Updated: Apr 15, 2019
When I began researching, the only source for Irish Catholic records was the National Library of Ireland. In the 1990s and early 2000s much of my time in Ireland was spent at the National Library in front of a microfilm reader. The quality of most of the films was not great (an understatement!) but it was what it was and my only hope of finding information on my husband’s ancestors. I’ve used the image above as an example in some of my presentations, and even if I could find the original image, take my word, you still wouldn’t be able to read it!
The National Library completed a project to digitize the microfilms they had of the Roman Catholic parish registers in the summer of 2015. Honestly, I wasn’t holding out much hope when this project was announced, but I have to say, they did a great job. Yes, there are still images that are difficult to read, but they are a vast improvement over the microfilm. There is the added benefit of access from your computer instead of making a trip to Dublin. Don’t get me wrong, you should DEFINITELY make a trip to Dublin, but now you won’t be stuck reading microfilms in the National Library for your entire trip. You can type the parish or select from a map.
Once you get to the parish, you can then filter the results of the type of record, the year and the month, which will take you to the page.
The Library, however, did not create an index for the records. In 2016, Ancestry and FindMyPast in a joint venture created an index to the records at the National Library. The indexes at Ancestry can be found here and the indexes at FindMyPast can be found here.
During the late 1980s and early 1990s, a project began to index Roman Catholic records making them available, for a fee, through county Heritage Centres. This was a time of high unemployment in Ireland, and young people were trained on computers by having them transcribe the records. Initially each county was to have at least one Heritage Centre and the records were “owned” locally. Each centre operated independently and the quality of the work varied. Some of these centres were not financially viable and closed at which point their records became unavailable. To access the records you commissioned one of the centers to do the research for you. Even if you visited a centre, you could not conduct your own research.
The Irish Family History Foundation and their website at RootsIreland, became an umbrella organization to oversee the creation of the databases and provide a central repository for records created by its member organizations. Their databases expanded to include church records of various denominations, civil registration, gravestone inscriptions, Griffith’s Valuation and Tithe records, some census returns, ship passenger lists and various local records. The list of records will vary from county to county. RootsIreland is currently a subscription site, and although it is quite expensive for an annual subscription you can subscribe for a day or a month. Since I do have a subscription this tends to be my “go to” site. Most of the transcriptions were done from original records rather than from microfilm and I think the indexes tend to be better than other sites. Their search engine has improved over the years, and you can search by type of record (baptism/marriage/ death) and add additional criteria such as father or mother’s name, name of the county or even the parish.
The results of your search will be a transcription of the record. If it happens to be a Roman Catholic record, you will likely be able to view it at the National Library site, filtering your search by the date given in the transcription.
Before you begin your search, check the Online Sources to make certain the parish and the dates covered match your search criteria. Not all parishes are included and the years will vary by location. In South Mayo, for example, the records could start as early as 1831 or as late as 1870. You’ll notice that very few Roman Catholic churches kept burial records. Note that this site does not contain records for Kerry, western Cork or Dublin city.
IrishGenealogy, (the site that publishes civil registrations) began with the Roman Catholic records of Kerry and western Cork (Diocese of Cork and Ross) and expanded to include the records from the city of Dublin. This site is free and if your ancestors were from the covered area it is a goldmine. I discussed this site a few weeks ago in my blog on Civil Registration as they recently added both indexes and images for civil records.
As with RootsIreland, make sure you check the list of available parishes and the dates covered before you search. Once you get your results, you can filter them by type of record, location and decade. The results provide a transcription of the record and you would need to obtain the image from the National Library.
There are other indexes on various sites, but always be careful when you see a database with “Selected Records” in the title. Read about the database to see what selection criteria was used…it may be that the area where your ancestors lived was not included. Also check on the source of the records. There are a number of these "Selected" databases floating around on all of the major sites which were taken from the IGI at FamilySearch and have no sources.
It's definitely a new world when searching for Roman Catholic records in Ireland, but remember that the start date for each parish will vary.
Additional information on Church and Civil Records can be found in my Quick Reference Guides #2.