Irish Civil Registration
The earliest Irish vital records date from 1845
Irish civil registration forms the backbone of genealogical research in Ireland because birth, marriage and death records help us to identify family groups.
Being 'Government' records (not church records) these Irish 'vital records' are often the most accurate documentary evidence of our ancestors' lives and they also survive intact.
And it's not often that can be said of Irish genealogy records!
Local vital records were collated in Skibbereen's old Dispensary.
The only complication in locating Irish civil registration records results from the division of Ireland in 1922. Resources are split between GRONI in Belfast and GRO in Dublin. Contact details are at the foot of this page.
If you already know the names, approximate date and location of your ancestor's birth, marriage or death, finding these life events in Irish civil registration resources and obtaining copies of relevant certificates is easy.
You have a choice of action, too. You can look for the event in the official indexes, which are available both online and offline. You can wade through unindexed registers (where available). Or you might even make a straightforward application by post or online to the appropriate GRO without the official reference.
For many genealogists, however, it's not quite so simple an exercise because they don't start with sufficient information.
In this case, understanding the Irish civil registration system, knowing where records can be accessed, and appreciating the limitations of different sources, will prove valuable.
Or, choose these pages for an indepth look at the Irish civil registration system:
In briefThe Irish civil registration system was introduced in April 1845 but was initially restricted to non-Catholic marriages. Births, deaths and Catholic marriages were not included.
Only in January 1864 did it become obligatory to register all births, marriages and deaths with the local authorities.
Registrations were collated according to Superindent Register Districts, now known as local registration districts.
GRO - General Register Office, Dublin (and now Roscommon)
GRONI - General Register Office Northern Ireland, Belfast.
See the Counties of Ireland pages if you're not sure whether your ancestors' county is north or south of the 1922 border.
From 1922, details of births, marriages and deaths that took place in SRDs in the six counties of Northern Ireland were sent to GRONI for indexing, while registers for the remaining 26 counties continued to be sent to GRO Dublin (until 2005 when the GRO moved to Roscommon).
Although the indices are compiled from the original registration volumes, they do not contain all the information supplied at the time of registration. They are, after all, indexes, not the full-blown registration documents.
In essence, then, the indexes alone will not move your Irish genealogy research very far. But the reference number will.
The registration numberEach entry in the indexes contains the following:
So, to provide an example, my great-grandad Tierney's birth in the townland of Ballymacadam, co Tipperary, is recorded in the 1872 index book as: Tierney Patrick Clogheen 9 722.
Arrangement of the volumes
Late, overseas and military registrationsEach volume of the Irish civil registration indexes has a section at the back where late registrations were entered. These entries may have been registered only just outside the six-week registration limit or they may have been several years late.
From 1879 there are also separate pages for the registrations of overseas births and deaths for Irish soldiers and Irish civil servants.
The free FamilySearch Irish Civil Registration Indexes Collection from the LDS Church is an outstanding genealogy resource, despite its limitations. The most important of these are the 'cut off' date of end-1921 for records relating to the six counties of Northern Ireland, the absence of the maiden name of the mother in the birth indexes, and a handful of gaps in coverage.
The same limitations and gaps apply to Ancestry's version of the same collection. The advantage of this version is that its search engine is, in my opinion, far superior, plus it offers better options for marriages. The downside is that it is not free!
A third version of the same core data is now also available, this time on FindMyPast. It, also, is not free, but it has a neat Marriage Finder facility that can be very useful.
Elsewhere on the web, transcripts of indexes for some counties or smaller localities are also available, free of charge. If you can't find any through Google or one of the other major search engines, you may find that local family history groups or heritage centres can advise you.
Additionally, RootsIreland has a database that runs into millions of birth, marriage and death records (taken from both church records and the Irish civil registration registers). Although free to search, there is a charge to view records. Not all counties are yet included... check the site's home page.
Computerised indexes are available for public inspection at GRONI. The indexes cover all life events and all years since Irish civil registration began. Only the indexes (not the registers) are available for public inspection.
To view the indexes, you need to make an appointment well in advance. Up to six hours' research at GRONI costs £14. This includes up to two verifications of index entries (verification involves a member of staff checking the register and reading the entry to you.) Additional verifications cost £4 each. If a certificate is purchased on the day, and as a result of this research, it costs £8.
If not purchased as a result of a personal search of the indexes, a full certified copy of a birth, marriage or death certificate costs £15. These can be ordered online or by post (here). Prices correct January 2013. (Pre-1922 marriage certificates cannot be obtained through GRONI; you have to apply to the appropriate local register office.)
Although the GRO's head office is in Roscommon, family historians can make personal visits to the GRO's Research Room in Dublin (address below) to study the Irish civil registration indexes to births, marriages and deaths. No appointment is necessary. All staff are (in my experience) superbly helpful and will patiently explain how the records are filed and your search options.
Bear in mind that you have to carry out your own research and that only the indexes (not the registers) are available for public inspection. They are not computerised. You wade through the heavy index books manually and may have to be patient if another researcher is using the book you want.
After studying the indexes and noting the full references for your ancestors' life events, staff will take photocopies of the relevant register entries (allow half an hour per photocopy).
An all-day search covering all years and all indexes costs €20 (up to three people can share one all-day search; each can order eight photocopies at €4 each if the index reference is submitted).
Alternatively, you can make a €2 search covering a maximum of five years of Irish bmd index books. All photocopies ordered cost €4.
If you make a personal visit to the Research Room to submit your order, photocopies of the bmd certificates are €4 each.
Photocopy requests with no GRO index reference attract an additional €2 'search fee' per certificate. Prices correct at January 2013.
Local Civil Registration Offices (Republic only)
You can also visit your local civil registration office to obtain 'research' photocopies of births, marriages and deaths. Photocopies of the certificates cost €4 if the GRO index reference is supplied; €2 is added as a search fee if the reference is not known. Prices correct at January 2013.
Family History CentersSome years ago the LDS (Mormons) microfilmed all Irish civil registration registers as follows:
The Irish civil registration registers contain duplicates of the original registration document completed at the time a birth, marriage or death was notified. In effect, these documents are copies of birth, marriage and death certificates.
Duplicates of the majority of these registers are held by the GRO in Roscommon and GRONI in Belfast, and copies of entries can be obtained by following the instructions below for ordering certificates.
One notable exception to these details is that pre-1922 marriage registers for the six counties that now make up Northern Ireland are not held by GRONI but by local register offices. Although you can search GRONI's indexes for these marriage entries, you have to apply to the local register office for copies of certificates. (Alternatively, genealogists can obtain a copy certificate by post from GRO in Roscommon.)
Most local registration district offices also retain their original registers and some will allow public access to them, subject to advance bookings and payment of a fee.
The original registers can also be viewed on microfilm at Family History Centers run by the LDS Church (Mormons). See box above for details of their holding and availability.
If you have already located your ancestor in the indexes or registers, you will know the relevant reference number to use when submitting an application for a copy certificate. The procedure is straightforward – just follow the instructions on GRONI or GRO's websites, or see 'Online purchase' below.
If you have not yet obtained the reference number and you cannot readily access the indexes/registers to find it, all is not necessarily lost. You can submit your application to GRO/GRONI in the usual manner and provide as much information as you can. Don't expect the impossible, however.
While the staff will undertake a search when they are given sufficient information, they will not do so if the search is likely to be too time consuming. In most cases, this will mean you need to supply names, dates and location.
Apply to the correct office for copy certificates:
* The Roscommon option is considerably cheaper if all you want is a 'genealogical research' copy, ie you can read all the details but don't need an authorised certificate for legal purposes.
Online purchaseThe Civil Registration Service in the Republic has an online facility at www.certificates.ie for the purchase of Irish civil registration certificates. These are 'long form', official certificates that can be used for most administrative and legal purposes.
At March 2013, the following certificates are available:
You need to provide all pertinent information about the birth, marriage or death. There is no research facility. See the FAQ section of the website.
Certificates cost a hefty €20 each, plus postage, so they are considerably more expensive than the so-called 'research copy' available through the GRO postal service, but the online payment facility is preferred by some people.
All local civil registration offices in the Republic are now connected to the same computer database, and can provide these certificates. The addresses and opening hours of the local offices are on the www.certificates.ie website.
GRONorthernIreland (GRONI) also offers an online service for ordering civil registration certificates for life events that have taken place in the six counties of Northern Ireland. Each certificate costs £15 plus postage (free to UK addresses only). Details can be found at NIDirect.