Irish deaths: civil registration
Obtaining death certificates in Ireland. Death indexes and registers. Irish deaths online.
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.
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.
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
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:
An example reference number : 1888 Q2 Clonakilty 5 263.
What this number tells you is:
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?
Irish deaths: registers
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:
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.
Irish death certificates
The information recorded on an Irish death certificate is as follows:
*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:
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.
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.
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.