Where to find birth records for those born in Ireland pre-Independence?

Where to find birth records for those born in Ireland pre-Independence?

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So I've got a relation that was born 8th February 1917 Tuam, Galway, Ireland. Now at that time Ireland was under British rule but shortly afterwards gained independence (that's my understanding anyway).

So I'm trying to trace the birth certificate and I'm wondering about open questions such as: was she 'British' or 'Irish' or did she start 'British' and become 'Irish' automatically as a child?

And more to the point - where am I likely to find her birth certificate? Would that sort of thing have been centrally held at the time?

A lot of the records were lost when the Dublin Public Record Office was blown up in 1922.
But see

I'm trying to trace the birth certificate and I'm wondering about open questions such as: was she 'British' or 'Irish' or did she start 'British' and become 'Irish' automatically as a child?

Remember that people can be both 'British' and 'Irish'.

This might help track down her parents: Online, searchable, Irish censuses from 1901 and 1911

The Dublin Public Record Office wouldn't have held birth certificates for people born in Tuam, if anywhere for that matter. There would probably be a paper record held in the parish church (cathedral in Tuam). I grew up a few miles from Tuam but I doubt if they've anything digitised.

The records are held at the General Register Office (GRO) in Dublin. They (currently) have free searchable indexes for birth records dating to 1864 to 1915 online.

The searchable indexes currently (August 2017) include:

  • Births: 1864 to 1915
  • non-Roman Catholic Marriages : 1845 to 1940
  • Roman Catholic Marriages: 1864 to 1940
  • Deaths: 1864 to 1965

For more recent records, they have a search facility in Dublin at:

General Register Office Werburgh Street, Dublin 2, D08 E277

Searchable indexes are also available on These require a subscription, and I am not sure how good their coverage is.

Vital Records

Vital records most commonly refer to records such as birth and death certificates, marriage licenses and divorce decrees, wills and the like. These records are created by local authorities, and with possible exceptions for events overseas, in the military, or in the District of Columbia. They are not considered Federal records therefore they are not held by NARA.
The CDC's National Center for Health Statistics web site tells how to obtain birth, death, marriage, and divorce records from state and territorial agencies.

NARA Related Resources

Information collected in Census Records may help you to find which jurisdiction you will want to look for vital records in. For instance, if you find your ancestor's state of birth and approximate year of birth are reported in the census, you can then contact that local jurisdiction regarding their birth records. Certain census years (1850, 1860, 1870 and 1880) also had mortality schedules (1890-1900 were unfortunately destroyed), so you may find someone's death reported if it occurred in the year leading up to the census.

Marriage Registers of Freedman, an article from Prologue
This article describes the marriage records available for freed slaves and other records about slave families. These records are an invaluable source for African-American family history. See links to more resources on African-American Research.

Casualty lists from the U.S. military:

External Web Sites with Related Information

    This NARA site is dedicated to the release of the 1930 census. It is complete with finding aids and indexes.

    Arranged by cemetary and memorial, this site displays the burials and missing in action for 172,218 victims.

    This U.S. Census Bureau site is designed to make finding census information easier. Included are community profiles, reference and thematic maps, and population and housing facts.

    Birth and death certificates for residents of Arizona are now available to the public through this site, provided the birth was more than 75 years ago, and the death more than 50 years ago.

    Information on reports of American who have died abroad. Guidance is provided for obtaining reports from U.S. consular offices to the Department of State naming U.S. citizens who died within foreign countries.

    This site provides databases for genealogists and other researchers.

    This site helps you search for ancestors' graves, memorials, monuments, burial records, and cemeteries. It also provides links to the graves of thousands of famous people around the world.

    This article by Claire Prechtel-Kluskens appeared in the January 1998 issue of NARA's The Record.

    This article, written by Kellee Blake, was published in the Spring 1996 issue of Prologue.

    This database provides listings of death certificates filed with the Illinois Department of Public Health between 1916 and 1950.

    Elaine Everly, NARA staff member, wrote this article on Freedmans' marriage registers. It is an invaluable source of family history published in the Fall 1973 issue of Prologue Quarterly.

    This article by Margaret O. Adams and Thomas E. Brown appeared in the Winter 2000 issue of Prologue.

    The NAIC will assist genealogists seeking modern vital records and gives current information on state laws and procedures.

    This site includes a database of over 3,000,000 veterans' cemetery records online, covering VA burials since the Civil War.

    Nearly 1.4 million records are included in the database, covering: 1891 to 1894 Manhattan Only, 1895 to 1897 Manhattan and Brooklyn Only, and 1898 to 1911 All Boroughs.

    Maintained by the Bureau of Land Management's (BLM) General Land Office, this site currently provides public access to over two million federal land title records, issued between 1820 and 1908, for twelve Eastern Public Land States.

    Compiled by the Pennsylvania Department of Health, this site links to the vital records offices of all 50 states.

    Helpful links on where to search for burial records, tombstone inscriptions, and obituaries online through this LibrarySpot site.

    Created by Joe Beine, this site lists death indexes by state, and include county indexes, obituaries, death certificate databases, and a vital records database.

    This site, The Plymouth Colony Archive Project, lists all the passengers on the Mayflower, and their occupations. Very useful for proving ancestry lines from the original Plymouth Colony settlers.

    This Internet Public Librarian site assists in locating public or vital records using the Internet.

    This digital version of William S. Stryker's classic work is presented here by the New Jersey State Library.

    Sponsored by, this site indexes all of the death records that have been reported to the Social Security Administration.

    Locations of NARA State Archives and historical societies with contact information.

    This site is helpful for beginning researchers, because it is organized by state and then county, and gives instructions on how to make inquiries concerning vital records.

    The CDC's National Center for Health Statistics web site tells how to obtain birth, death, marriage, and divorce records from state and territorial agencies.

    Database of over 145,000 service cards of Army and Marine soldiers from Missouri between 1917 and 1919.

This page was last reviewed on May 28, 2021.
Contact us with questions or comments.

Tracing Protestant Ancestors, Part 2 - Church of Ireland records

The Representative Church Body Library in Dublin: The largest collection of registers (including those from some non-parochial ministries such as cathedrals, military chapels or chapels of ease) is held by the Church of Ireland's Representative Church Body Library (RCB Library). The Library holds the oldest surviving Irish parish records – the baptism, marriage and burial registers of St John the Evangelist in Dublin – which date from 1619, and its collection grows every year as more parishes hand over their records for safekeeping. Personal visitors to the Library may freely access the registers.

St Columb's Cathedral, Derry City. St Columb Cathedral, Derry City

LIST OF CHURCH OF IRELAND PARISH REGISTERS: Following a joint project with the Irish Genealogical Research Society, the RCB Library has published a free-to-download List of Church of Ireland Parish Registers (1.1Mb pdf).

This indispensable 98-page document lists not only the RCBL's own collection of registers and transcriptions, but all Church of Ireland parish registers – whether they survive or not – from both the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland.

The dates of those that survive are also set out in the document, and a colour code indicates the current whereabouts of the originals in repositories, local custody etc. If the registers have been made available online, a link to the relevant database is provided.

In July 2017, the RCB Library updated the List with links to parish-by-parish 'hand-lists'. These hand-lists provide an insight into a parish's register collection and also give the researcher up to date information about the parish.

The List is regularly updated and the link above will take you to the most up-to-date version (January 2020).

PUBLISHED REGISTERS TO PURCHASE: Library staff have transcribed 12 registers for purchase (details here).

CONTACT: RCBL, Braemor Park, Churchtown, Dublin 14. Tel: 00 353 (0)1 492 3979. Email: [email protected] RCBL online.

The National Archives of Ireland (NAI) has microfilms of about 350 Church of Ireland registers. These are on free public access and include many of the original registers now held at RCBL.

Although there is a daily free genealogical service at the NAI, it is available only to personal visitors. NAI staff do not carry out genealogical research.

CONTACT: National Archives of Ireland, Bishop Street, Dublin 8. No appointment is necessary, but you need a Reader's Ticket to use the Reading Room which is open from 9:15am-5pm Monday to Friday. Details at

Public Record Office of Northern Ireland (PRONI): Surviving Church of Ireland records for all Ulster counties, plus those for Leitrim and Louth, can be viewed on microfilm at the Public Record Office of Northern Ireland (PRONI). You need a Visitor's Pass if you want to trace ancestors through these records. Hours 9.00-4.45 Monday to Friday plus a later evening closure on Thursdays.

CONTACT: PRONI, Titanic Boulevard, Belfast BT3 9HQ. Tel: 00 44 (0)29 9025 5905. Email: [email protected] PRONI online.

Local Custody: In view of what happened to the registers when sent to a state archive (see Did all the records burn?), the Church of Ireland is understandably nervous about releasing originals from its own safekeeping. Many originals remain in local custody. While some are handed over to RCBL every year, there doesn't seem to be any great rush from the local clergy to relieve themselves of the responsibility of caring for their historical documents.

It is, therefore, necessary for researchers to consult the List of Church of Ireland Parish Registers (see link above). If the parish register you seek is still in local custody, contact the church to find out what access arrangements are in place for family historians to view the original pages. When a transcript or microfilmed copy is available elsewhere, local clergy often keep their originals under permanent lock and key.

Where to find Church of Ireland records ONLINE

A good number of Church of Ireland registers of baptisms, marriages and burials have made their way online over the last five years or so. The following databases hold the most significant online collections:

RootsIreland – This pay-to-view database holds millions of Church of Ireland records, but is not, by any means, a complete collection. To trace ancestors through this service, you will, in the absence of an exceptionally unusual name, need to be able to narrow down the area you are searching to county level at least.

If you are reasonably confident of the locality, be sure to look at the Online Sources list for the appropriate county (there's a handy widget here) to check that the correct parish is included in the RootsIreland database.

All records on RootsIreland are transcriptions there are no images of the parish registers.

Christ Church, Kilfaughnabeg, Glandore, Co. Cork.

IrishGenealogy – Through this government-funded site you'll find records of Protestant ancestors who lived in counties Carlow and Kerry and in Dublin City. The searchable site provides transcriptions and images, and they're free.

The Anglican Record Project - The RCBLibrary (see the offline section above) is the online host of this project, run by Mark Williams. Transcriptions and some images of Church of Ireland records are available free to view on-screen or by downloading pdfs. 

How to search

To search the records, you must enter at least a surname together with a date which can be:

You can add other information to refine your search. The civil registration types are:

  • births
  • deaths
  • marriages
  • civil partnerships
  • adoptions
  • World War II deaths

The information which you can use to search is shown below for each civil registration type:


  • child's surname
  • child's first forename
  • child's date of birth, year of birth or birth range
  • Sex of child
  • mother's maiden surname
  • registration district
  • registration subdistrict


  • deceased's surname
  • deceased's first forename
  • Sex of deceased
  • deceased's date of birth
  • deceased's date of death, year of death or year of death range
  • registration district
  • registration subdistrict

Registration districts when searching birth or death records

When you search for a birth or death record before 1 October 1973, you have the option to search by subdistrict. The subdistrict option is not available after this date because local government boundaries changed. From 1 October 1973, council districts are the only districts available for searching.


You can only search by one spouse using the:

  • bride or groom's surname
  • bride or groom's first forename
  • date of marriage, year of marriage or year of marriage range
  • registration district

World War II deaths

  • deceased's surname
  • deceased's first forename
  • deceased's date of death, year of death or year of death range

Your Irish Genealogy Search - an A - Z

This Irish genealogy A-Z will come in handy no matter what stage your research has reached.

In some cases, the details on this page simply redirect you to the relevant section of Irish Genealogy Toolkit. Others provide a brief summary of the resources available and gives you a link(s) to more detailed information, either in this section of the website or on external sites.

This Irish genealogy A-Z will come in handy no matter what stage your research has reached.

In some cases, the details on this page simply redirect you to the relevant section of Irish Genealogy Toolkit. Others provide a brief summary of the resources available and gives you a link(s) to more detailed information, either in this section of the website or on external sites.

- scroll down the A-Z page to find the topic you're interested in,

- see the Contents menu in the right hand column (desktops and some tablets) of the page, or

Archives & Repositories in Ireland

Listing of Regional Irish Repositories (island-wide)

Have a good look, too, at the ExploreYourArchive website where there's some great features about some of the archives across Ireland and the UK. You'll also find The Archive Directory under the Resources tab useful.

Another handy but under-used directory is the Irish Archives Resource (IAR), a voluntary group supported by the Archives and Records Association (ARA) and University College Dublin. It publishes a free online database which allow users to locate archives that are relevant to their research and to view comprehensive and standardised archive descriptions. 

Best' or 'Top' listings websites - recommendations

To help new family historians, this Toolkit has a number of 'Best for' or 'Top 5' listings of websites where I've recommended specific sites for particular purposes. Some have a general or wide-ranging purpose, some target specific themes. The pages are located on this website wherever they seemed most appropriate for the reader, but they may not always be too obvious!

To simplifly, then, here are the listings:

Top 10 free websites for Irish genealogy: The key word here is 'free', although in Irish family history terms, these tend to be the bigger and more mainstream collections.

Top 5 pay-to-view Irish genealogy databases: As most of the major databases are free, you don't need too many subscriptions for Irish genealogy!

Best genealogy sites for local research: The genealogy sites in this list have information and/or records about specific localities, whether that be at county, town, parish or district level. Not all areas are covered.

Best sites for learning about places: This short list of websites includes those that help you to learn about places - their history, language, local big-wigs and others with civil responsibilities, and general services (markets, court sessions, fairs, main coach timetables, health etc) maps identifying the local administrative land divisions finding links to sites holding local information and records. Whichever area you're targetting, you should find useful info on these sites.

Best sites for Northern Ireland genealogy: Free or not-entirely-free websites that specifically target family history research in Northern Ireland.

Birth & Baptism

Ireland's birth records and birth certificates (civil registration).


Census of Ireland

Unfortunately, the censuses taken in the 19th century were almost completely destroyed only a small number of 1821–1851 Irish census fragments survive. This great tragedy is the reason many people find their Irish genealogy search difficult. However, the 1901 and 1911 censuses survive, complete. Full details are in the Irish census section of Irish Genealogy Toolkit, along with information about later 20th century population surveys such as the 1926 census and the 1939 National Register (the latter carried out only in Northern Ireland).

A number of specific population surveys were carried out in the 18th and 19th centuries, often across a more localised geographical area or distinguishable group of people. Many of these also survive. These collections are known as Ireland's census substitutes.

Church records

Timoleague Church, Co Cork.

Church records include records of baptisms/christenings, marriages, and burials. These records were created in Parish Registers and constantly updated as births, weddings and deaths occurred.

For Irish genealogy research, church registers can be a wonderfully rich source of information but, as family historians soon discover, there are many problems to overcome. The most obvious is that a huge number of records do not survive.

An 1876 law demanded that all Church of Ireland parish registers be sent to the Public Record Office in Dublin for safekeeping. This law was amended in 1878 to allow parishes with good storage facilities to retain their records, so not all parish records were sent to Dublin, and others were copied before being sent.

Church records include records of baptisms/christenings, marriages, and burials. These records were created in Parish Registers and constantly updated as births, weddings and deaths occurred.

For Irish genealogy research, church registers can be a wonderfully rich source of information but, as family historians soon discover, there are many problems to overcome. The most obvious is that a huge number of records do not survive.

An 1876 law demanded that all Church of Ireland parish registers be sent to the Public Record Office in Dublin for safekeeping. This law was amended in 1878 to allow parishes with good storage facilities to retain their records, so not all parish records were sent to Dublin, and others were copied before being sent.

Timoleague Church, Co Cork.

This was just as well, because those enjoying 'safekeeping' in Dublin were destroyed in a fire in 1922.

Most of those that had not been sent to Dublin survive, although not all under one roof. They are rather scattered, so tracking down a particular register, or a copy of it, can, sometimes, be troublesome.

Roman Catholic registers also survive (with a small number of exceptions), but they don't generally date back much beyond the 1820s. Some don't even start until the second half of the 19th century. Older registers, especially those from more rural parishes, were often in Latin.

See the Church Records section of this site for details of Presbyterian, Roman Catholic, Methodist, Protestant and Quaker records.

Civil Registration

The Irish civil registration section of this website provides for comprehensive understanding of how these records will aid your Irish genealogy search, where you can find the resources you need, both online and offline, and how to use them. Here is a brief summary of the pages available:

The Irish civil registration system - an introduction, summary and main menu of pages

Using the Irish civil registration indexes - a brief history of the indexes and registers how they are compiled arrangements of indexes how to create the GRO Index reference.

Search the Irish civil registration indexes - Indepth descriptions of online and offline resources providing access to the indexes.

Tips for searching - the official online civil registration index with links (for some years) to images of register entries. Tips for success. How to locate/create

Maps of Ireland's civil registration districts - (Superintendent Registrars' Districts) and lists of the names of the districts, by county.

Northern Ireland civil registration records - The General Register Office of Northern Ireland has an efficient online facility for searching historical events that occurred in the six counties.


Court and crime records

Court records can be extremely useful for Irish genealogy research, often revealing surprising or colourful anecdotal information. They may also, on occasion, provide rich genealogical information – names of parents, siblings or children, or clarify where a family was living at a particular moment in time.

Online collections have helped to raise awareness of the value of the records, and you'll find full details and advise on using them in the following pages on this site:


There are a number of sources of death records: civil death records, which started in 1864, church burial registers (patchy, at best), newspaper death announcements and obituaries, and headstones. A huge number of mainly volunteer-led websites also now exist to hold details of graveyards and inscribed headstones.


The Registry of Deeds in Dublin holds memorials of deeds from 1708. The records are accessible only to personal visitors.  A volunteer-led project is gradually creating a free-to-search online index of the records, and has grown considerably since FamilySearch uploaded images (but no indexes) of the memorials. In 2019, the Property Registration Authority of Ireland announced the start of a project to digitise the Registry of Deeds collection (see my blogpost on Irish Genealogy News). This may take several years to reach fruition.

See the Land & property main page for a brief explanation of the value of deeds to genealogical research.

A fuller feature about Deeds is being prepared and will be published shortly on Irish Genealogy Toolkit.

Emigration from Ireland

     that brought disease and death with Irish immigrants to America and Canada. : the arrival of the Irish : where to find records of your ancestor's arrival and life in Canada  that may help you find your Irish immigrants in America. , New York. What was it like?

►   The coffin ships that brought disease and death with Irish immigrants to America and Canada.

►  ꃊnadian immigration records: where to find records of your ancestor's arrival and life in Canada

►  ਊn overview of US immigration records that may help you find your Irish immigrants in America.

►   Irish immigration to England, and where to find the best genealogy resources.

►   Irish immigration to Scotlandਊnd where to find the best genealogy resources.

Land / Geography & Maps / Property

See the Land & property main page for a selection of pages relating to land records. This selection includes several pages exploring Griffiths Valuation, as well as links to pages about Tithe Applotment Books, the 1876 Landowners list, the Landed Estate Court Rentals collection and Estate records.

  • Alphabetical list and introduction to the 32 historical counties of Ireland. – Genealogists need to become acquainted with land divisions because not all records were collected in the same way.
  • Maps: Knowing your way around Ireland can be very useful for genealogy research. To help you along the way, get to grips with some basic details about Ireland's geography and familiarise yourself with relevant parts of the island using these regional and county maps. / Encumbered Estate Court Rentals

Marriage records

Church records – parish marriage registers


Because they're unindexed, newspapers have only recently become a mainstay of the genealogy scene, thanks to digitisation technology. They can provide rich pickings indeed. They can also be great fun, but you need to keep focused to avoid going off on a tangent as you uncover interesting stories.

There are now many online outlets, but some of the best collections are still held offline, usually on microfilm.

Northern Ireland

On Irish Genealogy Toolkit, most of the explanations of resources apply across the island of Ireland. Where there may be a difference in availability or application between what is now Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, this is usually set out on individual pages. In just a few instances, the information is so very different that distinct pages have been created, as follows:

Pension search forms

In the early 20th century, pension applications often required a search to be made of the 1841/1851 censuses to establish the true age of the applicant. The forms completed are known as census search forms or, less precisely, Irish pension records.

Roman Catholic records

The parish registers of the Roman Catholic church are held locally but access is often restricted. Fortunately, most of the surviving registers are accessible online in one format or another.

A number of pages on Irish Genealogy Toolkit explore this important area of research:

Genealogy software

Purchasing software can be a bit of a minefield. There are just so many options available, and probably every genealogist you ever speak to will have their own favourite and won't budge from it! So here's some independent advice about the things you need to think about before you invest in a particular family tree software package.

Special offers, discounts and deals

Keeping up to date with them can be difficult, which means that researchers can easily miss some great deals.

Toolkit has a solution: this page is regularly updated with the current discounts and news of any free access periods on the major databases.

Check out the Irish Genealogy Special Offers page to see what's current. May be a good idea to 'bookmark' or 'favourite' the page, too.

Spinning Wheel Entitlement

In 1796, the Irish Linen Board published its Spinning Wheel Entitlement List (also known as the Flax Growers Bounty or the Irish Flax Growers List), one of several lists created in response to special initiatives by the Government to encourage the production of linen.

Find out more about these lists, and where you can view the 1796 version, at the bottom of this page about conditions for our Mill worker ancestors.

The Family Tree Irish Genealogy Guide

Written by the creator of  Irish Genealogy Toolkit ਊnd  Irish Genealogy News , 'The Family Tree Irish Genealogy Guide' is full of advice, tips and strategies to ease what can be a challenging journey.

Its guidance will be useful to any researcher of Irish heritage, but especially for the target Irish-American researcher who's struggling to work back to Ireland from their immigrant ancestor.

ISBN: 9781440348808 / 240 pages. 

Workhouse/Board of Guardian records

Minute books for the four workhouses in Co. Wexford (Wexford, Enniscorthy, Gorey, New Ross) detail the weekly administration of the institution, including the dietary provision. While these volumes do not contain comprehensive lists of inmates, names crop up in the master’s weekly reports, the names of female inmates who availed of the Assisted emigration scheme (1848-49) are listed, there are incidences of clothes procured or a coffin purchased for a named inmate, and details are given for some boarded-out children. As admissions and discharge registers have not survived for any of the Co. Wexford workhouses, the minute books are the only primary workhouse source for family history and are worthy of detailed investigation.

Research Help: Civil Records Explanation

Compulsory civil registration of non-Roman Catholic marriages began on April 1st, 1845. The registration of births, deaths and all marriages commenced on January 1st, 1864. The General Register Office (GRO), holds copies of all civil records for the whole of Ireland, from the commencement of registration, up to and including the year 1921. From 1922 onwards, the GRO holds copies of the records for the Republic of Ireland only, those records for the six counties of Northern Ireland are held by the Public Records Office in Belfast, Co. Antrim.

The indices are arranged in alphabetical order, and include the following information – Surname / Christian name / Name of the Registration District also known as the ‘Superintendent Registrar’s District’ (in which the birth, marriage or death took place) / Volume and page number of the register in which the entry is recorded.

Up to the end of 1877 the indices were arranged alphabetically, by year. From 1878 onwards each year was divided into quarters, January-March, April-June, July-September and October-December. The surnames for each quarter are listed alphabetically.

From 1903 onwards, the index of births included the mother’s maiden name.

If your ancestor was born, married or died in Ireland after January 1st, 1864 (and, in the case of a non Roman Catholic marriages after April 1st, 1845) the particular event should be registered. However, many births, marriages and deaths were never registered, during the earlier years.

Civil Registration – districts and indices information

Civil registration in Ireland began on April 1st,1845 with the compulsory registration of non-Catholic marriages.

The existing Poor Law Union divisions were used to designate the ‘Registration districts’ for births, marriages and deaths. The Poor Law Act of 1838 divided Ireland into Poor Law Unions each with a market town as a centre. These union boundaries were roughly 10 miles from the town and crossed parish and county borders. By 1847 there were 130 Unions. In 1851 each union was sub-divided into 6 or 7 ‘Dispensary districts’ each headed by a medical officer. Some subdivisions were designated full Union status resulting in an increase in the number of Poor Law Unions between 1845 and 1864. In later years some Poor Law Unions were dissolved owing to a decrease in the population and the townlands covered by these dissolved Unions became part of the surrounding Unions.

In 1864, civil registration of births, marriages and deaths became compulsory and at that time there were 163 Poor Law Unions(PLU’s) in Ireland. The Poor Law Union was designated the Superintendant Registrar’s District (SRD) and within each of these Districts the ‘Dispensary District’s’ were designated as the Registrar’s Disctricts, (RD’s), totalling 798 registration districts in all at that time.

The medical officers of each district were appointed as registrars. These registrars sent their quarterly returns to the Superintendent Registrar who indexed and retained copies of the registers. These registers were then copied and sent to the General Register Office in Dublin. It is from these that the master index for the entire country are compiled.

It is believed that it would be unusual for a birth to be registered in the local district without a copy being forwarded to Dublin so this master index is considered to be all inclusive. However, there have been instances of records being found in local districts which have not been found on the master index reported on Rootsweb mailing lists.

Over the years, some registrar’s districts changed and were amalgamated into nearby superintendents registrar’s districts. Various sources can help identify these changes, there is a map on the wall of the research room in the GRO, Dublin and for those who have not got access to this a book titled ‘Townlands in Poor Law Unions’ (George B. Handran, 1997) identifies changes in districts. It is necessary to remember that the designations SRO and PLU refer to the same districts.

The master indices are sorted alphabetically from 1845 (non-Catholic marriages) and 1864 (all births, marriages and deaths) until 1878. From 1878 each year was subdivided into four quarters: January-March April-June July-September and October-December. The surnames in each quarter are listed alphabetically. For these years therefore, it is necessary to check each quarter separately. Here it is necessary to remember that a birth, marriage or death for the period covered by any quarter may not have been registered until the following quarter. Each volume also has a section at the back to which late registrations for that year may have been added, it is necessary to check this also. It is even possible to find an event registered a few years late.

In 1879, registration of births and deaths outside the United Kingdom (remember Ireland was part of the UK until 1922) for Irish born soldiers and people emplyed in the civil service working abroad was introduced. There is a separate section at the back of each volume for such registrations.

In 1903, the format of the registration indices changed once again, from then on the surnames are listed alphabetically from the beginning of the year to the end of the year.

Births and deaths at sea which were registered are also found indexed at the back of each volume up to 1921.

Births, marriages and deaths for the 32 counties of Ireland are found indexed in the volumes of the General Registrar’s Office in Dublin up to the year 1921. From 1921 forwards, the records pertaining to the six counties of northern Ireland (Antrim, Armagh, Down, Fermanagh, Londonderry (Derry) and Tyrone) were only sent to the General Registrar’s Office of Northern Ireland. Records of all other counties in Ireland remained the responsibility of the GRO in Dublin.

Birth records provide: The date and place of birth, given name, sex, father’s name and occupation, mother’s name, informant of birth, date of registration, signature of Registrar.

Marriage Records provide: Date and place of marriage, names of bride and groom, age, marital status (spinster, bachelor, widow, widower),occupation, place of residence at time of marriage, name and occupation of father of bride and groom, witnesses to marriage and cleryman who performed the ceremony.

After 1950, additional information is provided on marriage records as follows: dates of birth for the bride and groom replace simply age, mother’s names appear and a future address is supplied.

Death records provide: Date and place of death, name of deceased, sex, age (sometimes approximate) occupation, cause of death, informant of death (not necessarily a relative), date of registration and Registrar’s name. Even today, Irish death records do not include a maiden name for married women or date of birth for the deceased.

Registration was compulsory, it was the responsibility of the family to register births and deaths while generally the clergy registered marriages. However, regardless of this fact many births, deaths and marriages remained unregistered. A simple glance at the early register indices compared to later register indices shows this fact, the earlier registers containing fewer entries than the later ones. People may not have known about these new laws, may not have cared or quite simply may not have been able to afford the registration fee.

Nevertheless, the early indices provide us with some useful information even those whose ancestors left Ireland before registration began.

The early death registers give the age of the person who died and this can be handy in certain instances to identify those areas of a county where a surname may have occurred in earlier years, such as when someone knows that their ancestors came from a particular county but not the area in that county. If a surname is found in a few districts, and all the deaths registered in one district are of older people, and those in another of young adults and children then it is possible to assume that people had moved into that second district in the recent past and those seeking ancestors who left Ireland prior to civil registration would have a better chance of finding their ancestors in other records of the first district.

Spellings of a name can vary from district to district in the earlier indices. This may relate to the phonetics of the area, how the name sounded to those who filled in the registration forms. As we move through the various registers for each year we can begin to see standardisation in the spellings of names, but in those earlier volumes sometimes a particular spelling is found in one or two parts of the country and a different variation in others. For some, this may be their clue as to where in Ireland their ancestors may have originated from.

Each county page on this web site has links to pages with extracts from the Irish birth, marriage and death indexes. These references can be used to order photocopies or certificates from either Dublin or Belfast. Most reference extracts are random – for some surnames all references over a period of years have been taken. See each county page to link to the main reference tables.

Step Three: Identify Records Which May Include the Place of Birth

The next goal in your birthplace quest is to find a record or other source that tells you specifically where to start looking in your ancestor's country of origin. While searching, it is important to remember that your ancestor's last residence prior to emigration may not necessarily be their place of birth.

  • Look at research already done by others. In many cases, other researchers have already found where the emigrant came from. This includes searching through published indexes and genealogies, local biographies and town histories, and databases of compiled records.
  • Locate original records related to the immigrant's death, such as death records, church records, obituaries, cemetery records, and probate records. Obituaries published in ethnic newspapers are the most likely to contain specific information such as a town of origin.
  • Check both civil and church sources for a marriage record and records of the children's births.
  • Search other types of genealogical records which may reveal an ancestor's town of origin, including census records, court records, newspapers, and land and property records.
  • Immigration records such as passenger lists and naturalization records are another important source in the search for an immigrant's town of birth. While it may seem a better place to start, you usually need the information found in previous steps to enable you to locate immigration and naturalization records. In the United States, for example, census records may reveal whether an ancestor was naturalized.

Search for these records in each place where the immigrant lived, for the complete time period when he or she lived there and for some time after his death. Be sure to investigate available records in all jurisdictions that may have kept records about him or her, including town, parish, county, state, and national authorities. Be thorough in your examination of each record, making note of all identifying details such as the immigrant's occupation or the names of neighbors, godparents, and witnesses.

Totally free genealogy websites

Trace your family tree for free online with these totally free genealogy websites:

  • Family Search – The largest free genealogy website in the world.
  • National Archives – Federal military, census, immigration, land, naturalization records and more.
  • Library of Congress – Access free digitized images of newspapers, books, films, maps, personal narratives, photos, prints, and drawings.
  • MyHeritage – Search over 10 billion global historical records, birth, marriage and death records from 32 countries, 25 million pages of historical newspapers dating back to 1803, and more than 6.3 billion names – all with a 14-day free trial. Use it free for two weeks and cancel if it’s not for you.
  • Chronicling America – Part of the Library of Congress website, Chronicling America has searchable images of US newspapers from 1792-1963.
  • Allen County Public Library – Located in Fort Wayne, Indiana, the Allen County Public Library has one of the largest genealogy collections in the United States.
  • Ancestry Free Indexes – Want to do a free Ancestry search with no subscription? has a number of free collections which include census records, immigration records, military records, prison records, wills, biographies, and a large number of Jewish records from eastern Europe.
  • Ancestry Free Trial – You can get access to all of records for a 14-day free trial.
  • FindAGrave – Over 170 million burial and cemetery records have been submitted to Find-A-Grave.
  • Ellis Island – Through this website, you can explore the history of Ellis Island, get tips on genealogy research, and search the 65 million Ellis Island database entries for your immigrant ancestors.
  • Castle Garden – Records for 11 million immigrants to New York from 1820-1892 can be searched online.
  • USGenWeb – County and state resources, compiled and maintained by volunteers, the USGenWeb sites can provide historical information about places, local cemeteries, local birth, and death records, obituaries, and links to other genealogy resources related to the area and its people.
  • Fulton History – A searchable repository of old newspapers published in the United States and Canada, Fulton History has historical photos and newspapers from 1795 to 2007, with new data added weekly.
  • MyHeritage Family Tree Builder – This free software gets high ratings in its features, ease of use, and customer support.
  • David Rumsey’s Historical Maps – With over 90,000 maps and related images viewable online, this map collection can help you see where your ancestors lived and how boundaries and place names changed over time.
  • Sanborn Maps – A map collection within the Library of Congress, this collection of fire insurance maps published by the Sanborn Map Company can be used to see how cities evolved over time.
  • Google Maps – Google Maps can help you find places, look at the distance between places, and see topographical or satellite images of geographical areas.
  • Free BMD – If you have ancestors from England or Wales, Free BMD may help you find birth, marriage, or death records.
  • Google Books – Many out of print books have been scanned and can be read for free on the Google Books page.
  • Internet Archive – This is a good place to look for a family genealogy book or local history book.
  • Reclaim the Records – An activist group of historians, genealogists, researchers, and open government advocates, Reclaim the Records identifies information that should be in the public domain but has been restricted by the government, archive or library that holds it.
  • Jewish Gen – If your ancestors were Jewish, this website has more than 20 million records from all over the world to help you trace your Jewish heritage.
  • AfriGeneas – This site is dedicated to genealogy research for African Americans.
  • DeadFred – A free genealogy photo archive, Dead Fred lets you search for photos of your ancestors, and provides a forum to post photographs for other researchers to find.
  • Cyndi’s List – Cyndi’s list doesn’t have genealogy records. It tells you where to go to find records and other genealogy-related information on the internet.
  • DAR – The Daughter of the American Revolution website has a genealogy section with information on starting a family tree.


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