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Irish deaths: civil registration

Obtaining death certificates in Ireland. Death indexes and registers. Irish deaths online.

Irish Deaths (civil)

Records of Irish deaths have been collected under Ireland's civil registration system since 1st January 1864. Although registration was obligatory from the start, there were many omissions in the early years, especially in the more remote areas of the west.

In Ireland, deaths are often marked with a celtic cross memorial.

Even so, Ireland's civil death records are considered reasonably complete since the last quarter of the 19th century.

This page deals with death records created under the Irish civil registration system ie since 1864. If you are looking for records for deaths before that date, you will need to look at church registers.

Limitations of Ireland's civil death records

Unfortunately, the death certificates of our Irish ancestors provide relatively little of value compared with the genealogical treasures of birth and marriage documents. Surprisingly, it was not until 2005 that the authorities decided it was time to start adding important details such as parents' names to ensure the deceased could be identified from another with the same name!

Prior to this, certificates show no date of birth for the deceased and no familial connections unless the person who reported the death was a relative.

Another irritant is the tendancy, especially before 1908, for the stated age to be completely wrong, sometimes by as much as 15 years. This may not be entirely a matter of vanity or deliberate falsehood (although 'getting one over' on the authorities was a distraction for many in the 19th century). Truth is, many people were genuinely unsure of the year they were born, so Irish deaths were regularly recorded showing ages that have been rounded up to the nearest decade or so.

Despite these limitations, locating death records has its place in your genealogy research. It is good genealogical practice to 'kill off' your ancestors, if only to save you wasting your time searching for a life story that had already reached its conclusion.

And there is also the chance that a death certificate will throw up a surprise. Perhaps an address that hasn't previously been noted, the married surname of a daughter, an unexpected occupation, or the name of some other 'long-lost' relative you either didn't know existed or thought had emigrated.

Where to start

The first stop for Irish deaths is likely to be the civil registration indexes. These are compiled by GRO in Roscommon and by GRONI in Belfast.

FamilySearch logo Until 2009 they were available only in the research rooms of those organisations. LDS Family History Centers also had an incomplete set available on microfilm.

But most family historians now access civil registration details of Irish deaths (and births & marriages) online (see the Online Databases section below).

Irish deaths: indexes

Finding specific Irish deaths in the indexes is relatively straightforward if you have a rough idea of your ancestor's age (at death) and an approximate date. If you know the location, so much the better, especially if the surname is a common one.

Without such information as a starting point, and especially with a common name, searching the index could be a labourious and possibly fruitless task.

Assuming you have such information, though, you can search as follows:

  • Work methodically through the alphabetical indexes year by year (or quarter by quarter) until you find the name of your ancestor and an appropriate corresponding age.
  • Make a note of the corresponding reference number (and year and/or quarter) as you'll need it to obtain a death certificate.

An example reference number : 1888 Q2 Clonakilty 5 263.

What this number tells you is:

  • The year and quarter followed by the name of the Superintendent Registrar's District. Because of the way the districts were established, this may or may not have been your ancestor's nearest town or village. (More about Ireland's civil registration districts).
  • The numbers pinpoint the volume and page number of the local register where the death record can be found.

In the early years of the civil registration system in Ireland, deaths were often reported late so it is always worth looking in the Late Registration section (and possibly the Marine deaths section, too, if your ancestors were seafarers) at the back of each volume before moving onto the next one. For more details of how indexes are arranged, and to find out how to obtain copies of death certificates, see the main Irish civil registration page.

So where can you view these indexes?

  • Deaths anywhere in Ireland 1864-1921: GRO in Dublin (hard copy), Family History Centers (microfilm), Online databases.
  • Deaths 1864-1921 in Northern Ireland: GRONI in Belfast (hard copy), Family History Centers (microfilm), Online databases.
  • Deaths 1922-1959 in Northern Ireland: GRONI in Belfast (hard copy) or Family History Centers (microfilm).
  • Deaths in Republic of Ireland 1922-1958: GRO in Dublin (hard copy), Family History Centers (microfilm), Online databases.
  • Deaths in Northern Ireland since 1960: GRONI in Belfast (hard copy).
  • Deaths in the Republic of Ireland since 1959: GRO in Dublin (hard copy).

Irish deaths: registers
Irish famine- funeral in Skibbereen

The information recorded in the civil death register is exactly that recorded on an Irish death certificate.

Registers of Irish deaths since 1864 are not available to view at GRO or GRONI. Some, but certainly not all, County Register Offices allow visitors to view their local registers, so this may be an option if you know the district where your ancestors died. A prior appointment is always needed; book well in advance and be prepared to pay a charge.

Microfilmed copies of a limited number of Ireland's death registers are available through the LDS network of Family History Centers as follows:

  • For deaths anywhere in Ireland 1864-1870.
  • For Northern Ireland deaths 1922-1959.

Irish deaths: online databases Irish BMD records

Because civil records of Irish deaths don't often further genealogical research (due to the paucity of genealogical information they contain), there has not been the same clamour from family historians to rush data online. This is improving, however.

  • Indexes to the Civil Registration of Irish deaths are available on Family Search, free of charge. They are pretty much complete, except for a small number of missing entries for Quarter 3, 1894.
  • The same collection (right down to the missing data mentioned above) is available at the huge Ancestry site, on a pay-per-view or subscription basis. Free trials are also available. While this contains exactly the same records as Family Search, it is a much better search engine so it is a lot easier to find your ancestors.
  • I know of six databases that offer access to other collections of Irish deaths and burials records. These are usually, but not exclusively, produced from sources other than the civil registration indexes (some cover much wider periods of time), so make sure to verify any data you want to rely upon. Some charge. Some don't. Follow these links: Waterford Memorials, Dublin Heritage, Glasnevin Cemeteries Group, Limerick Council, Kerry Burials and Irish-Graveyards.
  • If you're prepared to pay, you could try RootsIreland, which has an incomplete collection of death records. Check that the collection covers the county and area you are interested in first. Follow the 'sources list', which you'll find on the HOME page of each County Genealogy Centre.

Irish death certificates

The information recorded on an Irish death certificate is as follows:

  • Registrar's District, Poor Law Union, and county of registration
  • Registrar's reference (which can be ignored completely)
  • Place and date of death
  • Name of the deceased
  • Gender
  • Marital status
  • Age on last birthday
  • Occupation
  • Certified cause of death
    Broken gravestone.
  • Duration of final illness
  • Informant's signature, relationship to the deceased*, and address.
  • Date registered
  • Registrar's signature
  • Registrar's District, Poor Law Union, and county of registration.

*Where the informant is the spouse of the deceased, the relationship is often not recorded.

Below are some examples of Irish death certificates. Just click on the thumbnails for a larger view:

Irish death certificate. This is the death certificate of my gt gt grandfather, George Francis Nichols, who died on 18 January 1920 at his home in Wicklow. He was a widower and was recorded as aged 75 ie born in 1845.

His son, James, who was present at the death and reported it, would have given this age as an 'approximate' because George himself seems to have been undecided exactly when he was born. In the 1901 census he had calculated his age from a birth year of 1846 but in 1911 he decided it should have been 1844.

George died from cardiac failure. As there is no 'duration' stated on the certificate, it is likely he had a heart attack. However, there was no post-mortum so his heart condition had probably already been diagnosed. His son, James, who lived in Wicklow, reported his passing six days after the death, which was duly registered by Assistant Registrar Ida Halpin, in the Registrar's District of Wicklow in the Poor Law Union of Rathdrum, County Wicklow.

Ireland deaths certificate - James Doolittle James Doolittle was an unmarried seafarer from Wicklow.

Born in 1856, he died at Wicklow Infirmary on 11 January 1912 having suffered from Tubercular disease of the Intestines for ten months and Asthema for his final month. One L Murphy, a nurse who was present at his death, registered his demise the following day.

Irish deaths certificate - Mary Santry

Mary Santry, the widow of a labourer, died in County Cork on 10 July 1875. Having survived the famine, she nonetheless ended up in the workhouse 30 years later. Her death was registered by the Chief Resident Officer of Clonakilty's Union Workhouse just under a month later (and just in time to avoid a fine for late registration).

The stated cause of death, 'Senile Decay', is common for the elderly and is assumed to mean a general decline in health for an undiagnosed condition.

One of the great values of Irish death records is that they contain details of people who, like Mary Santry, do not appear in any other sources. Even allowing for an exaggerated age, Mary was probably born at the end of the 18th century and is likely to have wed long before civil registration started. Her birth and marriage pre-date most church records, too. It is highly likely this certificate is the only written proof of her time on earth.

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