Catholic Parish Registers: Where to look and how to navigate them
So, you have traced your Irish lineage back, and now you have reached a family member who's records wont be found in the civil registrations. This person would have been born or married before 1864.
Here enters the church records, with all their variation, transcription errors and Latin.
You will need to learn how to narrow your ancestors down, when using records that provide minimal information about them.
Where to find them?
Findmypast holds the collection and provides free access to them (correct at time of writing).
You can also find them on Ancestry if you have a subscription, and of course the original images are free on NLI, but are not indexed and therefore not conducive for ancestor research.
What information do the records provide?
Before 1829, penal laws meant that the Church of Ireland was the official church, and this meant Catholic churches were not permitted to keep registers. However the exact dates available vary from parish to parish, so how far you get back is pure luck, the right parish could get you back to the 1750s. Furthermore we must allow for loss and damage of records, which could affect your research.
Church records generally do not provide much information about the subject, however this is what you can find:
A usual record will provide father and mothers first and maiden name. However in some cases, as seen above, no maiden name is given. You will also find godparents/sponsers names as well.
Some records will also provide a townland of residence.
Luckily these records have been transcribed along with access to the original. In some cases where the handwriting is poor, someone has attempted to interpret it. This inevitably leads to inaccuracies, which can make finding records difficult.
The above is an example of a incredibly clear and legible record. It is a delight to see, compared to the decorative mess that is some records.
You will find the grooms name and brides maiden name on these records, as well as the witnesses.
Again, some records state a townland of origin, and some amazing records even state the fathers names.
How to use these records to further your family tree
I would recommend reading my other blog post on latin in church records. You will need knowledge of this to understand certain words, but more importantly the variation in names.
Using church records to get to the next generation will not be easy, as unlike civil records you will most likely not find a fathers name or townland of origin. This poses a real problem as we have already discussed, Irish names are not very varied. A search of John Kelly marrying Mary Murphy in a given parish could result in a number of results. And a search of a Baptism of Mary Murphy between 1850-55 would be even more numerous.
So how do you distinguish between them?
1. You need to know a rough address of your family member. You should be able to find this on later family records, etc civil births, marriages or censuses.
2. Find what parish this townland is under, a map of parish boundaries can be found on the NLI.
You will need to note surrounding parishes, as it wasn't uncommon for families to move around.
3. Narrow down a date range, and insert the name( including name variants, click here for more information).
4. Use clues from later research in the form of children's names and godparents in order to figure out what match is more likely.
Hopefully you will be lucky and there will only be one match or a name may be uncommon in your given county.
When searching for a baptismal record and therefore parents names, a guess of their names can help you. Using the traditional naming pattern can provide a clue as to what their parent's names might be. That is why it is important to add all children you can find in order to establish an order to the children.
When searching for Mary Monahan's parents I applied the naming pattern.
This would mean her parents names could be Joanna and Richard.
The next step was to search for a Mary born to these parents, but sadly there are no records for this time period.
So i searched for any child born to this couple at a later date, as couples could still be having children up to 15 years after marriage.
I found a Catherine born to a Richard and Joanna Monaghan, in the right area, so I could deduce that there was definitely a couple who matched these names. Luckily this combination of names is not as common as others. There are no other Richard and Joanna Monahans found in Wexford parish records, so you can deduce that this is her parents.
Another way, would be to look at all the godparents of the children of James Hayse and Mary Monahan. If there is a godparent that has the same surname as either parent, you can assume they are a parent or sibling of them.
Do a search for this person's baptismal record for 10 years either side of James or Mary's estimated birth date. Make a note of every record including the parents names, then cross reference this with possible baptismal records for your ancestor. If you get a match then you know the godparent is a sibling to the parent and you have found your ancestors parents names.
Witnesses to a marriage with the same surname should be searched too, using the same method as above. This method works really well if one of the witnesses or godparents has a less common first name. There will be less birth records to search through and therefore should be easier to determine a match.