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Types of Information to Research

Civil registration

Civil registers of births, marriages and deaths provide basic family history information. However, their usefulness for the genealogist will depend on the period being researched. Civil or state registration of all births, deaths and marriages began in Ireland on 1 January 1864. Non-Catholic marriages, including those conducted in a government registry office, were required in law to be registered from 1 April 1845. Civil registration followed the administrative divisions created by the Poor Law Act of 1838. Under this act the country had been divided into over 130 Poor Law Unions. The Poor Law Unions were subdivided into dispensary districts, each with its own medical officer. Under civil registration the area covered by a Poor Law Union was used as the basis of each superintendent registrar’s district, while the dispensary districts corresponded to the registrar’s districts. In some cases the medical officer also served as the registrar. In overall charge of registration was the Registrar General in Dublin. Certified copies of all registers compiled locally were sent to his office and, from these, master indexes covering the whole of Ireland were produced.

Birth certificates

Birth certificates record the date and place of birth of the child. Normally the name of the child is also given, but in some cases only the sex is given, i.e. the child had not been given a name by the time the birth was registered. The name and residence of the father is given. Usually this will be the same as the place of birth of the child, but in some cases it will show that the father was working abroad or in another part of Ireland when the child was born. The father’s occupation is also given. The mother’s maiden name is provided as well as her first name. Finally, the name and address of the informant is given, together with his or her qualification to sign. This will usually be the father or mother or someone present at the birth, such as a midwife or even the child’s grandmother.

Marriage certificates

Civil records of marriage normally give fuller information than birth and death certificates, and are the most useful of civil records. Information on the individuals getting married includes their name, age, status, and occupation. The names and occupations of their fathers are also given. The church, the officiating minister and the witnesses to the ceremony are named. In most cases the exact age of the parties is not given, and the entry will simply read ‘full age’ (i.e. over 21) or ‘minor’ (i.e. under 21). If the father of one of the parties was no longer living, this may be indicated in the marriage certificate by the word ‘deceased’ or by leaving the space blank, but in many cases it is not.

Death certificates

Civil records of death in Ireland are rather uninformative in comparison to other countries. The name of the deceased is given together with the date, place and cause of death, marital status, the age at death, and occupation. The name and address of the informant is also given. Usually this is the person present at the time of the death; this may be a close family member.

The indexes

Indexes to civil marriages 1845–63 are hand-written, but thereafter all indexes are printed. From 1864 to 1877 indexes for births, marriages and deaths consist of a single yearly volume covering the whole of Ireland. From 1878 the annual indexes are arranged on a quarterly basis. In each index the surnames will be arranged alphabetically, followed by the first names. The name of the superintendent registrar’s district is also given, followed by the volume number and page number of the master copies of the registers in Dublin. In the indexes to deaths the age of the deceased will be provided.

These civil registration indexes are now available online through from 1845 to 1922 for all of Ireland and up to 1958 for the Republic of Ireland.

The General Register of Ireland ( )

The administrative headquarters of the General Register Office in the Republic of Ireland is now in Roscommon, but there is a research facility open to members of the public in Lower Abbey Street in Dublin. The GROI holds master copies of births, death and marriages for all of Ireland up to 1921 and thereafter for the Republic of Ireland only.

General Register Office of Northern Ireland ( )

The General Register Office of Northern Ireland in Belfast holds the original birth and death registers recorded by the local district registrars for Northern Ireland from 1864. Marriage registers for Northern Ireland are also available from 1845 for non-Catholic marriages and from 1864 for all marriages.

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Public Record Office of Northern Ireland