Module Four: Working with Vital Records

Working with Vital Records

In this module you will begin your research in Irish records of civil registration, develop your awareness of the availability of church records by denomination, and carry out research for an individual using the online website of the Irish Family History Foundation.

"In all of us there is a hunger, bone-marrow deep, to know our heritage - to know who we are and where we have come from."
- Alex Haley

Irish couple

Understanding Irish Names

As you begin your research in Irish records, you will need to be aware of the many possible varieties of both surnames and first names that you may find in the records. For example, James may be listed as Seamus (the Gaelic version) or Jacobus (the Latin version). So you will want to search for James, Seamus, Jacobus, and Jacob. Joanna may be Joan, Johana, or Siobhan.

For more information on Irish first names and their varieties, read this article on Christian Names in Ireland.

Understanding Civil Registration

Civil registration is the government registration of births, deaths, and marriages. Civil registration began in Ireland on April 1, 1845, with only the registration of Protestant marriages. All birth, deaths, and marriages were registered starting January 1, 1864. Certificates can be requested from the General Registry Office, and many are available online.

Four Courts Dublin

Read more about Irish civil registration.

An online video tutorial about Irish civil registration is available at FamilySearch. The video is about 30 minutes, and a class handout transcript is available at the same site.

Using Church Records

Before 1864, most records of birth and marriage can be found using church records in Ireland. The primary denominations were:

  • Catholic: representing about 81% of the population. Catholic records begin in urban areas in about 1750, in rural areas in the early 1800s.
  • Protestant: Church of Ireland - representing about 11% of the population. The earliest registers began in 1619. Most of the registers began in the mid-1700s.
  • Presbyterian: representing about 2% of the population. The Presbyterians began massive migrations into Northern Ireland during the Ulster Plantation, beginning in 1605.
  • Methodist: Most early Methodists were also member of the Church of Ireland, or the Presbyterian Church.
  • Quaker: The Quakers came from England in about 1653.
  • Jewish: There were some Jewish synagogues in Ireland, and these records are found in the Irish Jewish Museum.
  • Other: LDS, Huguenot.

To learn more about church records in Ireland, go to the FamilySearch wiki. This website has links for each of the major religions in Ireland. Select the one you are interested in, and read more about available records.

An online video tutorial on Irish records is available at FamilySearch. The video is about thirty minutes long, and a class handout transcript is available on the website.

How Can I Search These Records?

Now that you understand the content of Irish civil registration and church records, how can you search them? Many are becoming available online. The indexes for Irish civil records are available at FamilySearch. Other records are starting to become available, and it is suggested that you do a Google search for the parish you are searching.


This map show counties covered by the Irish Family History Foundation website

The best single location for these records is the Irish Family History Foundation website at The Irish Family History Foundation was formed in 1984 to simplify research in Irish genealogy. Their database includes over 19 million birth, marriage, and death records, along with gravestone inscriptions. Many of the records cannot be found elsewhere online. The Foundation website links the records of the individual county heritage centres. You can search the indexes and records for a fee.

Another website to try is, for researchers in Carlow, Cork, Dublin and Kerry. The records are free to search.

Module Four Assignments

Assignment One: Use the Irish History Foundation website or FamilySearch to find the birth record of William Butler Yeats, born about 1865. Is this a civil birth record or a church baptism? What is the location. Who are the parents?

William Butler Yeats

Assignment Two: Use the Irish Family History Foundation website or one of the other suggested websites to try and locate the birth marriage or death record of one of your ancestors.



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