Irish Parish Registers

Armed with the information found on the census returns, you can now start tracing your family back into the 19th century. Vital records for the 19th century come in two forms. For births, deaths and marriages that took place after 1864, you should be able to find records of civil registration records. Prior to 1864, you will be relying on parish registers for baptismal and marriage records. For the descendants of emigrants who left Ireland in the mid 19th century, parish registers may be the only source that will record the births and marriages of your ancestors.

In order to locate baptismal or marriage records for your ancestors in parish registers, it is helpful to know the county and preferably the parish in which they originated.

The 1901 and 1911 Census of Ireland will indicate the county in which an individual was born.

Civil certificates will record the townland address for the family. Although some families may have moved around, most families remained in the same parish for generations.

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Irish Parish Registers

The smallest denomination of land in Ireland was the townland and this was the address usually provided on a civil birth or marriage certificate. Townlands were organised into civil parishes. A civil parish is different from a Roman Catholic parish and it is important to distinguish between the two. If you can identify the civil parish in which your family were living you will need to translate this into the corresponding Roman Catholic parish. This can be done at at John Grenham’s website Irish Ancestors.  Here, in the ‘Placename’ section you will find civil parish maps and Roman Catholic parish maps.  By comparing the position of the civil parish against the corresponding Roman Catholic parishes, you should be able to identify the parish or parishes relevant to the area your ancestor was residing.  By clicking through on the Roman Catholic parish map you will find a list of the registers that survive for each parish and the location of these records.  You can further click through to a list of civil parishes covered by the selected Roman Catholic parish, to make sure you are looking in the right area.

Roman Catholic Irish parish registers can commence at any point between the 18th century and the mid 19th century. The majority of Irish parish registers really only date from the 1830s and registers for counties like Mayo largely only date from the 1860s. It is possible to search Roman Catholic Irish parish registers online. However, the records are fragmented and located on several different websites.

Remember, you will only find a record of your ancestor if the registers for the parish in which they were born survive for the period of their birth or marriage.

From the late 1970s centres were established in each county of Ireland to transcribe Roman Catholic parish registers for the purposes of genealogical research. Each county ran its own transcription programme, so the quality of the records vary from county to county. Nearly all county collections are available online at the pay per view and subscription website RootsIreland. There is a map on the site, so before you sign up, check that the county you are interested in, is covered by their collection. The counties that are not covered on this site are Kerry, parts of Cork and Dublin City. At the time of publication, the collections for Monaghan, Clare, Carlow and Wexford were largely incomplete, but will be updated in the coming years. The Sources section of the website will indicate what is online for each county. It is important to check the extent of the parish registers that have been transcribed. The start date for each parish should be listed in the Sources section, although gaps in the registers are generally not highlighted.  Some of these counties have also included civil records which date from 1864.

If you are searching a particular county for a baptism that took place in 1822, checking the extent of the parish registers for that county may indicate that, in fact, no registers survive for that period. As a consequence you will not find the record that you are searching for.

When searching for an event on RootsIreland it is important to note that the search engine will identify variant spellings of a surname but only exact spellings of a first name. For this reason, I would search for a Patrick Murphy using the search terms, Murphy for the surname but only use ‘Pa’ for the first name. ‘Pa’ will take into account all variants of the first name Patrick.

Roman Catholic parish registers were written in Latin and in some online collections the records have been transcribed in their Latin form. This means that first names such as Mary or William may appear as Maria or Gulielmus. The difficulties presented by the variant spelling of names are one of the pitfalls of online research. Although many sites use soundex and wild card options, the researcher has to be aware of the potential for the subject of their search to be missing because the search term was not spelled the same way.

You can also search this collection using the surname of the child and narrow your search using the first name of the father or maiden name of the mother. This can help to identify siblings of your ancestor. If the registers do not survive for your ancestor’s birth, you may be able to find younger siblings who were born during the period for which the records do survive. This would at least identify the parish that your family were living in.

Only Roman Catholic records tended to record the mother’s maiden name, so this search facility will not work as well for Church of Ireland records, where the mother’s maiden name was usually absent.  If you find a relevant record, you will be provided with a transcript of that record.  There may also be a link to a copy of the original parish register from the National Library of Ireland collection.  This way you can verify the transcript.  In some cases information is missing from the transcript but can be found on the original record.  

The collection on RootsIreland also includes some (but not all) surviving Church of Ireland registers. The Church of Ireland was the established church in Ireland and as such their registers were deposited in the Public Records Office. A large portion of Church of Ireland parish registers were destroyed in the 1922 Public Records Office fire during the Civil War. This means that there are very few Church of Ireland registers that survive for the 19th century and earlier.

You can determine the location of surviving Roman Catholic and Church of Ireland records using John Grenham’s online guide at Irish Ancestors. This will tell you whether these records are online at one of the County Heritage Centres represented at RootsIreland or whether they are held at a repository such as the National Library of Ireland or in local custody. This site also identifies the location of similar holdings for the Presbyterian, Methodist and Quaker congregations.

The National Library holds copies of nearly all Roman Catholic parish registers for Ireland on microfilm.   This collection has been digitised and the images of all baptismal and marriage registers for the Roman Catholic parishes of the entire island from their earliest surviving entry up to 1880 are now freely available to view on their website:

This means that you can now verify a record that you find on by checking the original parish register entry.  You can then manually search the parish register for other family members who may have been missed when the database was created.  The website also has a very useful map of Roman Catholic parishes, arranged by province, county or diocese.  This is helpful for identifying the parishes that neighboured your ancestor.

The baptismal registers digitised by the National Library of Ireland have now been transcribed and published online by Ancestry and Findmypast.  However, as with the records on Rootsireland there are plenty of errors and omissions.  I am constantly finding records in the original registers that are missing from one or all of these websites, so none of these databases are perfect and a manual search of the original registers at the NLI website may be your only option.

The National Library of Ireland online parish registers and the collections are different and both collections include small sets of records that are not found on the other.  Always check the source and listings sections to make sure that you have seen everything that there is to see for a particular parish.  No one of these websites is the definitive source for parish baptismal and marriage registers.

The Public Records Office of Northern Ireland (PRONI) has published an excellent catalogue of parish registers for counties in Northern Ireland. The catalogue allows you to identify all relevant parish records for every denomination, their extent and location. PRONI also hold registers for some border counties of the Republic of Ireland.  You can consult their catalogue online here.

For those counties not included on RootsIreland, namely Kerry, Dublin City, Carlow and parts of Cork, you can find the parish registers indexed at This collection has been published by the Department of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht and access is free. Digital images of many of the registers are available on this site and the link to the digital image can be found at the bottom of the page. You can search this site by surname and then use the filters on the left of the page to narrow your search.

There is a link on the home page which will tell you what records have been published and the dates covered in the database, which usually reflect the dates for which the registers survive. This site holds Church of Ireland and Roman Catholic and some Presbyterian parish registers.

The registers for Co. Clare stand alone and are only accessible through Clare Roots (although some of their collection is now available on  Their records are not available online and a research request must be made through their website.

While the online transcripts of Irish parish registers are a valuable resource for the Irish genealogist or family historian, there are drawbacks to these collections. On an almost weekly basis I have discovered errors in the databases for both sites, such as missing entries and misspelled surnames or first names. There can also be a lack of clarity about the extent of the registers that have been published on the site.

Some parishes that are located on the border between two counties have been excluded from the collection by both counties and are not available online.

Tips for Searching Irish Parish Registers Online

Remember that Roman Catholic parishes and civil parishes are different. It is important to distinguish between the two.

  • Civil parishes were administrative districts for Church of Ireland, the census and land records.
  • Roman Catholic parishes might contain one or more civil parishes and have a different name.
  • Identify the County in which your ancestor was born
  • Check whether the records for that county are available on RootsIreland or IrishGenealogy
  • Check the sources section for the site to determine whether their published records date from the period when your ancestor was baptised.
  • If fewer records survive for the period when your ancestor was born, try searching for baptismal records for their children first. It might be easier to locate a later generation in the parish registers. You will then have identified the parish that the family were using and you can determine whether the records survive for an earlier period.
  • If you don’t have any luck finding your ancestor, use the database to search for other children born to the same parents. You may identify siblings of your ancestor, confirming the family presence in a particular parish. It is possible that there are gaps in the records, which may explain why your ancestor is missing.