Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Tuesday's Tips: A secret stash of Irish Roman Catholic parish registers?

St. Patrick's Church, Ringsend, Dublin, established 1858.
One of several Dublin City churches
whose parish registers are not online.

The launch on 8 July of the National Library of Ireland's Roman Catholic Parish Registers website (click on blue links to connect to sites) no doubt delighted many the world over. Yes, the site may be a bit glitchy at times, and for some here is absolute proof those of us who said some of the registers might prove difficult to read had been telling the truth; however, overall it is a boon for researchers who find themselves away from the island of Ireland and in search of baptism and marriage records for Irish Catholic ancestors.

Despite this godsend from the NLI those researchers who land on a page bearing the statement 'The NLI does not have any registers available for this parish' may find themselves asking 'well, where are these parish registers'? 'What happened to them?' 'Is there a seemingly secret stash of Roman Catholic parish registers, and if so where are they?'

Contrary to a belief held by some, Roman Catholic parish registers were never housed in the Public Records Office (PRO) of the Four Courts. The obvious upside of this is no Catholic registers were destroyed in the huge explosion and fire that decimated the Public Records Office in the west wing of the Four Courts complex on 30 June 1922, during the Irish Civil War. It is parish registers of the Church of Ireland, along with a significant cache of irreplaceable documents — some dating to the 13th century — which were stored in the PRO (See: this post).

Historically the Catholic Church has always borne sole responsibility for keeping and protecting its own original records. No doubt over time this proved quite a challenge, considering the suppression of Catholicism and its accompanying penal laws, not to mention that lovely fellow Oliver Cromwell and his Irish campaign of 1649-50, a marker of which was his penchant for blowing up Catholic churches.

Although no Catholic parish registers were destroyed at the Four Courts, what some researchers may not be aware of is not all Catholic parish registers have been made available to the public. Some parishes still hold all of their own registers. They are neither part of the collection held by the NLI, nor are they part of what is online at irishgenealogy.ie or at RootsIreland.

St. Colmcille's Church, Swords,
built in 1827.
Thankfully their records are accessible.
The original National Library of Ireland microfilm project, which is now online, covers 1,066 extant parish register sets out of a total of 1,153. This translates to an NLI collection comprising over 3,500 individual registers. Among the registers not included in this number are those for some of the churches in Dublin City. Also, the County Dublin parishes of Clontarf, Naul and Santry are not a part of the NLI set of registers. RootsIreland (see Dublin North) does have some records for Naul and Clontarf, but Dublin City is not part of RootsIreland reserve, and Dublin City Library & Archives has a database of burial registers for three now closed cemeteries at Clontarf, Drimnagh and Finglas. As well, there are a number of parishes in counties Antrim, Down, Galway, Kerry, Mayo and Meath whose records do not comprise a part of the NLI collection.1 

If you have had no luck online with the NLI collections or other online sources, you may wish to contact a parish directly. Also, you may find such an approach helpful if you are in search of a post-1880 record for which no civil registration record exists, since most of the NLI collection pre-dates 1880. For contact information see the website Catholic Hierarchy which has a listing of the 26 current Catholic dioceses. Within this catalogue are links to parish churches throughout the island of Ireland. As well, the Archdiocese of Dublin has a listing of all its parishes, including location and contact information, at http://www.dublindiocese.ie/parishes/. Many churches have their own websites; some include information about retrieving transcriptions of records.

In some parishes a sacristan or administrator will search the registers for you. You will need to submit as much information as possible with your request, including the approximate year for the record you are in search of, as well as the name or names of the person[s] in question. Sometimes you will be required to pay a search fee, in addition to the fee for the transcription of the individual record itself.  Whether or not such a fee is specifically requested, a donation to the church is always welcome. Transcriptions usually cost between €5 and €10 each, but rates vary around the country.

From Westport parish for €10 I was able to purchase a transcription of the 1885 marriage record of my paternal great-grandparents, a very helpful transcription since the register is not online, nor is there a civil registration record for their marriage. From St. James Church in Dublin, I was able to obtain baptism transcriptions for all of my paternal grandfather's siblings for €5 a piece. On a side note: although the registers for St. James Church dating from 1737 to 1890 are listed as among those on irishgenealogy.ie, oddly enough the registers holding the baptismal entries for my relatives —which date between 1887 and 1890 — are not among those on the site. The sacristan for St. James explained to me that not all of St. James' old registers are on the site. Yet another good reason for contacting a parish directly if you cannot find the record for which you are searching.

Transcription of the 1885 marriage of Patrick Geraghty and Margaret Toole.
This record cannot be accessed online.
A transcription from St. James Church, Dublin City, County Dublin.
The parish register in which this information appears is not online.
Of course, making contact with a parish is no guarantee a record will be retrieved for you. Some churches have neither the staff nor the facilities to conduct searches. Privacy concerns are sometimes cited as a reason for no immediate access to parish registers, no matter what the dates. For example, Louisburgh Parish in County Mayo notes the following on their website: "For reasons of security and confidentiality old registers cannot be made available for inspection by the public." However, when possible Louisburgh parish will reply to written requests for records. Some members of the bishopric believe such records should only be viewed by immediate family members.2 As well, there are churches, such as St. Nicholas of Myra in Dublin, that require you to seek permission from the Diocesan Chancellery before they will provide transcriptions for any records dated after 1914.

As you can see the rules for access can be many and varied, and are sometimes dependent on which parish holds the records you are seeking. Still in all, contacting a parish directly is definitely worth the effort if you are in search of baptism, marriage and death entries in parish registers with no online presence. After all, parishes aided in these searches long before the internet came along, and your ancestor's records may be a part of the almost secret stash of Irish parish registers which cannot be accessed online.

What success have you had finding parish register records 
with no online presence?

St. Colman's Cathedral, Cobh, County Cork,
built in 1879, consecrated in 1919.
Registers for Cobh are part of the NLI collection,
although some are in very poor condition.
Notes:

1. See John Grenham's Catholic Records Locations for specific parishes in counties Antrim, Down, Galway, Kerry, Mayo and Meath whose records do not comprise a part of the NLI collection.

2. Taoiseach Enda Kenny received a 'belt of the crozier' — i.e. admonishment or condemnation from the clergy — in a letter from Kieran O’Reilly, the Archbishop of Cashel and Emly. Archbishop O'Reilly cited the release of the content of the NLI microfilm online as a "major breach of trust" of Irish Catholics.

©irisheyesjgg2015.

11 comments:

  1. Jennifer, an excellent post, with the matter well laid out. The contact links are very helpful. Thanks for sharing it.

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    Replies
    1. Thanks very much for your comments, Charlotte. I do hope both the links and the information are helpful for researchers.

      Cheers,
      Jennifer

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  2. Good post, Jennifer, for a moment, I thought you had discovered a secret hoard of online church records for Ringsend. My great-grandparents lived in the area in the 1880s and I was all set to check for the missing baptisms of my grandaunts/granduncle.

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    Replies
    1. Thanks very much for your comments, Dara. Ah, if only there was such a hoard! Unfortunately, the records for a number of my relatives are in some of those parishes which remain with no online presence. I need to enlist a rogue sacristan :-). I suppose it does make the search all the more interesting.

      Cheers,
      Jennifer

      Delete
  3. Jennifer, you know the research frustrations I’ve had (all my raging emails) and if you hadn't explained this to me I wouldn’t have a clue. I was on an Irish genealogy FB page a few weeks ago and a woman there said if parish records aren’t online now (on the three sites you’ve mentioned) then they don’t exist. Very, very frustrating when people post wrong information, so thank you for this post. Catherine.

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    Replies
    1. Thanks very much for your comments, Catherine. I do know your frustrations and sympathize with you over the challenges you have had. I especially recall you saying 'this was supposed to be fun!'. As for those who post 'wrong information', I believe — I certainly hope — they are simply trying to be helpful, though are short on the requisite information. Hope you're having better luck with your research!

      Cheers,
      Jennifer

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    2. BTW Catherine, I meant to mention I have added a page with information for commissioning research in Ireland. I have not used the services of a professional genealogist, so I wouldn't presume to recommend a specific genealogist, but if you feel it may be an option for you take a look at the page and you may find someone who is the right fit for your research needs. [p.s. I don't get a kick-back :-)]

      Cheers,
      Jennifer

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  4. i was born in the Rotunda. We are heading to Dublin tonight with friends who have never been to Ireland.

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    Replies
    1. That's great Jackie. I hope you have a wonderful time, and I hope they do too! Very shortly, I will also be in Ireland.

      Cheers,
      Jennifer

      Delete
  5. This is be helpful. Thank you for sharing it! I wanted to tell you that I've included your post in my Noteworthy Reads for this week: http://jahcmft.blogspot.com/2015/10/noteworthy-reads-23.html

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    Replies
    1. Hi Jo, thanks for including me on your list. It's very much appreciated.

      Cheers!
      Jennifer

      Delete

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Cheers, Jennifer

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