Researching at the General Register Office
It’s time to move on to preparing your to do list for Ireland. Over the next few weeks, I’ll be discussing the main repositories in both Dublin and Belfast. Keep in mind that there may be additional places that specifically relate to your research… a great resource for this is The Directory of Irish Archives 5th Edition by Seamus Helferty and Raymond Refaussé.
Hopefully by this time, you have:
Identified exactly where in Ireland your ancestor was born, as well as the names of his/her parents and siblings.
You’ve reviewed all of the material you have collected on the family and created a timeline. As part of this you reviewed online hints and family trees, using the information to find potential collateral family members.
If your ancestor (or their parents/siblings) were in Ireland between 1846 and 1864 you’ve found them (or at least identified potential individuals) in Griffith’s Valuation.
If you have a fairly common name in the area, you’ve worked through civil registration and/or church records if available, to create a one name study.
And finally if you’ve taken a DNA test you’ve analyzed your matches to find potential relatives on the lines you plan to research. If you haven’t taken a DNA test, I’d strongly recommend you do so.
The General Register Office, the GRO in Dublin and GRONI in Belfast after 1922 maintains the birth, marriage and death registers for Ireland. As you probably know, there are privacy restriction for online records at IrishGenealogy.ie and GRONI of 100 years for births, 75 years for marriages and 50 years for deaths. IrishGenealogy is a bit behind in updating their records, so the latest records with images on their website are 1919 for births, 1944 for marriages and 1969 for deaths. As I’ve mentioned, we are also waiting for images of deaths from 1864-1870. In Ireland, however, no such rules exist, you can visit the General Register Office in Dublin and obtain copies of records outside of the online privacy dates (albeit for a cost of €4 each).
You can work through the indexes at FamilySearch or Findmypast up to 1958 to obtain the reference to order the certificate. The reference will be the original system of: Registration District, Quarter, Volume and Page. A common name may leave you with multiple options so knowing as much as possible about your ancestor is important. You can visit the GRO, complete an application for a copy of the registration, pay your €4 and obtain the copy in about 15 minutes (depending on how busy they are). In the past they have had a limit of 5 copies a day, but since the majority of records are now obtained online I’m not sure if the limit still exists. If you do not have the details to order the registration you can use the printed indexes at the GRO, however, there is a charge for the use of the indexes.
If your research is in one of the counties that became Northern Ireland (Down, Antrim, Armagh, Fermanagh, Tyrone or Londonderry) you’ve got options. Ireland was only one country until 1922 and after the partition, copies of the civil records for the six counties back to the original dates were sent to Belfast. Although I recommend that you use the IrishGenealogy site prior to 1922 (because it's free), for the time period of 1864-1870 the death records are available on the General Register Office of Northern Ireland (GRONI) site for the six counties. GRONI updates their indexes much more quickly and by month so that their records currently cover births up to January 1922, marriages up to January 1947, and deaths up to January 1970. The indexes are free to use, but a copy of the record costs about £2.50.
For those visiting PRONI, there is now a terminal in the Reading Room connected directly to GRONI and you can use your online account to view records almost to the present and purchase them with your available credits. You are not allowed to take a photo or download the image, so the information must be transcribed.
A few weeks ago I discussed creating a one-name study of the Johnstons. I began with marriages, then added births and deaths. I have not found a death record for my James Johnston which could mean that he died before 1864 (although there is no indication on either daughter’s marriage record that he was deceased) or perhaps he died between 1864 and 1870 where there are no images yet of the death records. There’s also the possibility that the death wasn’t registered…it happens. The Poor Law Union or Superintendent’s Registration District for the area is Ballyshannon, however it includes parts of Donegal and Fermanagh as well as Leitrim. Using IrishGenealogy I listed all of the deaths, noting that there are no images prior to 1870. I went on to check each of the records after 1870 noting the locality and person present at death along with the actual date of the event.
What I discovered as I was going through, was that the majority of the Johnstons were from Fermanagh. Some of these are still important for me because I had already noticed from the marriage index that I had Johnstons from Leitrim, marrying Johnstons from Fermanagh. However, I wanted to find a way to identify just the Johnstons from Leitrim for the time period from 1864-1870 so I wasn’t purchasing “wrong” certificates. I was looking for a way to identify them. Each Superintendent’s Registration District is broken down into multiple local Registration Districts where individuals would actually do their registration. I was interested in the Registration District for Kinlough. I looked at FamilySearch and Findmypast and couldn’t find a way to separate the registrations. So, I sent an email to John Grenham and, of course, he had the answer! The Civil Registrations at RootsIreland are done by local Registration Districts. Sure enough, a search for Johnstons in Kinlough Civil Registration District gave me the answer I needed with the added benefit of giving me the townland and the name of the informant. I didn’t find my James, but it likely saved me some money. The Margaret Johnston below was 79 (b. abt 1787), was a married farmer's wife of Cloonawillen. The informant was Robert Johnston. There was a Robert Johnston in Cloonawillen in Griffith's so some additional research on this family at the Valuation Office.
I have a number of civil registrations to obtain while I'm in Ireland. Having done my homework, these won't be difficult or time consuming to get so I can work them in between other research. As I find additional items I'll just add them to the end of my to do list, then sort by location so I know what I need from each repository.
Happy Hunting - Stay Safe!