Using Church of Ireland Vestry Records

The parishes of the Established Church of Ireland were both religious and civil units with the civic functions mirroring those of our local government today.[1] The vestry was an assembly of parishioners that met to discuss parochial business and was split into two[2]. The select vestry was a committee of rate-paying protestants that levied small local taxes for the maintenance of the church and its officers.[3]

This is of less genealogical interest than the general vestry. Following the abolition of the penal laws, this was made up of all parishioners irrespective of their denomination. [4]   The general vestry levied a local tax or cess that paid for local services such as the repair of roads, cleaning of the streets and the provision of fire brigades and police constables.[5]  The records of the applotment or assessment of the parish cess can provide lists of ratepayers often arranged street by street which can be a useful supplement to the parish registers.

Vestry minutes can often contain:[6]

  • Names of Churchwardens
  • Names of the confirmed
  • Names of cess applotters and payers
  • Names of the poor, widowed and orphaned receiving Parish relief
  • Names of the overseers of the poor and of the roads.

As a rule, vestry records are more available and comprehensive in large cities such as Dublin[7] where there was a significant Protestant population although some rural parishes did operate a vestry system. Some vestry records were destroyed in the 1922 fire at the Public Register Office in Dublin and some have been lost through misfortune or neglect.[8] The Representative Church Body holds vestry accounts for almost all parishes in the Republic of Ireland, a list of those available to view in their library can be found here. Vestry records available for Northern Ireland can be found in the PRONI and are searchable  by Parish. Some vestry records have been published as complete volumes and are available through the National Library of Ireland, and the Public Record Office in Dublin.

Where found, vestry records re an invaluable source that can provide information on the administration of the parish and the personalities involved. They can also be a useful supplement to parish registers and can fill in any gaps that exist.

 

[1] Ryan, James G. (2001) Irish Church Records: Their History, Availability, and Use in Family and Local History Research. 2nd Edition. Flyleaf Press. P.55. http://tinyurl.com/npgoqlt :accessed 13 November 2013.

[2] PRONI. (2012) Local History 2: Church of Ireland Vestry Records. http://www.proni.gov.uk/no.2_-_church_of_ireland_vestry_records__50kb_.pdf :accessed 13 November 2013.

[3] Ryan, James G. (2001) Irish Church Records: Their History, Availability, and Use in Family and Local History Research. 2nd Edition. Flyleaf Press. P.55. http://tinyurl.com/npgoqlt :accessed 13 November 2013.

[4] PRONI. (2012) Local History 2: Church of Ireland Vestry Records. http://www.proni.gov.uk/no.2_-_church_of_ireland_vestry_records__50kb_.pdf :accessed 13 November 2013.

[5] Ryan, James G. (2001) Irish Church Records: Their History, Availability, and Use in Family and Local History Research. 2nd Edition. Flyleaf Press. P.55. http://tinyurl.com/npgoqlt :accessed 13 November 2013.

[6] Maxwell, Ian. (2009) Trace your Irish Ancestors. 2nd Edition. How To Books. P.124.

[7] Ryan, James G. (2001) Irish Church Records: Their History, Availability, and Use in Family and Local History Research. 2nd Edition. Flyleaf Press. P.56. http://tinyurl.com/npgoqlt :accessed 13 November 2013.

[8] Ibid.

 

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