This article was originally published in The Irish At Home and Abroad journal of Irish genealogy and heritage (volume 2 #1, 1994/1995).
No longer published.

Colonial Scots-Irish Immigrants:

The Irish Records

- Church records

By Kyle J. Betit

Whether indexed or not, church registers can be used to identify family origins. For example, if a certain area of a county is known or suspected to be the origin, this can be confirmed by finding records from a local church matching the family.


The Ulster Scots were almost entirely Presbyterian, with their origins in the Church of Scotland. It is important to remember that Presbyterianism split into several different churches in Scotland, Ireland, and America, such as the Reformed, Covenanters, and Seceders. The best policy is to search whatever Presbyterian registers survive for a particular locality.

Most Presbyterian church registers of baptism and marriage for churches in Ulster do not pre-date 1800, although there are some surviving eighteenth century registers. Burial records were not commonly kept by Presbyterian churches. The PRONI and the Presbyterian Historical Society have large collections of Presbyterian registers; some registers are still only available locally. Lists of Presbyterian registers at the PRONI and in local custody are included in Irish Church Records, edited by James G. Ryan. An Irish Genealogical Source: Guide to Church Records details registers held by the PRONI and the Presbyterian Historical Society, as well as registers in local custody.

Other early Presbyterian church records have survived, including kirk session minutes; these were minutes of the meetings of the church elders. The minutes can include references to arrivals and departures of members, notes regarding baptisms and marriages, and summons for disciplinary action. An Irish Genealogical Source: Guide to Church Records lists many of the available session minutes and where they are kept. The Presbyterian congregation of Aghadowey (in County Londonderry) is a good example. While baptismal registers survive only from 1855 and marriages registers from 1845, session minutes dating 1702-1761 survive.

Church of Ireland

Records of baptisms, marriages, and burials for Presbyterians are also found in the records of the Church of Ireland, which was the Established Church. The Church of Ireland records should thus be examined to see if a Presbyterian family is included in them. Many Church of Ireland parish registers were destroyed in the 1922 fire, but some of the surviving registers extend back to the 1600s and 1700s. Besides parish registers, the vestry minutes of the Church of Ireland also contain important information on residents of the parish, especially more prominent residents, including Presbyterians.

The PRONI has a significant collection of Church of Ireland registers, some of which are available on microfilm. An Irish Genealogical Source: Guide to Church Records lists surviving Church of Ireland records (including vestry minutes) now in Northern Ireland repositories or in local custody. A Table of Church of Ireland Parochial Records and Copies lists the locations of church registers, as well as what records were destroyed in 1922. The Representative Church Body Library in Dublin also produces an inventory of vestry minute books available there.
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