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Irish deaths: civil registration

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

Irish Deaths (civil)

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At March 2018, the civil registration section of this website needs thorough revision.

I am working through the individual pages as quickly as I can, and hope to finish this month. In the meantime, please note that this page has not yet been updated, and may contain out of date information.

My apologies for any inconvenience.

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 Irish death records created since 1864 under the civil registration system. Records of deaths before that date are limited.
See 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 reporting 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 – no one over the age of 46 in 1910 had a birth certificate – 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?

Your first port of call for Irish death records is likely to be the civil registration indexes. These are compiled and maintained by the General Register Office (GRO) in Roscommon and by the General Register Office of Northern Ireland (GRONI) in Belfast. They used to be available only by manually searching through big heavy tomes in the respective Research Rooms.

While the Research Rooms still exist, and manual searching can still play a role in genealogy research, most researchers now turn to the online databases which offer transcripts of Ireland's civil registration records. Some of these offer free access. Some don't.

See the main Irish civil registration page for an overview of how to use the indexes to obtain copies of death certificates.

Researchers looking for records of deaths 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 for free and view transcriptions and copies of death certificates for a very reasonable fee. See the Northern Irish death records/indexes page.

Irish death records: the Indexes

Broken gravestone.
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.

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 (manual only), Online databases.
  • Deaths 1864-1921 in Northern Ireland: GRONI in Belfast (and GRONI online), Online databases.
  • Deaths 1922-1959 in Northern Ireland: GRONI in Belfast (and GRONI online), Online databases
  • Deaths in Republic of Ireland 1922-1958: GRO in Dublin (manual only), Online databases.
  • Deaths in Northern Ireland since 1958: GRONI in Belfast (all years) or GRONI online for deaths up to 50 years ago.
  • Deaths in the Republic of Ireland since 1959: GRO in Dublin (manual only) for all years or up to 2013.

For more details, see the Irish civil registration – Indexes page.

Irish deaths: online databases

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 Irish Deaths registration are available on free of charge. They are complete from 1864 to 2013; those from 1966 include the marital status of the deceased.
  • Indexes to the Civil Registration of Irish deaths to 1958 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 as FamilySearch (right down to the missing data mentioned above) is available at Ancestry and FindMyPast on a pay-per-view or subscription basis. Free trials are also available.
  • I know of five 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:

  • A recent phenomenon has been the number of online sites, many of them free to access, offering headstone transcriptions and photos. Among the largest collections are listed below, but there are many more, often for single graveyards or cemeteries, or parish groups:

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)Irish famine- funeral in Skibbereen
  • Place and date of death
  • Name of the deceased
  • Gender
  • Marital status
  • Age on last birthday
  • Occupation
  • Certified cause of death
  • 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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