Civil Registration: Irish marriage records
An ancestor's copy marriage certificate is the key
to moving back a generation in your Irish genealogy research
Irish civil registration
Irish marriage records (civil)
Civil Irish marriage records date back to 1845 (for non-Catholic marriages) and to 1864 for all marriages, regardless of religion.
(Church records are different. See Related Pages box below.)
While the obligation to register births and deaths was not wholeheartedly embraced by the population of Ireland when it was introduced, Ireland's civil marriage records are generally considered to be complete right from the start.
This is mainly because, while the bride and groom were officially responsible for registering their marriage, priests, ministers and civil officials nearly aways submitted the marriage certificate direct to the local Registrar on their behalf. Whoever performed this duty, they had just three days to do so, making it less likely the responsibility would be overlooked.
On receipt of the certificate, the local Registrar would file it in the local register and record details of the marriage in the local district index.
This index would subsequently be passed on to the General Register Office (GRO) in Dublin where all the local indices were combined to make one national index.
Inevitably, there have been a few cases of Irish marriage records being omitted from the national index even though a certificate was correctly issued and filed in the local Registry. These cases are very rare.
Where to start?
The first stop for Irish marriage records is usually the civil registration indexes.
These are compiled and maintained by GRO in Roscommon and by GRONI in Belfast. Until recently, they were available only in the research rooms of those organisations.
In the last couple of years, a number of websites have begun to offer transcripts of Ireland's civil registration records. Some of these offer free access. Some don't. Some are complete. Others are not.
There's an overview of how to use the indexes to obtain copies of marriage certificates on the main Irish civil registration page.
Researchers looking for records of marriage that took place in the six counties of Northern Ireland should take advantage of GRONI's family history database where they can search the indexes, view transcriptions and copies of wedding certificates for a very reasonable fee. See the Northern Irish marriage records/indexes page.
Irish marriage records: General hints for using the Indexes
The reference of each Irish marriage record in the index begins with the name of the Superintendent Registrar's District.
Because of the way these districts were established, it may or may not have been your ancestor's nearest town or village.
(More about Ireland's civil registration districts.)
Indexes v Registers
While the registers
provide you with terrific genealogical details ie the address, ages and occupations of the bride and groom, and the names and occupation of their fathers, the indexes don't tell you much.
All they will tell you is the registration district and year (and, from 1878 to 1902 inclusive, the quarter) in which the marriage was registered, the surnames of both parties, and a reference made up of Volume and Page numbers.
However, once you have the reference number you can buy a copy marriage certificate and so get your hands on all the crucial information held on the register.
If you know the names of both bride and groom, finding Irish marriage records in the indexes is straightforward, even if you are not certain exactly where or when the couple married. Registrations reference numbers refer to the page of a volume of the register; because the two parties will be recorded together on one certificate, they will share a registration reference. So, for a manual search:
- Search methodically through the alphabetical indexes year by year (or quarter by quarter) until you find either the bride or groom's name.
- Make a note of the reference number alongside it.
- Then look for their marriage partner's name. When you find the correct name with an identical reference number, you have found the correct entry.
- With that reference number, you can apply for a copy of the marriage certificate.
- Although late registration of Irish marriages was relatively rare, it is worth looking in the Late Registration section at the back of each quarter or volume before moving onto the next one.
- If you know the name of only one party to a marriage, but know the location and have a good idea of the date, you should still be able to pinpoint the record in the index.
Essentially you do the same thing when searching an online database of Irish marriage records, such as those accessible at Ancestry and FindMyPast, although the information is presented slightly differently.
Let's say you're searching for Thomas Carty who married Eliza (you don't know her maiden surname). Your search result will include the names of 'potential' spouses. These are the names of all the brides and grooms on the same page of the register in which the Thomas Carty marriage is recorded. This odd arrangement is a peculiarity of the digitisation process; it ain't perfect, but at least it's a step in the right direction.
If your result shows an Eliza among the potentials, you may well have found the correct marriage record. (You may not, of course... several Thomas Cartys may have married a girl called Eliza over the years... check the registration district, date or any other information and narrow down the possibilities). If your result doesn't show an Eliza, move on to the next Thomas Carty marriage record result.
- Obviously, the less common a surname, the less chance of duplication, but there's always a certain amount of guesswork involved until you view the actual marriage certificate.
- If you know the name of only one party to a marriage but little more, you should narrow down the options in the indexes as best you can or wait until you have obtained additional info from other sources.
Irish marriage records: Where to view the indexes
- For marriages anywhere in Ireland between 1845/1864 and 1921: GRO in Dublin (manual only), Family History Centers, online.
- For marriages between 1845/1864 and 1921 in the six counties of Northern Ireland: GRONI in Belfast (and online), Family History Centers, online.
- For marriages in the Republic of Ireland between 1922 and 1958: GRO in Dublin (manual only), online.
- For marriages in the six counties of Northern Ireland since 1922: GRONI in Belfast (all); up to 50 years ago, online.
For more details, see the Irish civil registration – Indexes page.
Irish marriage records: Registers
The information recorded in the civil marriage registers is exactly the same as that recorded on an Irish marriage certificate.
Copies of the actual registers of marriage are not usually available for public inspection, except, for reasons that I've yet to understand, on microfilm through LDS Family History Centers .
Availability is as follows:
- For non-Catholic marriages anywhere on the island from 1845 to 1870.
- For all marriages (regardless of religion) anywhere on the island from 1864 to 1870.
- For all marriages celebrated in the six counties of Northern Ireland from 1922-1959.
In some County Registration Offices in Ireland, marriage records/registers can be viewed by the public by appointment (and payment of a fee) only. Waiting lists may be up to a year long.
Northern Irish marriage records (copy certificates) up to 50 years old can be view online (see Related Pages box above)
Irish marriage records: certificates
The documents below are a selection from my own family history research.
Click on the thumbnails for a better view.
This is the marriage certificate of my gt gt grandparents George Nichols and Sophia Doolittle, from 1862 ie two years before ALL Irish marriages had to be registered.
It's full of wonderfully rich detail. It tells me the groom's profession, the names and occupation of both fathers, the residences of bride and groom in Wicklow Town, and the names of two witnesses (who often, as in this case, are relations)
The only disappointment is the official's decision to record 'full age', meaning over 21 years, rather than actual ages (this is a frequent complaint... our Irish ancestors obviously didn't appreciate how helpful they could have been to later generations).
This marriage took place at the Register Office in Wicklow because, so the story goes, she was a Roman Catholic and he a Methodist, and neither would agree to marrying in the other's place of worship!
It was agreed, however, that all the their children would be raised as Catholics.
Some 32 years later, their eldest daughter, Sydney (the woman surrounded by her ten children on Irish Genealogy Toolkit's Home page) married at St Patrick's Roman Catholic church in Wicklow.
The format of her marriage certificate (left) was almost identical to that of her parents.
Again, the 'full age' issue crops up here, but the names of the streets where bride and groom lived have been included, reflecting the growth of Wicklow Town in the intervening years.
Hard to believe, but all the details on this certificate really are correct!
Denis Santry, the son of Carpenter Denis Santry, married Ellen Santry, the daughter of Farmer Denis Santry. They married in Cork City in 1878. This had long looked like a mis-recorded entry in the Irish marriage indexes, but sight of the certificate helped to unravel a lot of inconsistencies in the Santry family tree.
Guess what the young couple called their only son! He went on to become an internationally renowned architect.
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