Records of the Established Church, the Church of Ireland, generally
start much earlier than those of the Catholic Church. From as
early as 1634, local parishes were required to keep records
of christenings and burials in registers supplied by the church
authorities. As a result, a significant number, especially of
urban parishes, have registers dating from the mid seventeenth
century. The majority, however, start in the years between 1770
and 1820; the only country-wide listing of all Church of Ireland
parish records which gives full details of dates is the National
catalogue, copies of which are also to be found at
the National Library.
Unlike their Catholic counterparts, the majority of Church of Ireland clergymen recorded burials as well as baptisms and marriages. These burial registers are often also of interest for families of other denominations; the sectarian divide appears to have narrowed a little after death. The information given for burials was rarely more than the name, age and townland, making definite family connections difficult to establish in most cases. However, since early burials generally record the deaths of those born well before the start of the register, they can often be the only evidence on which to base a picture of preceding generations, and are particularly valuable because of this.
Church of Ireland baptismal records almost always supply only:
Quite often, the address is also given, but this is by no means as frequent as in the case of Catholic registers. The omission of the mother's maiden name can be an obstacle to further research. From about 1820, the father's occupation is supplied in many cases.
Since the Church of Ireland was the Established Church, the only legally valid marriages, in theory at least, were those performed under its aegis.
In practice, of course, de facto recognition was given to marriages of some other denominations. Nonetheless, the legal standing of the Church of Ireland meant that many marriages, of members of other Protestant churches in particular, are recorded in Church of Ireland registers. The information given is not extensive, however, consisting usually of the names of the parties marrying and the name of the officiating clergyman. Even addresses are not usual, unless one of the people is from another parish. More comprehensive material is included in records of marriage banns, where these exist - although it was obligatory for notification of the intention to marry to be given in church on three consecutive Sundays, written records of these are relatively rare. After 1845, when marriages other than Catholic ones, were registered by the State, the marriage registers record all the information contained in state records, including occupations, addresses and fathers' names.
As an alternative to marriage banns, members of the Church of Ireland could take out a Marriage Licence Bond. The parties lodged a sum of money with the diocese to indemnify the Church against there being an obstacle to the marriage; in effect the system allowed the better-off to purchase privacy. The original Bonds were all destroyed in 1922, but the original indexes are available at the National Archives. The Dublin diocesan index was published as part of the Index to Dublin Will and Grant Books, RDKPRI 26, 1895 (1270-1800) and RDKPRI 30 1899 (1800-1858). The Genealogical Office holds abstracts of Prerogative Marriage Licence Bonds from 1630 to 1858 (GO 605-607), as well as Marriages recorded in Prerogative Wills (GO255-6). For an explanation of the Prerogative Court see Wills.
As well as straightforward information on baptisms, marriages and burials, Church of Ireland parish records very often include vestry books. These contain the minutes of the vestry meetings of the local parish, which can supply detailed information on the parts played by individuals in the life of the parish. These are not generally with the parish registers in the National Archives, but the Public Record Office of Northern Ireland and the Representative Church Body Library in Dublin have extensive collections. Click here for a full listing of RCBL vestry minutes.
After the Church of Ireland ceased to be the Established Church in 1869, its marriage records before 1845 and baptismal and burial records before 1870 were declared to be the property of the state. Unless the local clergyman was in a position to demonstrate that he could house these records safely, he was required to deposit them in the Public Record Office. By 1922, the original registers of nearly 1000 parishes, more than half the total for the country, were stored at the Public Record Office, and these were all destroyed in the fire at the Office on June 28th of that year.
Fortunately, a large number of registers had not found their way into the Office, local rectors had, in many cases, made a transcript before surrendering the originals, and local historians and genealogists using the Office before 1922 had also amassed collections of extracts from the registers.
All of these factors mitigated, to some extent, the loss of such a valuable collection. However, it has also meant that surviving registers, transcripts and extracts are now held in a variety of locations. The Appendix to The Twenty-eighth Report of the Deputy Keeper of Public Records in Ireland lists the Church of Ireland parish records for the entire island, giving full details of the years covered, and specifying those which were in the Public Office at the time of its destruction. No information on locations is included.
A more comprehensive account is supplied by the National Archives catalogue of Church of Ireland records, available in the National Archives reading room, at the National Library, and in A Table of Church of Ireland Parochial Records (ed. Noel Reid, IFHS, 1994). Only the copy in the Archives is always fully up to date.. Only the copy in the Archives is always fully up to date. As well as the dates of the registers, this catalogue also gives some details of locations, but only when the Archives hold the originals, a microfilm copy, a transcript or abstracts on open access, when the Representative Church Body Library in Dublin holds original registers for dates which make them public records, or when they are still held in the parish.
The catalogue does not indicate when microfilm copies are held by the Representative Church Body Library, the Public Record Office of Northern Ireland or the National Library, simply specifying "local custody". This is accurate in that the originals are indeed held locally, but unhelpful to researchers.
In general, for the northern counties of Antrim, Armagh, Cavan, Derry, Donegal, Down, Fermanagh, Leitrim, Monaghan and Tyrone, surviving registers have been microfilmed by the Public Record Office of Northern Ireland, and are available to the public in Belfast. For those counties which are now in the Republic of Ireland, Cavan, Donegal, Leitrim, Louth and Monaghan, copies of the Public Record Office of Northern Ireland microfilms are available to the public at the Representative Church Body Library in Dublin.
For parishes further away from the border, "local custody" is generally accurate, and it is necessary to commission the local clergyman to search his registers. The current Church of Ireland Directory will supply the relevant name and address.
The experience of 1922 has left the Church of Ireland understandably protective of its records, although the legal position remains that its early registers are state property.
The National Archives have started a microfilming programme to cover the surviving registers in the Republic, which has covered the diocese of Glendalough and Meath to date. However, for the moment, these records are not available to the public on request. It is necessary to obtain written permission from the local clergyman before the Archives can allow access.