This is part four in a series of articles on "Searching for Your Irish Ancestors" written by Ireland-based professional genealogist Nicola Morris of Timeline Genealogy. You can find the other installments of this series here.
Although the majority of the population of Ireland were Catholic, there were also Church of Ireland, Presbyterian, Methodist, Baptist, Quaker and Jewish families who appear in the records created by their own congregations.
The Church of Ireland was the Established Church in Ireland. The registers of baptisms, marriages and burials created by each Church of Ireland parish were supposed to be deposited in the Public Records Office. Unfortunately, this means that a large portion of Church of Ireland records were destroyed in the Public Records Office fire in 1922. There were, however, parishes who did not submit their records to the P.R.O. and some registers that survived the fire.
Surviving Church of Ireland records can be found in a number of locations. The Representative Church Body Library (RCBL) in Braemor Park, Churchtown, County Dublin holds the majority of surviving records for the Republic of Ireland. The RCBL have also produced one of the most detailed guides to what survives; Church of Ireland Records by Raymond Refausse, which identifies the location of any surviving registers. You can find out more about what records and catalogues they have available online at their website.
The second largest repository of Church of Ireland records is the Public Records Office of Northern Ireland (PRONI) who hold Church of Ireland registers for the counties in Northern Ireland, as well as counties on the border but in the Republic. There is an excellent guide to Church of Ireland, Presbyterian, Methodist and Roman Catholic parish registers available on the PRONI website which will tell you the extent of what survives for each parish that they hold records for.
There are also Church of Ireland records in the National Archives of Ireland, in local custody of the church itself and in some local libraries, such as the Bolton Library in Cashel.
So, if you are searching for a Church of Ireland family, your first step is to identify whether there are any surviving registers for the parish in which your family originated and then where those records are held.
While the large majority of Catholic parish registers are available online, access to Church of Ireland records online can be hit and miss. Some of the counties available at www.RootsIreland.ie have indexed some or all of their Church of Ireland records and these are available in their main database. However, check the source list on the website to make sure they do have the records for the parish you are interested in.
The Church of Ireland records for Carlow and Dublin City are freely available online at www.IrishGenealogy.ie and the RCBL has transcripts of some registers and vestry minute books as part of the Anglican Record Project, available to download from their website.
If you are searching online databases for Church of Ireland baptisms, please note that the mother’s maiden name is generally not recorded in the baptismal register. This means that if you are searching for children born to a Henry Simpson and Maria Fox and you search for all children with the surname Simpson and mother’s maiden name of Fox, your search will be unsuccessful. You need to search for all children born to a Henry Simpson and mother named Maria or Mary.
Many Irish emigrants will have ancestors who hailed from the Presbyterian Church. Although the majority of Presbyterian congregations were and still are found in the area of Northern Ireland, there were also Presbyterian congregations elsewhere on the Island. Tracking down Presbyterian records can also be challenging.
If your ancestors originated in Ulster (Northern Ireland), and you have identified the parish or area in which they may have originated, you can identify the Presbyterian congregations for that parish using the Guide to Church Records on the PRONI website. Please be aware that there was often more than one congregation in each parish and I have occasionally found a family who attended a congregation in a neighbouring parish, because it was geographically closer to their home.
The majority of these records are available on microfilm in PRONI in Belfast and a portion of these records have been indexed and made available online through websites like www.RootsIreland.ie. However, don’t rely on all of these records being available online.
If you cannot find the records you are searching for at PRONI, you should contact the Presbyterian Historical Society in Belfast for information on where you may locate the records. The PHS also hold a collection of Presbyterian records, including some from the Republic of Ireland.
It should also be noted that some Presbyterian families also attended the local Church of Ireland parish, particularly for marriages. As the Established Church, the Church of Ireland was seen as the legitimising religious authority. Both Catholics and Presbyterians were subjected to the Penal Laws in 18th century Ireland. A wealthy Presbyterian family entering into a marriage may have used the Church of Ireland to make sure that the marriage, which may have involved the transfer of property, was recognised by the authority of the state, the Church of Ireland. If you are searching for Presbyterian ancestors, don’t rule out the possibility that they also used the local Church of Ireland.
The extent of Church of Ireland and Presbyterian records vary from parish to parish. Many parishes don’t have records prior to the 1870s or 1880s, but you can still find parishes where the registers date from the 17th or 18th century, which can be a real boon to your research.
If you are pursuing ancestors through these records, your first job is to identify the parish or parishes where your ancestor may have originated and then determine what, if any, records survive for those parishes and where those records are located. Many researchers of Church of Ireland or Presbyterian records will have to visit the repository where the records are held, as not everything is available online.
Nicola Morris is a consultant genealogist for the Irish Ancestry Group at The Wild Geese. She has a degree in History from Trinity College Dublin. She has worked in genealogy since 1999 and in 2007 set up Timeline Irish Research, offering professional genealogical research services to clients at home and abroad. As well as offering a professional genealogical research service, Nicola also works on house and building histories and histories of institutions and organisations and wrote a history of the Fulbright Commission in Ireland in 2008. Read more about Nicola.