Using Irish Civil Registration Indexes

How to access Ireland's birth, marriage and death records
A detailed look at these vital records


The Old Dispensary in Skibbereen was typical of
many local registration offices.
The old Dispensary in Skibbereen, Co Cork.
Irish civil registration INDEXES are usually the official records that family historians turn to first when they start researching a particular ancestor. However, because they start relatively late – 1845/1864 – they are not useful to all researchers.

The 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 at this time.

Only in January 1864 did it become obligatory to register all births, marriages and deaths with the local authorities.

  • Births: From 1864
  • Marriages: From 1845/1864
  • Deaths: From 1864
To comply with the legislation or risk a fine, citizens made a trip to the local register office to record a birth or death; church or civil officials who conducted weddings were responsible for sending details of marriages to the local register office.

Local register offices were organised into Superintendent Registrar Districts (SRDs) and had responsibility for sending their registers to the GRO in Dublin. Indexes of these registers were then compiled in Dublin either quarterly or annually (depending on the year) on receipt of registers from all the Superintendent Registrar Districts (SRDs) across Ireland.

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.

Related pages/brief facts

    Irish civil registration records – an overview

    Northern Ireland bmds

The 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 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.

  • Birth – Alongside each named birth entry in the index is a reference. By quoting this reference, the original birth registration document can be located. From this, a copy certificate can be produced, providing all pertinent details.

  • Marriage – Pre-1966 marriage indexes show the first and family names of the newly wed but not the name of the spouse. Quoting the adjacent reference leads to a copy of the marriage registration document (ie marriage certificate).

  • Death – The name of the deceased is recorded in the index but it's only if you quote the adjacent reference that the original register entry can be found. A death certificate is then produced, providing details such as cause and place of death.

In essence, then, the indexes alone will not move your Irish genealogy research very far. But the reference number will.

The registration index reference number

Each entry in the indexes contains the following:

  • Surname
  • Christian name
  • name of Registration District in which the birth, marriage or death took place
  • Volume number and page number of the local register in which the entry was recorded.

So, to provide an example, my great-grandad Tierney's birth in 1872 in the townland of Ballymacadam, Co Tipperary, is recorded in that year's index book as: Tierney Patrick Clogheen 9 722.

The full registration/reference number is – 1872 Patrick Tierney Clogheen 9/722.

Arrangement of the volumes

  • From 1845-1863, the marriage indexes (which include only non-Catholic marriages) are arranged alphabetically and are hand-written. After this date, the indexes are typed.
  • From 1864 to 1877, the indexes are in alphabetical order in one book per year.
  • From 1878 to 1902, the indexes are arranged alphabetically by quarter (ie four quarters to one volume). Unless you are certain of the date of the event, you need to check all four quarters and bear in mind that a birth, marriage or death that occured in one quarter may not have been registered until the following quarter.
  • From 1903, the birth indexes (but not the marriage or death indexes) are in alphabetical order in one book per year. The maiden name of the baby's mother is recorded, too, for the first time. This makes searching for a large family of children much easier.
  • In 1922, following the division of the island into Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, the GRO function was split between GRO Dublin and GRONI Belfast.

Late, overseas and military registrations

Each 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.

To view Irish civil registration indexes


Irish BMD records

  • IrishGenealogy: The so-called 'enhanced' GRO version, and the only state-sanctioned version, was relaunched (after the first attempt rose data protection concerns) on in 2015. It holds searchable records dating from the start of civil registration, as follows:

    •     birth records over 100 years old

    •     marriage records over 75 years old

    •     death records over 50 years old
    It provides some additional details that other versions do not ie. Mother's maiden names for births from 1900. It also introduced a unique Group Registration ID for each enty; this can be quoted instead of the registration index reference number mentioned above.
  • FamilySearch: 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.

    • There are some records for Northern Ireland in this Irish Civil Registration Collection but no indication of how many. Anecdotal evidence suggests the number is very small.

    • There are gaps in birth registration coverage for 1867, 1869, 1880 and 1892-93.

    • There is just one gap in death registration coverage: Quarter 3 of 1894.

  • Ancestry: Ancestry has the same core data as FamilySearch so the same limitations and gaps apply to this version of the same collection. The advantage of the Ancestry 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!

  • FindMyPast: A third version of the same core data is also available, this time on FindMyPast. Like the Ancestry version, it is not free, but it, too, has a neat Marriage Finder facility that can be very useful.

  • GRONI Family History: On 31 March 2014, the General Register Office of Northern Ireland launched its online search and view facility for births, marriages and deaths that had taken place in Northern Ireland. The records that can be searched online are as follows:

    •     birth records over 100 years old

    •     marriage records over 75 years old

    •     death records (including World War II death records) over 50 years old
    The online facility isn't restricted to the indexes. It's a full-blown search and view system that allows you to view – for a fee – basic details, enhanced details and/or a copy of the original registration entry (certificate). Find out more about what is available here or see Toolkit's Northern Ireland civil registration records page for more information.

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 transcriptions (taken from both church records and the Irish civil registration registers). You have to buy a subscription (monthly or yearly). Not all counties or areas are yet included... check the sources listing for each county.

Offline – Belfast

General Register Office of Northern Ireland For births, marriages and deaths that are not included in the online facility, researchers can view computerised indexes in the Public Search Room at GRONI. The indexes cover all life events in the six counties since civil registration began on the island. 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 December 2015. (Pre-1922 marriage certificates cannot be obtained through GRONI; you have to apply to the appropriate local register office.)

Offline – Dublin

Irish GRO Indexes on shelves.
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. In my experience, all staff are 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.

The General Research Office Research Room
Werburgh Street, Dublin.
General Register Office Research Room, Werburgh Street, Dublin
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 December 2015.

Offline – 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 December 2015.

  • If you are looking for birth, marriage and death records dating from before the Irish civil registration system started, you need to see if Church Records (baptisms, marriages and burials) can help you.
    Find out how to trace family history through Irish church records.

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By Claire Santry, Copyright© 2008-2016 Dedicated to helping YOU discover your Irish Heritage.
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