Church of Ireland Digitization Project
Updated: Dec 26, 2018
It’s been a while since I wrote on Church of Ireland (COI) records. In 2016 the Representative Church Body Library (RCBL) in conjunction with the Irish Genealogical Research Society released an updated version of The List of Church of Ireland Parish Registers. This color-coded list of all COI parishes and the status of their records is a key resource for anyone researching Protestant ancestors and it was again updated just this month. It is, of course, a sad story...the records were sent to the Public Records Office for “safe keeping” after the disestablishment of the Church of Ireland as a state church in 1869. Over 60% of the records were lost in the fire in 1922 leaving large gaps in our ability to research. I speak from experience as my family from Rossinver parish in Leitrim were members of the Church of Ireland and their records only survive from 1876 (online at RootsIreland.ie). According to John Grenham, the originals lost in the fire dated from the 1820s.
The two largest collections of Church of Ireland records are at the RCBL just outside of Dublin and at PRONI in Belfast. There are some transcriptions of COI records on RootsIreland and at IrishGenealogy.ie but they are not comprehensive. The announcement this month from the Minister for Culture, Heritage, and the Gaeltacht, Josepha Madigan, of a €100,000 grant to digitize Church of Ireland Parish Registers is therefore excellent news! These records will eventually be added to IrishGenealogy.ie (free). Not only does this make the records available for those who cannot travel to Ireland, but it preserves the records for the future. The earliest of these surviving records date to the 1600s.
So where do you start when searching for Church of Ireland Records?
1. Identify the location (name of civil parish). Most civil parish and Church of Ireland parishes have the same name.
2. Download The List of Church of Ireland Parish Registers and find the name of the parish to see the status of the records. If the records have survived this will give you an idea of where to go next.
3. If the records are in local custody (no color), write to the parish. They likely don’t have a staff to do extensive research but if you have specific information they will probably provide the information (send a donation). If you are in Ireland, the clergy are required to make them available to you to search. Always contact them first for an appointment.
4. If the records are at PRONI (purple) download their Guide to Church Records in the Public Records Office of Northern Ireland. Note that PRONI has some records for the border counties of the Republic of Ireland. They have also started a project to digitize COI and Methodist records, however, these records are only onsite in Belfast and not online.
5. For records located at the Representative Church Body Library (yellow), a visit is currently required. Before you go, click on the name of the parish to see the detail on the List of Church of Ireland Parish Registers. The first page tells you when the records started and if any of those were lost. Scroll to the second page to see the current holdings and dates. If you have specific information of the time and place of an event, the staff may be able to provide a record for a fee, but they do not have people to do research. An alternative is hiring a Dublin based genealogist to do the search. There are also a small number of records that have been imaged and are online at their website, but these are PDF, not searchable files.
6. If the color is gray, sadly the records did not survive the fire. There may be records from the 1880s onward depending on when the records were sent to the Public Records Office. Remember Protestant marriages were recorded from 1845 as civil records so check for them.
7. There are some records that were at the Public Records Office (aqua) that survived the fire. These are on microfilm at the National Archives in Dublin.
8. To find out what is online, go to JohnGrenham.com and from the Civil Parish Map on the sitemap, select the county, then the parish. In the upper right of the screen you will find a list of resources for that parish. Click on “church records.” If the records are online there will be a link to either RootsIreland.ie or IrishGenealogy.ie. When you go to those sites, always check their list of sources to see what years are covered.
Overall, things are looking up for Church of Ireland records. I haven’t heard any timeframe for the digitization project, but will let you know when I hear more.
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