In 1695 laws were enacted in Ireland for the Suppression of Popery - known as Penal Laws. Clergy were banished; Catholics could not vote, hold office, educate their children or own property. Between 1772 and 1795 the Catholic Relief Acts began to gradually restore rights taken away by Penal Laws. It was not until the Catholic Emancipation Act in 1829 that full rights were restored. Although the majority of Catholic parish records begin in the 1820’s, some records, especially in the cities and around Dublin begin in the late 1700’s. There are also records that begin as late as the 1870’s. Many early registers are in Latin. If you don’t read Latin it’s not a problem, you just need to know a few words. Check FamilySearch for a Latin Word list.
The types of Roman Catholic records you will find include baptisms and marriages. You will find few burial records prior to the 20th Century although there are exceptions. You should always check surviving records for the Church of Ireland for marriages and burials, especially if the family was well off. Since there were few Catholic cemeteries, well off individuals may have been buried in the Church of Ireland graveyards.
You may find that an individual “converted” to the Church of Ireland so they could keep their land. Although the Convert Rolls were destroyed in the 1922 fire at the Public Records Office, there are calendars or indexes with some information at FindMyPast. Some of the online indexes are mixed with the Qualification Rolls which, as part of the Catholic Relief Acts, allowed an individual (outside of the State Church) to swear allegiance to the monarch, thus providing additional relief. You can find these records at FindMyPast. This site specifically identifies the source. The records are also at the National Archives of Ireland (free), but the source is not specifically stated.
To find Catholic church records you need to know the name of the ecclesiastical parish. During the Reformation, all of the Catholic churches were taken over by the Church of Ireland. At the time of the Catholic Relief Acts there were few priests and churches, so the area covered by the Catholic parishes sometimes would incorporate multiple civil parishes and frequently had different names. If you know the name of the civil parish there are a number of resources that will give you the name of the Catholic parish.
You can use a reference book such as Irish Records to make the conversion.
IrishAncestors tells you the name of the parish, the dates for baptisms, marriages and burials, the location of the records and their status. Always check to see what years are covered as it will be different for each parish. In the case of Magheracloone parish, if I was looking for a baptism or marriage prior to 1836, no records exist. There is no point searching other databases for information that doesn't exist!
During the summer of 2015, the National Library of Ireland digitized all of the images of the Roman Catholic records they held on microfilm and made them available on their website for free (unindexed). Prior to that time, the only place to view most of these records was at the Library in Dublin. You could now scroll through the images from your computer. The National Library did not have microfilms of every parish. Go to their website and either type in the name of the parish or select “Search the Map.” Click on the map to select the county and Roman Catholic parish, and check to see the coverage. Most of the records will end between 1880 and 1900. Once you find the correct parish, this is just like viewing microfilm. I have to add that the digitization was excellent. I initially had my doubts since the quality of the microfilm was terrible but the images for the most part are clear and easy to read (other than the handwriting and spelling). There is also the ability to filter your results, so by selecting the type of record (baptism, marriage) and then the month and year if known, you can move directly to the correct image.
In March of 2016 FindMyPast and Ancestry, in a joint project, indexed the images and made them available through their websites. You do not have to have a subscription to access these records, although you do have to have a user name and password. Next week I’ll discuss the various indexes available for Roman Catholic records.
There are still slots left for the Belfast Research Trip in October. You can download the registration form here.
I'm heading to the New England Regional Genealogical Conference tomorrow where I'll be doing 3 lectures and a workshop. If you're there, make sure you introduce yourself.