Finding a locality in Ireland with church records

Updated: Dec 27, 2018


Celtic Connections Conference

   I’m just back from the Celtic Connections Conference in Massachusetts and it was a great conference.  This conference is held every two years as a collaboration between TIARA and the Irish Genealogical Society International.  The next conference will be in 2020 in the midwest…location to come. I did four lectures and one was Strategies for Finding the Origins of Your Irish Ancestors, given to a full house!


   Last week I wrote about Brick Walls (or as one reader commented, Speed Bumps).  For many Irish researchers that means identifying the place in Ireland where an ancestor was born.  If this is your problem, one of the items in your research plan must be church records in the country where your ancestor settled.  Yes, I know, most aren’t online!  If you’re lucky, your ancestors lived in one of the locations where projects are underway to digitize Roman Catholic records.  Thanks to AmericanAncestors (Archdiocese of Boston) and FindMyPast (Archdioceses of New York, Philadelphia, Baltimore and Chicago) we are starting to see some of these records.  But if your ancestors were in a smaller locality, you’re going to have to do this the old fashioned way…write.


   Begin by checking out the website for the church.  Some have the history of the parish online, and may even have information on how to request the records.  Make sure the parish existed at the time your ancestor lived.  You might begin with an email to the parish on their process for requesting records.  


   Be as specific as possible.  If you can give an exact date of birth or marriage, you’re more likely to get a response. Many parishes only have a part-time assistant and honestly, looking up records on your ancestor may not be their top priority.  It is not likely that they are going to have the time to search through years of records.  Oh, don’t forget to send a donation.


   Ask for everything in the record.  Typically you will receive back a form with the information filled in and signed by the priest.  If there is information in the register that doesn’t have a blank on the form, you’re not likely to get it unless you ask.  In your request, especially for marriage records, tell them you are looking for information on the place of birth in Ireland.  Sometimes a priest would not marry a couple without proof of their baptism (that information was required after about 1907).


Here’s an example of a letter that was pinned into the register for the sister of my husband’s grandmother (remember to search everyone).  It is a note from the parish priest in Ireland giving her baptismal date, names of parents and the parish and townland.  Prior to seeing this, the only information we had was Carrickmacross.  She was actually from the next parish over.  It was not uncommon for our ancestors to mention the closest large town.  Because the name was so common (Martin) I might have found someone of the same name in Carrickmacross, but it would have been the wrong person!


   Pay attention to the sponsors and witnesses!  I had a client whose Michael Walsh/Welch had initially settled in Oswego County, New York in the 1840s prior to migrating on to Minnesota. This was a consulting relationship where we would talk on the phone and develop a research plan, then he would do the research and come back to me to follow up and develop further plans.  It was unknown where the Walsh/Welch family was from in Ireland and the overall objective was to discover that information. The process was broken down into smaller steps.  One of the steps in the research plan was to focus on the church records for marriage and baptisms that occurred in Oswego. This was not a quick process…even with a substantial donation to the church.  The town historian was helpful in finally getting copies of the records but there was nothing that stated a place in Ireland.  


   The next step was to research the witnesses and sponsors identified in the church records.  The client recognized some of the surnames that were also found in Minnesota records, but did not know of the relationships so that became the objective for further research.  Who was Mary Brown who appeared as a witness? 


   Research into Mary Brown showed that she was married to Patrick Brown and that their first three children were born in Ireland beginning about 1838.  The next research question: Are there baptismal records in Ireland for a Hanora (1838), Michael (1840) and Patrick (1855) Brown born to parents Patrick and Mary Brown in approximately those years? Records were found in the Roman Catholic Baptisms at FindMyPast for each of the children indicating their parents as Patrick Brown and Mary Walshe (who turned out to be the sister of Michael Walsh).  



The family was from Clonoulty parish in Tipperary.  Since the Roman Catholic church records for this parish go back to 1804, additional research turned up the baptismal record of Mary Walsh (Brown) and the names of her parents, John Walsh and Hanora Dwyer.  Continued research into the names of other witnesses and sponsors identified more siblings of Michael Walsh.


   I’d like to thank David Walsh for giving permission for me to use his research as an example in this blog. 


   Even though they may be difficult to find, using the church records and following up on witnesses and sponsors, may provide the answer to your research question.


   Happy Hunting!  


There are more tips for finding the place of origin of your Irish ancestors in my Irish Quick Reference Guide #1.  You can order it at my store for $10, or get the set of three guides for $25.  They are also available as digital downloads.




©2018-2020 Donna Moughty.