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Church of Ireland

Updated: Oct 30, 2019

Rossinver Parish Church, Kinlough, Leitrim

     In 1560 the Church of Ireland became the State Church of Ireland and all other denominations were “dissenters” and therefore subject to various forms of discrimination and persecution.  The disestablishment of the Church of Ireland did not occur until 1869.

   Although technically registers of the Church of Ireland were required from 1637 the law was mostly ignored until between 1750 and 1800.  There are four churches with pre 1700 registers…three in Dublin and one in Lisburn, County Antrim. [It has been pointed out to me that this information is incorrect...please scroll down for the updated information.]* The oldest surviving register from St. John, Dublin was highlighted as the Archive of the Month in February of 2019 on it's 400th anniversary by the Representative Church Body Library (RCBL).

   The civil parishes of Ireland and the Church of Ireland parishes are typically one in the same.  As the established church, in addition to parish registers, records include various assessments and tax records which, after the revocation of the Penal Laws, included Catholics as well.  One example of this is the Tithe Applotment, the tax paid by those who had produce from their land.  It was paid to support the clergy of the Church of Ireland (not a popular tax with the Catholics and Presbyterians).  The Church also had some disciplinary functions and handled probate until 1857.  Consistorial courts handled probate for those with property within one diocese.  If an individual owned property in more than one diocese, then the probate was handled by the Prerogative Court. 

   The main records you’ll find are christenings (baptisms), marriages and burials.  Children were typically christened within a few weeks of birth.  The records include the child’s name, date of baptism (sometimes date of birth) and parents (sometimes mother's maiden name). If there is a question about legitimacy it will be noted.

   Marriages were usually in bride’s parish and required permission to marry either by Banns or License.  Banns were an intent to marry announced or posted in the church for three weeks prior to marriage in order to give people the opportunity to object to the marriage  For those not willing to wait, or not wanting to go through the public aspect of Banns, a License could be obtained for a fee from the church authority, usually the bishop or diocese, and required an allegation, information on the bride & groom, their marital status, and intended place of marriage.  A Bond had to be posted to ensure the information was correct.  Although the Allegations and Bonds have mostly been destroyed, some were  abstracted prior to fire. Prior to 1845 when civil registration began for Protestant marriages, you are not likely to have the parents' names. After 1845, you will get the father's name for both the bride and groom.

   Burials do not include a great deal of information but you may find the parents’ names for a child, and sometimes a residence or cause of death. For early burials, you may get only the name and possibly the age.

   After the disestablishment of the Church of Ireland as the State Church in 1869 a law was passed requiring the parish registers be sent to the Public Record Office for safekeeping.  The law was modified to allow those churches with adequate storage to keep their records.  About two-thirds of the Church of Ireland parish registers were destroyed in the fire at Four Courts in 1922.  

   Finally Vestry Minutes could contain any type of information that might name your ancestors, such as pew rentals, disciplinary actions or a parish censuses. If the parish registers do not survive, Vestry Minutes could fill in some information as they were not required to be sent to the Public Records Office.  These records have typically not been microfilmed and many are still in local custody. The Vestry Minute Books that have been moved to the Representative Church Body Library are listed in their publication,  A Handlist of Church of Ireland Vestry Minute Books in the Representative Church Body Library (December 2018). If you don't find the Vestry Books for your parish listed, contact the parish directly.

Representative Church Body Library

  The main repository for Church of Ireland records is the Representative Church Body Library (RCBL) just outside of Dublin (actually Braemor Park on the grounds of the Theological College).   It’s a short bus ride from the center of the city and houses many of the original records from parishes that have closed.  Over the past few years, they have begun the Anglican Record Project placing transcriptions of a small number of parish registers online. These records are transcriptions and PDF files, so not searchable.  In 2016 the RCBL completed a project to provide a color-coded listing of the status of all Church of Ireland Registers (updated as of March 2019).  This 98 page listing shows the locality of surviving records, as well as listing those records that were lost in the fire. The RCBL also provides an Archive of the Month which frequently has documents of interest to researchers.  

Although the RCBL holds some surviving original parish registers, the the Church of Ireland registers are spread across many repositories. The National Archives of Ireland in Dublin has microfilm of some of the records which survived the fire.  The National Archives is the state archive and because of the nature of Church of Ireland records, those that have survived are here (not so with the Catholic records).

   The Public Record Office of Northern Ireland (PRONI) in Belfast also has microfilm of extant records for Northern Ireland and traditional Ulster which includes Donegal, Cavan and Monaghan. They also have records from some of the border counties. You can download their Guide to Church Records which provides additional information. In 2018 PRONI began a project to digitize Church of Ireland (and some Methodist) records. These records, however, are only available for viewing at PRONI (they are not online).

   You may also find the records in local custody at the parish church.  Use the Find A Church link at the Church of Ireland website to contact the parish. Church of Ireland parishes tend to be grouped together with a single clergy person traveling between multiple churches. Make sure you contact them prior to your visit or you are likely to find the church locked.

Local Heritage Centre have been adding Church of Ireland records to RootsIreland (subscription). These are transcriptions and not images of the records. IrishGenealogy has some Church of Ireland records for Kerry, Cork, Carlow and Dublin City.  For both RootsIreland and IrishGenealogy check their listings of sources to see if the parish you are searching has been indexed, and for what years.  The Family History Library may have some records as well.  Check their catalog for the parish name. In September of 2018, the Representative Church Body Library announced they had received a €100,000 (about $113,000) capital grant towards the digitization of Church of Ireland parish registers from the Department of Culture, Heritage and Gaeltacht (IrishGenealogy). There has been no timeframe announced yet.

Keep in mind, because the Church of Ireland was the State Church, you should check their surviving records for any of your Protestant ancestors. Even your Catholic ancestors might show up, especially in the Vestry Minutes.

Happy Hunting!

*Thank you to John Bayliss who pointed out the error. He has provided a partial list of early COI Registers:

Shankill Dromore Down/Armagh 1681-1871

Shandon, St Mary's Cork Cork 1671-1989

Carlow Leighlin Carlow 1695-1990

Lismore Lismore Waterford 1693-1878

Limerick City: Limerick St John 1697-1876

Blessington Glendalough Wicklow 1695-1860

Bray Dublin Wicklow 1670-1903

Holy Trinity (or Christ Church) Cork 1643-1976

Delgany Glendalough Wicklow 1666-1983

Drumglass Armagh Tyrone 1600-1875

Drumholm Raphoe Donegal 1691-1873

Lisburn Cathedral Connor Antrim 1637-1933

Cashel Cathedral Cashel Tipperary 1668-2008

As noted above, check The List of Church of Ireland Parish Registers for your specific parish.

I have just completed an update to the Quick Reference Guides. These do not contain major changes for those who already have purchased them, but have some updated links and dates. They are in stock now and available for purchase through my store.

RootsIreland special pricing ends on March 31st.

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