Church registers of marriage and baptism are considered to be the single most important source for family history researchers before the 1901 census. The National Library of Ireland has made available on –line their complete collection of Irish Catholic parish registers from1740s to the 1880s.
They are available for free which is wonderful but there a few things you need to know when starting your research:
- The records are categorised by parish and there is no name index. This means that you find the parish you are looking for and then have to scroll through to find the record you want. To make things easier it is useful to have a fair idea of the date/place you are looking for but overall time and patience is needed. The website does provides a parish map which is essential especially for those not based in Ireland.
- Some parishes are better served than others and it is very unlikely that you will come across a parish with complete records. If your research is like mine, then some of the events you are looking for fall in the gaps between registers. Most rural parishes begin their registers in the 1820s.
- Do not dismiss differences in surnames. My family changed from Grady to O’Grady in the late 19th century and there was a gradual hibernisation of names in certain areas so keep your mind open!
- Some registers provide more information than you are expecting. Next to my great-uncle’s baptism is a handwritten note that records his marriage in Chicago, the name of the bride and the date.
- The majority of registers record Baptisms and Marriages. There are few Burial registers. Prior to 1880, only 214 Irish Catholic parishes recorded burials compared to 1042 that recorded records of baptisms.
So what do baptism records contain? They are the most useful of the parish registers and especially later ones can tell you:
- the date of baptism
- the names of the child
- the father, the mother (including maiden surname, although not always included on earlier records)
- the sponsors or godparents. Sponsors or godparents were often related to the child
- the child’s birth date
- the family’s place of residence
Marriage records do not contain as much useful information as baptismal ones but can tell you:
- the date of the marriage
- the names of the bride and groom
- the names of the witnesses.
If you do find a burial register, they can give you:
- the name of the deceased
- date of burial
- sometimes an occupation or residence (townland)
 FamilySearch. (2015) Ireland Catholic Church Records. https://familysearch.org/learn/wiki/en/Ireland_Catholic_Church_Records