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Civil Registration: Irish marriage records

Finding an ancestor's copy marriage certificate can really help move on your Irish genealogy research

Irish marriage records – civil

Irish bride and groom 1919
Under the civil registration system, 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 foot of page)

While the obligation to register births and deaths was not wholeheartedly embraced by the population of Ireland when it was introduced, Irish 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.

Find out about the Claddagh ring – the traditional Irish ring of love and marriage – and the area of Galway where it is thought to have originated.
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 General Register Office 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. Family History Centers, run by the Mormons, also had an incomplete set available on microfilm.

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. More details are in the Online Databases section below.

Marriage registers, while they contain much more information than the indexes, are unlikely to be an early port of call for most researchers because they are not readily accessible, either online or offline.

It is worth bearing in mind that it was traditional (and still is, in some areas) for a woman to marry in her 'mother' church, ie the church where she was baptised. This may help you narrow down an area in which to start a search.

Irish marriage records: Indices

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.

  • Just 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.

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. The less common a surname, the less difficult narrowing down the options will be.

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.)

So where can you view these indexes?

  • For marriages anywhere in Ireland between 1845/1864 and 1921: GRO in Dublin, Family History Centers, online.
  • For marriages between 1845/1864 and 1921 in the six counties of Northern Ireland: GRONI in Belfast, Family History Centers, online.
  • For marriages in the Republic of Ireland between 1922 and 1958: GRO in Dublin, online.
  • For marriages in the six counties of Northern Ireland since 1922: GRONI in Belfast.

For more details of how the indexes are arranged, see the main Irish civil registration 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 (see link in Find Out More section below). 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.

Irish marriage records: Online databases Irish BMD records

  • The LDS-run FamilySearch offers free searchable access to the Irish Civil Registration Indexes Collection. Marriage records from 1845 to 1863 cover online non-Catholic marriages; from 1864 to 1921 inclusive, the collection includes marriages from all 32 counties of Ireland, while from 1922 to 1958 they cover the 26 counties of the Republic and a very small proportion of records for Northern Ireland.
  • 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 has a far superior search engine to the one found on Family Search. Quite apart from the fact that it is more responsive to the filters you impose on your search, it also allows you to see the full names of the four couples recorded on one page of the register. One of these will be the spouse of the person you searched for.
  • The RootsIreland pay-per-view site is run by the Irish Family History Foundation. It has millions of marriage records, some transcribed from church registers, some from civil registration registers, so you may find what you are looking for.

    While it is a huge site and many genealogists have been delighted to find their ancestors' records on its database, you should bear in mind that it does not hold all Ireland's records. From the Home page, make your way to the County Genealogical Centre that covers the area where your ancestor lived. Then find the 'sources list' link and make a careful study of the local areas covered.

  • Many local archives and family history groups have been busy transcribing marriage records and placing them online free of charge in recent years ( is one that springs to mind), so work your favourite search engine before you turn to any sites that charge.
  • Rather confusingly, Family Search has a separate collection called Ireland Marriages 1619-1898 (which contains some of what used to be known as the IGI - International Genealogical Index).

    It contains a mish-mash of records, some transposed from the civil registration registers, some transposed from church registers, some from family records, and all collected in an unsystematic fashion.

    Bear in mind that this collection is far, far from complete. It holds 423,097 records - a tiny proportion of Irish marriage records over nearly three centuries. So be prepared for your ancestors not showing up. And, if you do find an entry of interest, be sure to verify the information before relying on it.

Irish marriage records: certificates

Below is a marriage certificate dating from 1862 ie some 17 years after civil registration of marriages had begun but two years before ALL Irish marriages had to be registered. A record of this marriage does not appear in IGI. Click on the thumbnails for a better view.

Sophia Doolittle's marriage certificate. It is the marriage certificate of my gt gt grandparents George Nichols and Sophia Doolittle. 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.

Sydney Nichol's marriage certificate.

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.

Where next?

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By Claire Santry, Copyright© 2008-2014 Dedicated to helping YOU discover your Irish Heritage.
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