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Civil Registration in Ireland - It's a New World!

My Irish research began about 1993. If you've been researching your Irish ancestors that long, you know that it was like a desert. Nothing online and the best resources were located in Salt Lake City at the Family History Library. I actually had some of my Irish friends tell me that it was easier to research at the Family History Library than it was in Ireland! There you could access the Indexes to Civil Registration and they actually had some microfilms with images.

Fast forward to 2008 when FamilySearch released their online Index to Civil Registrations. The wonder of it. Being that I have an unusual surname I could find all of the Moughty's with one search! Unfortunately the indexes didn't have enough information to determine which Bernard Moughty was mine. When I went to Ireland I would visit the General Register Office to pay my €4 and hope that the one I selected was the right one (most of the time it wasn't). Since you could only order 5 copies each day, I would visit the GRO every day of my visit, pay my money and pray! This process was more complicated when researching the Dalys...I ended up with a drawer full of wrong certificates. I don't want to bore you with the details, but for those of you who are new to Irish research in the past 5 years, I want you to know that it wasn't always as great as it is now!

 Irish Civil Registration began in 1864 for all births, deaths and marriages, and in 1845 for Protestant marriages.  Even if your ancestors left before that time, it is likely that family members remained. Once you’ve discovered your ancestor’s locality in Ireland and have researched the jurisdictions, you’re ready to look for a civil record. On February 18th I discussed the importance of the Poor Law Union, as that is the jurisdiction that became the Registration District. Notice that there are a number of Registration Districts that cross county lines. So now, when you find 25 Michael Dalys in the indexes, you know to focus on the ones from the correct Registration District.

Now fast forward to 2016 when the Department of Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht at the website brought us not only indexes but images of the registrations as well...FOR FREE! Even today the system isn't perfect, but it is a joy to work with!  The Irish Data Protection laws allow births over 100 years, marriages over 75 years and deaths over 50 years to be accessed online.  Note that this limitation is only for  online records.  You can obtain records up to the present either in Ireland, or by writing to the General Register Office in Dublin and paying €4 each. The initial implementation at provided the complete run of births from 1864-1915 (the statutory limit at the time).  The marriage and death images were not complete…marriages cover from 1882-1940 and deaths from 1891-1965. The website has been updated several times and the message current on the site states

We are pleased to advise that in early 2019, an additional 2 years of records of births, marriages and deaths will be added to the website. The marriage Index data along with additional images will also be updated for the years 1864-1869 inclusive. The years covered by the release of the historic records of Births, Marriages and Deaths after this update will be:
Births: 1864 to 1918
Marriages: 1864* to 1943
Deaths: 1878* to 1968

So here we are on 11 March 2019 and the updates still haven't appeared. I guess early 2019 is in Irish time.😀 There are still images that are missing and will come online at some point in the future. That would include Protestant marriages from 1845 - 1863 and deaths from 1864 - 1877. There are index entries for these listings, just no images yet. 

   In starting your research into civil registration, you should know that the Irish aren’t very good with dates and ages.  I suggest you be very flexible with dates based on information from US records.  You may, like me, have found that your Irish ancestors listed various dates or ages on different documents.  On various documents, my grandmother listed her birth date as August or December, 4th or 12th, in 1892 to 1895; she also listed her place of birth as Ireland or Scotland!  She also said she was from Northern Ireland.  When I got her birth certificate, she was born on 12 December 1892 in Ballyshannon, Donegal.  My grandmother immigrated prior to the partition of Ireland, but Donegal is currently in the Republic, not the North (although it is part of traditional Ulster).


To use the website, go to and click on “Civil Records.”  Type in your search criteria, and the type of record.  You’ll be ask to solve a captcha (to prove you’re not a robot) and to type in your name and accept the terms and conditions.  This is a free site, and no registration is necessary, but you do need to identify yourself each time you use the site.

   If you have too many results, you can filter them down the left side by Registration District.  Select one of the results and you will see a transcription of some of the information from the record.  If you’ve used the indexes on other sites, you’ll notice that this index gives a “Group Registration ID” in place of the Quarter and Page number.  If you need to order the certificate from the General Register Office they are currently accepting either the Quarter and Page or the Group Registration ID.  If the event falls within the guidelines above, you will find the word “Image” at the bottom.  Click on the word “Image” to see the image of the complete registration page.  

You can either select the specific registration to copy (I use a Mac so I just “grab” the image; on a PC use one of the snipping tools) or download the entire page.

If there are multiple people of the same name, you can identify your ancestor by the name of the townland or the parents’ names.  As you can see, you get the maiden name of the mother on a birth registration.

   In addition to the date and place, marriages will give you the names of the bride and groom, possibly their ages (full age would indicate over 21), occupation, address (townland) and the names of the fathers of both the bride and the groom along with their occupations.  In the example above it also indicates that both of the fathers are living. It might also indicate if they are dead providing a hint to look for a death certificate.  Don’t forget to identify the witnesses and their relationship to the bride and groom.  

   A death certificate has the least amount of genealogical information.  You will get the name of the deceased, and date of death, his condition (bachelor, widower, spinster, etc), age, occupation, cause of death and the informant.  You always hope the informant is a family member you can identify or that the location will  identify this as the correct person. On the above death for James Moughty, the combination of the location of the death, Ballynacargy, and the informant, Bernard, his brother of Aughnaboy, confirms the identify of this person.  

For a case study on using civil registration to solve a research problem check a blog I wrote last year on Squeezing All the Information from a Source.

   Happy Hunting!

Interested in researching in Ireland?

Check out the information on my Research Trips.

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Irish Resources in honor of St. Patrick's Day.

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