by Paddy Waldron
Last revised: 22 March 2016
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 at irishgenealogy.ie (in full from 3 July 2014 to 17 July 2014 and in restricted form from 6 April 2015)) and offline (in the custody of various governmental quangos). This page is an attempt to gather all the relevant information into a single place.
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.
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. Some journalistic and legal opinion suggests that civil registration legislation conflicts with more recent data protection legislation. The possibility of such a conflict does 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). The resolution of such possible conflicts will probably boil down to a power struggle between the Registrar General and the Data Protection Commissioner. Genealogists must hope that the stronger personality fills the former position.
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.
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 voluntary and commercial 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 subsequently became even more topical as the world media reported on Catherine Corless's research into the Bon Secours Mother and Baby Home in Tuam and on research into similar institutions.
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 until 17 July 2014.
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.) The full bill was apparently not published until over a year later. A press release on 3 July 2014 said that the Minister for Social Protection would
The Bill was duly published a few days later and signed into law as the Civil Registration (Amendment) Act 2014 on 4 December 2014. Section 27(b) allows electronic searches, for a fee, of records of births more than 100 years old, marriages more than 75 years old and deaths more than 50 years old. The Ombudsman's 30-year recommendation was not only ignored, but can not now be fully implemented without further amending legislation.
"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."
I am told by a reliable but unofficial source that all the historical birth certificates (ie minumum 100-years-old) are going to join IrishGenealogy.ie in the not-too-distant future. Yes: full-on images of birth certificates. They're going to be available free of charge. That's a surprise, eh? Timing wise, I haven't the faintest, but the certificates have been prepared and scanned. It appears there's only the upload to deal with before this unexpected bonanza arrives. Will the same happen with the marriage and death certificates? I haven't been told this is the case, but it would be odd to upload the births in isolation, so I'm expecting the full trio, subject to the 75-year and 50-year cut-offs. It may be that they'll all appear at the same time, which could make not-too-distant not-too-imminent.
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.
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:
To find a birth, marriage or death record, one must (unless the person's name is unique) have some idea of where the event took place and where it was registered. 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, each Poor Law Union was subdivided into Dispensary Districts, initially an average of between four and five Dispensary Districts per Poor Law 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.)
Ireland has been subdivided into administrative districts for many purposes at many times by many bodies both before and after the introduction of full civil registration in 1864. These other administrative subdivisions are irrelevant for civil registration purposes. For example, you may find an address rendered as "Tynagh, Loughrea", possibly because that is how An Post likes it to be described for the most efficient routing of mail. As Tynagh is in Portumna Superintendent Registrar's District and not in the adjoining Loughrea Superintendent Registrar's District, there is no point in looking for Loughrea in the indexes if you want to find a record of an birth, marriage or death which took place in Tynagh.
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.
To understand the system, it may help to see
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, confusingly described in the index as "Registration District". 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.
The then 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 internal computer system.
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 to junior ministerial status,, as had been widely predicted, and the latter promoted to Tánaiste. 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. By 8 August 2014, the photograph had been replaced with one of his successor but the 404 error had not been fixed. The out-of-date and undated welcome message included the dangerous phrase "Last year" which always leaves those reading undated websites wondering which year is being referred to.
These indexes went offline on Friday 18 July 2014 with this rushed and uninformative temporary message in English remaining on the Irish-language versions of the website until Monday 6 April 2015:
"Civil Records Search temporarily unavailable
Further update will be provided."
Claire Santry reported on Monday 15 September 2014 that the English-language version of this message had been updated to read:
"Civil Records Search temporarily unavailable
Civil Indexes temporarily unavailable – it is hoped to restore certain indexes in the near future."
As noted above, the full story was made public by The Irish Times on Monday 21 July 2014 (here and here). It quoted the objections of the outgoing 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"
"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."
It is extraordinary that for her first nine months in office and for four months after the new legislation was passed, a minister who had time to get her photograph spread around the web could not find time to deal with the "Civil Records Search temporarily unavailable - Further update will be provided" message published in her early weeks in the job. While the Data Protection Commissioner's remit explicitly covers data relating to living persons only, his objections also resulted in the long-term removal of the full online index to death records, which clearly covers no living persons, and in direct contravention of the Ombudsman's recommendation.
On 7 August 2015, The Irish Times published another story about the clash between the former Data Protection Commissioner and the Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht. This time the emphasis was on the fact that both public and private organisations use publicly available information like dates of birth and mother's maiden name as proof of identity, but the news was that the Commissioner "considered telling organisations to stop allowing" this.
During their brief period of availability, the official indexes supplemented, but did not replace, the unofficial indexes available via familysearch.org (see below). Until 2058, the unofficial online indexes will continue to include records not included in the official online indexes. Every entry in the familysearch.org indexes was, in principle, also in the official irishgenealogy.ie indexes of July 2014, but this will not be the case again until 2058.
Some reports (for example, the CIGO press release of 4 July 2014) said that the irishgenealogy.ie indexes of July 2014 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.
The technical details here were compiled in July 2014 and may need to be revised in the light of experience with the restricted version re-released in April 2015.
The re-release in April 2015 included a useful summary of the contents of the official indexes. It suggests that 1939 marriages are available, but not those from early 1940. However, searches by year reveal 15,033 marriages in 1938 but none in 1939 or 1940. Similarly, there 99,993 births from 1913 but none from 1914. And there are 34,492 deaths from 1963 but none from 1964.
To use these indexes, bookmark the advanced search form. If you use the advanced search form, remember to keep using it, as the simple search form in the left-hand column remembers the additional fields from the advanced search form even if they are not visible.
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>. Alternatively, 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". Can wildcards be used to circumvent these problems?
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
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
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 online version of the indexes, there appear to be almost no middle names (although the advanced search form requests a middle name), 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 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. From 2070 on, when marriage records for 1995 go online, users will have to think about what happens when a divorcee remarries.
The website asks "Can you explain the location to me?" but does not succeed in answering its own question. 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!
Some printouts purchased in local offices show, for example, `Research Facility - Marriage Record: Cláruimhir/Registration Number: 1,247,293' above the image of the original record; this corresponds to a Group Registration ID of 1247293 in the index. It is not clear why the same number is described by different words depending on whether or not commas are used as thousand-separators!
The "Filter Your Results" column on the left does not appear to include all the records in the main column on the right. For example, this search for the marriage of Jane O'Donnell turns up 31 results. 27 contain groom's name and full date; 4 contain only bride's name and year. The "By SR District/Reg Area" column on the left covers only the 27 entries with groom's name and full date, so omits 2 of the 3 Kilrush results and 2 of the 4 Belfast results.
There were many minor errors. In my own entry, my mother's maiden surname was misspelled (Dunkan for Durkan). The births of her twin brothers are also both indexed as Dunkans, and their mother's maiden surname is also indexed as Dunkan instead of Dunkan. 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.
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
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.
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:
baptism/christening place: 439, KILMIHIL, CLARE, IRE
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.
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:
The ancestry.com version allows counts by quarter to be computed:
Each marriage generates at least two index entries, one for the bride and one for the groom. Sometimes there are more, for example if the bride is a widow (in which case there will be entries under her maiden surname and under the surname(s) of her previous husband(s)) or if either party signs with a slightly different name to that which the celebrant has written in the register (for example, Bridget Sullivan might sign as Bridget A. O'Sullivan). Some index pages have been imaged and transcribed twice, generating duplicate entries. Hence, the total number of entries in a quarter does not have to be an even number.
The extent to which the traditional custom of marriages taking place in Shrovetide (between 6 January and Shrove Tuesday) had died out by 1958 is indicated by the relatively uniform distribution of marriages between quarters.
On the one hand, the fact that only 0.03% of transcriptions are missing the surname completely suggests that the transcriptions are extremely accurate; on the other hand, it raises questions about all sorts of other possible mistranscriptions.
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,
Multiple arguments are separated by the & character. The following table is an attempt to identify some of the possible arguments.
|FHL film number||f1=|
|or Year||f6= (does it need a trailing space?)|
|Poor Law Union/Superintendent Registrar's District||f7=|
|Results per page||hc=50|
|Results to skip||fh=200|
|Pages to skip||pgoff=4|
For example, to find all the marriages on page 132 in Kilrush PLU in the fourth quarter of 1888:
As of 21 Sep 2011, Births and Baptisms are also available to subscribers at ancestry.com via the following link:
As of 3 July 2014, there were at least four websites which genealogists could 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. This can cause confusion for those who do not know the source of the information.
As of 13 Feb 2013, ancestry.com 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 was previously necessary 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:".
For example, the database entry for each bride and groom on the page from the register for Killadysert Poor Law Union for 1876 which is page 369 of volume 4 for that year includes what ancestry.com shows as:
|Records on Page:||
In other words, there are three marriages on this page, in which the grooms are clearly John Galvin, John Meade and John M'Namara. One of the brides is probably called Maria Meere by the priest and signed her name as Maria Myers, or vice versa. A second bride is undoubtedly called Margaret M'Mahon, but the index page on which her name appears may have been imaged and transcribed twice. The third bride may have been misindexed or mistranscribed somewhere along the line, unless two separate brides named Margaret M'Mahon by coincidence are recorded on the same page or Maria Meere and Maria Myers are different people. There is further discussion of the marriages recorded on this register page on facebook.com and Ireland Reaching Out.
findmypast.ie explains much more clearly
"Maria Meere married one of these people
John M'Namara, John Meade, John Galvin"
This implies that findmypast.ie has gone through the database identifying the gender of each person. For names such as Florence which can be used for both genders, this may lead to unexpected results.
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 surnames in the former category 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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
During 2013 and 2014, familysearch.org offered free Photoduplication Services. An order-by-email system was introduced around January 2013. From 9 July 2013 until 5 December 2014, this was replaced by an online form for ordering free copies of images from any LDS microfilm, including the Irish civil registration microfilms. The relevant Wiki page provided the information users of the service required before filling in the form. Although all that is required to uniquely identify the image desired 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 were not allowed if they did not include names, a place and a full date. Five images could be requested in each order and one order 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.
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 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.
It was reported in August 2015 that the Werburgh Street office had begun to accept not only cash but, for the first time, credit and debit cards.
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. As of 22 March 2016, it appeared that the HTML meta content at http://lifeevents.hse.ie/ had not yet been updated to reflect the price increase of over three years earlier, for it still read
Official Health Service Executive website, secure online purchase of Birth, Marriage and Death certificates at no extra cost, order online for €11 (including p&p)
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:
It is no longer necessary to bring cash, as more modern forms of payment, in particular credit cards, began to be accepted in 2015 (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.
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 to a page about how to Apply for certificates by post. Do not be distracted by the links everywhere to a completely different page about how to Apply for certificates online. That page is of no relevance to genealogists.
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 credit card (MasterCard or Visa; accepted in Roscommon long before they were first introduced for personal customers in Dublin in 2015) and sent by snail-mail to:
General Register Office,
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.
There has been much discussion of the possible reasons for the convoluted and inconvenient ordering processes.
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.
Some local offices provide transcriptions rather than images of the records on their custody. This modern transcription process is the last of the several steps where there is scope 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):
JANUARY 22nd 1872 THOMAS BONFIELD = BONFIL ? from MONEEN clearly
to ANNE CROTTY from TRUSKLIEVE
MARTIN CARMODY & BRIDGET GORMAN Revd D SMYTH
This marriage does not appear to have been registered with the civil authorities. The previous four marriages in the transcript, up to Michael Hederman/Joney M'Mahon, are on v.4 p.383; the next four marriages, from Michael Haugh/Margaret Moloney, are on v.4 p.384.
Some familysearch.org entries are clearly wrong as they give event dates before the introduction of Civil Registration. For example, the Registration Quarter and Year for the marriage of Joseph Stewart is shown as Oct-Dec 1836. The event date is shown correctly as Oct-Dec 1886. The record for his wife Margaret Anne Robinson is correct. The ancestry.com version of this entry shows only the incorrect Registration Quarter and Year, described as `Date of Registration'. The findmypast.ie version correctly shows 1886 in the Year field, but incorrectly shows Oct-Dec 1836 in the Registered Quarter/Year field and incorrectly shows only Georgiana Short in the Potential Spouse Names field.
In fact, using the concepts outlined above for advanced searching at ancestry.com, the extent of the mistranscription is revealed by http://search.ancestry.com/cgi-bin/sse.dll?db=fsirelandcivregmarriage&f6=1836&f1=101255, which lists a total of 721 entries from Film 101255 mistranscribed as 1836, probably alphabetically consecutive entries from the fourth quarter of the 1886 index running from Kate Shiels to Andrew Walker, plus Martha Cochrane.
Ireland, Civil Registration Marriages Index, 1845-1958 about Frederick L Kerr
Name: Frederick L Kerr
Date of Registration: Apr-May-Jun 1928
Registration District: Kilrush
Page Number: 171
FHL Film Number: 101575
Records on Page:
Frederick L Kerr
Ireland, Civil Registration Marriages Index, 1845-1958 about Mary E Hickey
Name: Mary E Hickey
Date of Registration: Apr-May-Jun 1923
Registration District: Kilrush
Page Number: 171
FHL Film Number: 101575
Records on Page:
Mary E Hickey
Mary Kate Greene
Ireland, Civil Registration Marriages Index, 1845-1958 about Mary Kate Leonard
Name: Mary Kate Leonard
Date of Registration: Apr-May-Jun 1928
Registration District: Kilrush
Page Number: 171
FHL Film Number: 101575
Records on Page:
Mary Kate Leonard
Ireland, Civil Registration Marriages Index, 1845-1958 about Annie Goldrick
Name: Annie Goldrick
Date of Registration: Apr-May-Jun 1928
Registration District: Ballina
Page Number: 9
FHL Film Number: 101576
Records on Page:
Sarah E Helly
Ireland, Civil Registration Marriages Index, 1845-1958
Name: Joseph Lillis
Date of Registration: Jan-Feb-Mar 1946
Registration District: Kilrush
Page Number: 166
FHL Film Number: 101580
Name: Elsie O'Doherty
Date of Registration: Jan-Feb-Mar 1936 [sic, mistranscribed]
Registration district: Kilrush
Page: 166 (click to see others on page)
FHL Film Number: 101580 [clue to mistranscribed registration date]
Name: Peter Healy
Registration District: Ennis
Event Type: MARRIAGES
Registration Quarter and Year: Apr - Jun 1890
Film Number: 101256
Volume Number: 4
Page Number: 105
Digital Folder Number: 4179388
Image Number: 00212
Collection: Ireland, Civil Registration Indexes, 1845-1958
Name: Ellen A Gibson
Registration District: Ennis
Event Type: MARRIAGES
Registration Quarter and Year: Apr - Jun 1889 [sic]
Film Number: 101256
Volume Number: 4
Page Number: 105
Digital Folder Number: 4179388
Image Number: 00210
Collection: Ireland, Civil Registration Indexes, 1845-1958
In recent times, civil registration has extended to include stillbirths, adoptions, and same sex civil partnerships. The Thirty-fourth Amendment of the Constitution (Marriage Equality) Bill 2015 began to make its way through the Oireachtas in March 2015, culminating in a referendum on 22 May 2015. This will have further implications for civil registration.
However, as I pointed out on facebook during the referendum campaign, the online indexes include apparent same sex marriages as long ago as 1915:
|Party 1 Name||BRIDGET ODONNELL|
|Party 2 Name||ANNE BROWNE|
|Date of Event||31 July 1915|
|Group Registration ID||1693648|
|SR District/Reg Area||Kilrush|
|Party 1 Name||THOMAS REIDY|
|Party 2 Name||JOHN NASH|
|Date of Event||04 July 1915|
|Group Registration ID||1702387|
|SR District/Reg Area||Kilrush|
These two marriages are both on the same page of the register (third quarter 1915, volume 4, page 137) according to the indexes at familysearch.org etc.
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?