Resurrecting Church of Ireland records
The catastrophic destruction of records in the Public Record Office in 1922 obscured forever the history of everyone who has lived on this island. But one group in particular had its history utterly devastated.
The Church of Ireland was an arm of the state, the “established church”, and an integral part of the apparatus of administration in Ireland from the early 17th century. It had a hand in overseeing early censuses, wills, charities, tithes and much more. So it was hardly surprising that a disproportionate number of the records in the PRO had been created by the Church.
When disestablishment happened on January 1, 1871, all of the Church’s baptism, marriage and burial registers before that date were also declared property of the state, and local clergy were required to deposit them in the PRO. There were some loopholes – ironically, a parish that possessed a fireproof safe was magnanimously allow to retain the documents – but by 1922 around two-thirds of all pre-1871 records were in the PRO. And all were destroyed.
However, as well as the parishes that held onto their registers, quite a few had made copies before depositing the originals – these were working records, after all, many early registers had already been published and local historians and genealogists has made copious extracts and abstracts .
As a result, locating Church of Ireland registers and their substitutes has always been ferociously difficult. Were the originals destroyed? If not, where are they? If so, is there a copy? Or an extract? And where exactly is that?
The only near-comprehensive guide has long been a dog- eared binder in the National Archives, the successor to the PRO. The Church’s own archives, the Representative Church Body Library in Dublin, has now taken on the job of maintaining this list and keeping it public on their website at ireland.anglican.org.
Clearly, the work was long, painstaking, and eye-wateringly detailed, but it is a godsend for all Irish researchers. Congratulations to the RCBL and hallelujahs all round.