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Civil registration in Ireland: birth records

Irish birth records. Irish birth certificates online. General Register Office of Ireland. Birth records online.

Irish Birth Records (civil)

In Ireland birth records date from 1864, when the Irish civil registration system was introduced. Until this time, a child's arrival was recorded only by baptism (or christening, according to religious denomination).

Baby girl, dressed for baptism
Although it became compulsory to register all Irish births with a local registrar, some Irish births were not recorded, particularly in the early years.

Irish civil registration index page
Click for larger view.
Some estimates put non-registration as high as 15% in some of the vast rural areas of the west where it might have meant a day's trek (or more) for a new parent to reach a registration office. In other areas, estimates of non-compliance are usually set at 10% for the first fifteen years or so.

But even by the 1880s, the need to register a birth might have been overlooked. This happened in my own family when my great-uncle William Santry was born in 1882.

Toolkit Top Tip

If you're manually searching the indexes of Ireland's birth records and cannot find an entry for your ancestor, be sure to check each volume's Late Registrations pages.

You'll find them at the back of the volume.

He appears in neither the GRO's birth indexes nor the original registers. On joining the Post Office (then part of the Civil Service) aged 20, he had to provide proof of baptism and school references as substitutes for a birth certificate.

I've no reason to believe this was an intentional 'oversight' by my great-grandparents because they registered all seven of their other children. Interestingly, though, the date recorded on their son Timothy's birth certificate is not the date he celebrated his birthday (see below). His parents may have declared a later birth date in order to avoid a late registration fine.

These examples show that, in Ireland, birth records are not necessarily complete and accurate, even if they do survive in their entirety!

Where to start?

First up, understand the difference between an index and a register. An index is searched in order to obtain the reference number that pinpoints the full entry in the register. The register entry is a copy of the birth certificate and provides the all-important genealogical data that you want (scroll down the page for more about what information the birth certificate holds).

So your first stop for Ireland's birth records is likely to be the civil registration indexes. These are compiled by the General Register Office (GRO) in Roscommon and by the General Register Office of Northern Ireland (GRONI) in Belfast.

Until recently, they were available only in book format in the research rooms of those organisations. Family History Centers, run by the Mormons, also had an incomplete set available on microfilm.

Recently, an increasing number of Irish genealogy sites have begun to offer digitised indexes of these Irish birth records online. Some are free. Some are complete. Some are neither.

Ireland: birth records – Indices


Irish BMD records

  1. Family Search offers free searchable access to the Irish Civil Registration Indexes Collection. Birth records from 1864 to 1921 cover all 32 counties of Ireland with just a few gaps for 1867, 1869, 1880 and 1892-93. Birth records from 1922 to 1958 cover the 26 counties of the Republic and a very small proportion of records for Northern Ireland (although these are without the essential reference number that allows easy identification of the register entry).

    In contrast to the registers, which contain parents' names and mother's maiden name, home address, occupation of father, and exact date of birth, the indexes don't give much away!

    All they will tell you is the registration district and year (and, from 1878 to 1902 inclusive, the quarter) in which the birth was registered, the first name and surname of the child, and a reference made up of Registration District, Volume and Page numbers. See the image top right, which shows part of a page from the original index book for 1866.

    If you wanted to obtain a birth certificate for Ellen Pembroke, for example, this is the reference number you would need to quote in your application: Ellen Pembroke, 1866, Tralee 20/627.

    Ellen's birth certificate copy, when it arrived, would contain all the details from the register.

  2. Ancestryhas the exact same collection available. It isn't free (although you may be able to take advantage of a free 14-days trial) but it is a far superior search engine.

  3. FindMyPast's birth records also originate from the Family Search collection. They are available through the World subscription via FindMyPast UK, FindMyPastUS FindMyPast Ireland and FindMyPast Australia&NZ but also through both the Ireland and the Britain & Ireland subscriptions offered only by FindMyPast Ireland.

  4. Just to confuse everyone, Family Search has a separate collection called Ireland Births and Baptisms 1620-1880 (which contains some of what used to be known as the IGI – the International Genealogical Index).

    It holds a mish-mash of records, some transposed from the civil registration registers, some transposed from church registers (hence the 'baptisms' in the title), some from family records, and all collected in an unsystematic fashion.

    Bear in mind that this collection, while huge – it has more than five million entries – contains only a small proportion of Ireland's birth records over more than two centuries. Don't be surprised if your ancestors do not show up. See the Desperately Seeking box below to get an idea of how this collection may, or may not, help your genealogy search.

    Also, and very importantly, be sure to verify any data obtained from this source.


Desperately seeking ...?

Some people will tell you not to bother looking in Ireland's birth records collections until you know more than just a name and an approximate date.

My own view is that it depends on the surname. If the surname is unusual, you have a good chance of finding your ancestor even if you know relatively little. You simply search the Indexes, online or offlilne, for the most likely years of birth until you find the correct name. Obviously, the narrower the period you are searching, the better.

The following examples demonstrate some of the limitations of available resources.

Seeking Gertrude

I wanted to find a Gertrude Santry, born pre-1890, probably in co. Cork. I knew nothing else about her, not even her parents' names. Neither the Family Search nor Ancestry online collections of Ireland Birth Records found any trace of her. Why? Because these collections, which have been transcribed from the same microfilms, are incomplete. They're outstanding resources, but there are a few gaps and, inevitably, some mis-transcriptions.

So I manually checked through the civil registration index in Dublin and there she was, bold as brass, registered in Clonakilty, co Cork, in Quarter 2, 1888. By looking through the indexes I could be 99% confident this was the correct entry because there were no other babies registered 1880-1899 with the same name anywhere in Ireland. (Birth records would not, of course, include an unregistered Gertrude Santry. It's always worth bearing in mind the relatively high level of non-registrations in the 19th century.)

Seeking Tim

I wanted to obtain a copy of my paternal grandfather's birth certificate. His name was Timothy Santry. I knew he had been born near Clonakilty, Co Cork, sometime between 1874 and 1880 and I knew his mother's maiden name was O'Driscoll.

I searched the Family Search Ireland Births and Baptisms collection. Given the unusual surname, I was surprised to find two entries – one for 1875 and another for 1878. Both occurred in Cork. But the 1878 entry showed Ellen O'Driscoll as the mother. Turning to the Civil Registration Index for 1878, I was able to verify that my grandfather's birth was in Q1 1878, and, noting the reference provided, I was then able to obtain a copy of his birth certificate. This confirmed Ellen was his mother and gave me the all-important precise townland address where my ancestors lived.

Seeking John

I was looking for John Doyle. According to the 1901 census he was born about 1872 in Co. Wexford. I knew his father was Patrick.

Family Search's Ireland Birth Records collection threw up over 40 John Doyles born in the two years either side of 1872! Even when restricted to those with a father called Patrick, I had a choice of ten. Any, or none, could have been 'my' John Doyle.

Turning to the Civil Registration Index collection, I soon lost count of how many John Doyles were registered in Wexford in those years. The indices do not show parents' names so I could not narrow down the choice, at all.

Clearly I was going to need further information about John Doyle before I would find his birth record. Knowly the location would most likely solve the problem as I could then narrow down the options and possibly search the registers at the local registry. His mother's name would be useful for narrowing down the options in the Ireland Birth Records collection but otherwise would probably not help.

For those without regular Internet access, or for those looking for Northern Ireland birth records since 1922, the index books can be searched by visiting GRO in Dublin or GRONI in Belfast.

  • Computerised indexes containing Northern Ireland birth records since 1864 can be searched at GRONI.
  • Indexes of Irish births that took place anywhere in Ireland from 1864 to 1921 inclusive, and all events that took place in the Irish Free State/Republic since 1922, can be searched manually at GRO's Dublin research room.
  • LDS-run Family History Centers have microfilmed copies of all indexes (including Northern Ireland birth records) up to 1958.

For more details of how the indexes are arranged, and how to use them to obtain copies of Irish birth certificates, see the Irish civil registration page

Ireland: birth records – Registers

The information recorded in the birth registers is exactly the same as that recorded on Irish birth certificates. Find out more further down the page.

Copies of the actual registers of birth are not usually available for public inspection except, for reasons that I've yet to understand, on microfilm through LDS Family History Centers (see link in Find Out More section below). The years available are:

  • January 1864 to March 1881 inclusive, for the entire island.
  • 1900 to 1913 inclusive, for the entire island.
  • 1930 to 1955 inclusive for Republic of Ireland.
  • 1922 to 1959 for Northern Ireland.

In some County Registration Offices in Ireland (see link to Superintendent Registration Districts under Where Next? below), birth records/registers can be viewed by the public by appointment (and payment of a fee) only. Waiting lists for an appointment may be up to a year long.

Ireland: birth records – Others

Other than Family Search's Irish Civil Registration Index and Ireland Births & Baptisms collection and the Ancestry BMD collection (all described above), the following may be useful:

  • On an all-island level, the only other free site I know of is IrelandGenWeb which has transcribed the entire birth index for 1864.

  • Many local groups have been busy transcribing birth records and placing them online free of charge in recent years, so work your favourite search engine before you turn to any sites that charge.

  • The best-known pay-per-view site is Roots Ireland. It has millions of birth records, some transcribed from church registers, some from civil registration registers, so you may find what you are looking for. Don't forget that, although very large, this database does not hold all Ireland's birth records. From the home page, check which records are available for 'your' counties before you start spending.

Irish birth certificates

All Irish birth certificates contain the following information:

  • Date of birth
  • Place of birth (townland or urban street name/house number
  • Name of child (sometimes blank or 'male' or 'female' if not yet decided
  • Sex of child
  • Father's name and address (townland or street name/house number)
  • Mother's name and maiden name
  • Father's occupation
  • Name, address and 'qualification' (relationship) of informant.
  • Date registered
  • Name of registrar.
  • Superintendent Registrar's District
  • County

    Irish birth certificates are especially helpful to your genealogy research because they show the all-important, and often elusive, townland where the child was born. They also give the birth names of both parents. With both surnames, finding a record of their marriage becomes a lot easier and, with that, your family history research can usually move back another generation.

    The date of birth on the certificate should, however, be treated with a little caution. The longer the period between the birth and the date of registration, the more likelihood the date of birth is incorrect. But some registrations that appear to have been recorded promptly after the birth may also be incorrect; families were fined if they recorded the birth outside set time limits so would register a false date of birth to avoid hefty penalties.

    The documents below relate to my grandad, born in 1878 in Clonakilty, Co Cork. Just click on the thumbnails for a larger view.

    Tim's birth cert

    My grandfather's birth was registered on 20 February by his father who stated that his first child's arrival date was 13 February. While that information may be correct, I know that my grandad always celebrated his birthday on 20 January, so clearly someone was misinformed along the way!

    Tim's IGI record This is my grandfather's birth record from the Family Search Ireland Births & Baptisms collection (originally known as the IGI – International Genealogy Index).

    While the details correspond with those on the birth certificate above, some critical information has been omitted.

    In particular, the all-important place of birth. This is despite this record having been transcribed from the birth register where it is clearly stated.

    Where next?

    ←   top of page

  • Foreign Births Register

    If you are looking for the birth record of an ancestor born abroad to Irish parents, you will not find it in Ireland's mainstream civil registration records. Such births would have been registered in the jurisdiction in which it took place.

    However, since 1956 there has been a Foreign Births Register. It is not maintained by the GRO but by the Department of Foreign Affairs and it plays an important role in allowing Irish citizenship to be granted to people whose grand-parents (but not their parents) were born in Ireland. It is currently used purely as a bureaucratic tool and is not made available for genealogy research. Find out more on the Certificate of Irish Heritage page.

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