, since the 21st century has reached Roscommon as it slowly makes its way to Dublin, credit card (MasterCard or Visa) and sent by snail-mail to:

    General Register Office,

    Government Offices,

    Convent Road,

    Roscommon.

    Credit card orders can also be sent by a twentieth century technology called fax to +353 90 6632999.

    It has been reported that turn-around time for snail-mail orders from Australia is approximately 3 weeks.

    Local offices

    Reports from customers using the local offices around the country suggest that the service provided varies from county to county, especially since the legislative changes in 2004. The appropriate local office's advantage over the Dublin office is that it has the full original records with the original signatures for the local area, not the possibly inaccurate transcripts sent to Dublin at the end of each quarter. Some local offices have access to the nationwide computer database containing images of all births, marriages from 1920 to date, and deaths from 1924 to date. There is a list of local offices, formerly at http://www.hse.ie/eng/services/Find_a_Service/bdm/contactus/, but now at http://www.hse.ie/eng/services/list/1/bdm/contactus/. However, it does not make clear which of the old Superintendent Registrar's Districts (Poor Law Unions) now come under the jurisdiction of which present day local office. Communication between head office and local offices is poor; for example, a member of the staff of a local office gave a National Heritage Week talk several years after the public office for research in Dublin moved from Joyce House to the Irish Life Centre, but she had to be informed by a member of her audience that the street address that she had given for the Dublin office was several years out of date. She may have checked The General Register Office - Search web page which still showed the out-of-date address in 2013.

    Some local offices may charge an additional EUR2 search fee even if the customer knows the full reference details from familysearch.org; it was announced in January 2013 that in certain circumstances this search fee will no longer be charged.

    At some local offices, you may still be able to see the original register with your ancestor's signature (as opposed to the Registrar's copy of your ancestor's signature).

    If you know the date and dispensary district for an event that does not appear in the online indexes, the staff in the local office may be able to find it for you. This assumes that it was lost in transcription, rather than never registered.

    The potential for errors

    The potential for errors at several steps in the registration and transcription and indexing and digitization processes has already been noted.

    Here are some examples (I would welcome others for inclusion here):

    What about the "etc." in the title of this page?

    In recent times, civil registration has extended to include stillbirths, adoptions, and same sex civil partnerships.

    Divorce has also been introduced in the Republic of Ireland, under the Fifteenth Amendment of the Constitution Act, 1995, which was approved by referendum on 24 November 1995. Is the marriage register amended to reflect the fact that a divorce has taken place? Is there a separate register of divorces? Or is divorce like credit cards, a 21st century concept not considered relevant in a 19th century civil registration system?

    Can any divorcee or family lawyer reading this enlighten me?