Dunedin Family History Group

Otago and Southland related research


The family historian researching Irish ancestry faces a number of problems. The first is that the majority of the population was Roman Catholic and their registers did not begin until late in the 18th century. The second is the relatively few number of surnames shared by most of the population. The third is that the Irish Public Record Office, housed in Four Courts, Dublin was destroyed by protestors against British rule in 1922. Very few of the contents, which included about half the Church of Ireland parish registers, census returns, wills and other government records, survived.
After 1922 birth, death and marriage records are complete but, as the country was then divided into two, these and other records are housed in different places in Ireland.

Civil Registration – Civil registration of all birth, death and marriage certificates began in Ireland in 1864, but non-Catholic marriages were registered from 1845 onwards. The partition of Ireland has meant duplication of material between the two General Register Offices. Records up to 1922 are held in the GRO (General Register Office) in Dublin. After that date, it holds copies of records in Northern Ireland. The GRO (Northern Ireland), in Belfast, is a separate register office. It holds birth, death and marriage records for Northern Ireland from 1922 onwards and copies of indexes to pre 1922 events. There are also Marine, Consular, and Foreign Marriage Registers relating to Irish people at sea or overseas in both offices. After 1922, laws on registration of events such as stillbirths, adoption and illegitimate children were different in Southern Ireland (Eire) and Northern Ireland.

Parish Registers – The Church of Ireland served a small percentage of the population, mainly the Protestant middle and upper classes. As mentioned above, about half their registers from before 1870 had been deposited in the Dublin Public Record Office and were destroyed. However, others had remained in their own churches; some transcripts of these had been made before the registers were surrendered, and others had already been published. The surviving material, in addition to parish accounts and other documents, are scattered among various locations. The records of parishes that no longer exist, for example, have been deposited in the library of the Representative Church Body.
Between 1915 and 1922, proof of age in order to claim benefits might be extracted from Church of Ireland parish registers and the forms to do this, which contain parents’ names, are preserved in the National Archives.
Unlike the Church of Ireland, the Roman Catholic Church did not have a role in local government and so it did not need to keep registers in the same way. Prior to the 1800s most baptisms and marriages took place in the priest’s home or in the home of the family. Catholic registers did not begin until the middle of the 18th century in towns and the 19th century in rural areas. Most original registers remain with their church, but the majority has been copied to films, which are held in the National Library. Some burials of Catholics took place in Church of Ireland burial grounds, depending on the attitude of the minister.
Other denominations, such as the Non-conformists (Baptists, Congregationalists, Huguenots, Lutheran, Methodist, Moravians, Presbyterians and Quakers) and Jews, kept their own records. Although all the original registers of the Huguenot churches were destroyed in 1922, they had already been published. Other records are deposited in various archives or remain with their congregations but many have also been copied.

Wills – Between 1536 and 1858 Wills were proved in Church of Ireland ecclesiastical courts. The senior court was the Prerogative Court of Armagh, which had jurisdiction over all the commissary courts (there were no archdeaconry courts in Ireland) but was inferior to the PCC (Prerogative Court of Canterbury). People with property in both Ireland and England would therefore have had their Wills proved in the PCC and those records are in the Family Record Centre in London.
After 1858 the proving of Wills was taken over by the government. Transcript copies of Wills proved in local registries were passed to Dublin, where an annual index was made. The original Wills, before and after 1858, were deposited at Four Courts and so destroyed in 1922, but the indexes, which give some useful information, have survived and so have the post 1858 transcript copies from the registries outside Dublin.
Between 1858 and 1876 the Principal Probate Registry in London has an additional section at the end of its indexes which included some Irish probate records dealing with people who owned property in both Ireland and England.

Ireland had its own parliament, but all of its activities had to be approved by the British government. Although the majority of the population was Roman Catholic, laws were passed at various times to penalize them and prevent them from holding office of any kind. This discrimination finally ended in 1829, although some provisions had been repealed at different times before that date.
Land records – The paucity of registers and the destruction of many documents mean that much information about Irish family history will come from records relating to land tenure. Most land in Ireland was owned by a relatively small number of people and let out on leases. Private estate papers may contain information about tenants. Because they are private papers they may be with the original owners or in a number of repositories in Ireland or mainland Britain. During the famine years many landowners abandoned their properties and left Ireland.
Registry of Deeds – The Registry of Deeds was set up in 1708, primarily to stop Catholics acquiring land. A variety of documents, including Wills, land transfer documents, mortgages, marriage settlement letters and share sales, are included in these records. They mainly relate to upper-class Anglo-Irish families, and so are not typical of the average inhabitant. Registration was not compulsory, so not every transaction will be here.
As the laws on Catholics were relaxed towards the end of the 18th century, more people were able to lease or own land. The records are in the Registry of Deeds, in Dublin, where there is an index containing abstracts of the documents.
Ejectment Books – Before a landlord could eject tenants from his property he had to obtain a court judgement, and ejectment books summarizing these cases provide much information of use to genealogists, especially those whose ancestors emigrated. Not all have survived (there seems to be none, for example, from Northern Ireland), but they are worth checking out.
The famine of the 1840s created a huge increase in ejectments, but this was not entirely a case of hard-hearted landlords throwing out starving people. The landlords had to pay rates on their land and, in order to help the increasing number of poor, the amounts rose. Those with land-owning ancestors may find their problems reflected in ejectment books.
The Incumbered Estate Court – From 1849, if bankruptcy resulted, the landlords’ estates were disposed of in the Incumbered Estate Court, which dealt with the auction of lands. This was renamed the Landed Estates Court in 1858. In 1877 it became part of the Chancery Division of the High Court in Ireland. Here it was called the Land Judges’ Court and continued until 1880. Records are in the National Archives of Ireland. Much valuable information, including maps, is given in the sales catalogues (called rentals) produced when landowners had to sell. These are in the National Archives, the National Library or PRONI (Public Record Office of Northern Ireland)
Tithes Applotment Books – Compiled in the 1820s and 1830s Tithes Applotment Books cover landowners and primary tenants in parishes. The Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter-Day Saints (LDS / Mormons) has filmed these records so they are available through their Family History Centres and also in a number of record offices. (The Family History Centre in Dunedin is located in Fenton Crescent in St Clair).
Griffith’s Primary Valuation – Information about landowners and occupiers in the mid 19th century was issued in stages for 1848-1864. This publication’s official title is General Valuation of Rateable Property but it is generally known as Griffith’s Primary Valuation, after the commissioner who was responsible for carrying it out. The surveys largely took place after the Irish famine and so are valuable for allowing the family historian to see who survived or remained in Ireland. Almost every head of a household is listed in these surveys.
Census returns – A few records of censuses before 1901 survived the 1922 destruction. There are fragments from 1821, 1831, 1841 and 1851. The pre 1851 censuses in Ireland contained more information that their English or Scottish equivalents. In addition to the original records there are some forms relating to information from searches made in the census records, which were used by elderly people to prove their ages in order to claim old age pensions after 1908.
The 1901 and 1911 censuses survived and are open to researchers.
Education records – Charter Schools began in 1731 and by the beginning of the 19th century there were a variety of private, church and “hedge” schools in Ireland. Hedge schools, which dated from medieval times, educated children in Gaelic, which was the first language of most Irish people until the 19th century. They declined for a number of reasons; the growth of state-run education, which was in English; the recognition that, in order to succeed professionally, people needed to speak English; and the emigration of many of the poorer Irish citizens.
The National Board of Education (Ireland) began state-run schools in 1831. Information from school logbooks, where they survive, can substitute for the destroyed censuses. Although the schools were non-denominational their records include a note of the children’s religions. When and why children left the school is also entered and this may give useful information about families who emigrated.
Records of university graduates from Ireland’s main universities have been published. Although Roman Catholics were officially barred from universities until 1793 some seem to have received a university education before this date and are noted as “RC” in the registers.
Heritage Centres – The increasing growth of interest in family history led to the setting up of the Genealogical Indexing Centres, also called Heritage Centres, around Ireland. These centres index and computerize church registers and other records in their area. The public is not allowed access to the databases but information from them is provided for a fee. They are useful if you know at least the county from which your ancestors came.
The destruction in 1922 of Four Courts in Dublin, which contained centralized records, means that it is essential to find out where in Ireland your ancestors originated. If they emigrated to England, Wales, Scotland or overseas, this may come from census returns (unfortunately most Irish simply entered “Ireland” on the return).
Those who entered the armed services will also have their birthplace entered in records. It is worth remembering that the Republic of Ireland was neutral during World War II.
When Civil Registration was introduced in 1864 a fine was payable if a birth was not registered within three months, so poor people might have adjusted the date of a child’s birth to avoid a penalty. Roman Catholics would, however, have had the child baptised within a few days of birth, either at the priest’s house or their own home, so it is worth cross-referencing the civil and church records if you can.

Registration of protestant marriages began in 1845.

Registration of all births, deaths and marriages began on 1 January 1864.

The Family History Centre (FHC) Library in Fenton Crescent holds indexes to civil registration for the following years:

Births     1864-1901
Protestant marriages   1845-1863
All marriages    1864-1901
Deaths     1864-1902

They contain reference numbers for ordering certificates direct from Ireland –
Registrar General’s Office,
8-11 Lombard Street,
Dublin, Eire.

From the start of 1922, Northern Ireland became a separate identity. Certificates for Northern Ireland from 1922 can be ordered from –
The General Register Office,
Oxford House,
49-55 Chichester Street,
Belfast BT1 4HL.

It is important to remember that certificates for Northern Ireland pre 1922 are still held in Dublin.

Certificates cost £7.00 – They take Visa and Mastercard.

Some certificates can be ordered into the Family History Centre on microfilm for $5.70
Births  1864-1881 & 1900 – first quarter of 1910
Marriages 1845-1870
Deaths 1864-1870

Civil registration in Ireland began in 1864.

However, Protestant marriages began to be registered from 1845.

date and place of birth
given name of child
name of father
name and maiden surname of mother
occupation of the father
address and relationship of the informant

Parish and county of marriage
church or place where the marriage was performed
date of marriage
full name of the bride and groom
marital status of both parties
rank or profession of bride and groom
residence of bride and groom
name and occupations of the fathers of the bride and groom
name of witnesses

date and place of death
full name and age of the deceased
former occupation of the deceased
cause of death and name
relationship of the informant
Unfortunately the census record, which is so invaluable for English, Welsh, and Scottish research, is not as readily available for Ireland.
The major census records of Ireland began in 1821, then every ten years since, except in 1941 due to the Second World War. However most of the records have been destroyed. The following is a summary of existing information.

1630 – The earliest census taken for UIster. Contains the names of landlords on large estates and the men each could produce for protection in times of need. No ages are given but it can generally be assumed that the men are aged between sixteen and fifty. The records for Cavan, Donegal and Fermanagh have been printed and are available to research in County Record Offices.

1652 – For a large part of south County Down the inhabitants were listed in a census arranged by area. It gives interesting personal descriptions, relationships and ages. Only available in Ireland.

1654-1656 – List of landlords.

1659 – A census of Ireland taken about 1659 was published by Dublin Stationery Office in 1939. It only gives the names of the landowners and the total number of English and Irish residents on the townlands. It does not include Cavan, Galway, Mayo, Wicklow and Tyrone counties.

1664, 1665, and 1666 – Some of the Hearth Money Rolls for these years survive, listing the name of the householder and the number of hearths (fireplaces) on which he or she was taxed. Much of it has been printed. At various times in history there were taxes imposed on hearths, the numbers of windows in the houses and so on, to raise revenue.

1740 – This lists Protestant householders’ names in parts of Antrim, Armagh, Donegal, Londonderry and Tyrone counties. It has not been printed although a partial index and typed copy is available at the Genealogical Office, Dublin Castle. A personal visit or a researcher is necessary.

1749 – Most of Roscommon, part of Sligo and nine parishes in Gallaway were listed in this ‘census’. The names are given of the heads of households, occupations, religions, the numbers and religions of their children, plus the numbers, sex and religions of their servants, and occasionally the wives’ names were recorded. It is not indexed and is held at the Public Record Office.

1799 – A detailed census of Carrick-on-Suir, County Tipperary was made in 1799. It is arranged by street and gives the names, ages, religions and occupations of the 10,907 inhabitants together with their relationships to the head of the house.

1821 – Most of it was destroyed. Extant are parishes beginning with A through T in County Meath, A-L in County Galway, A-D in County Offaly (Kings County), A-R in County Fermanagh and A-M in County Cavan. The type of information given was: names of all members of the family, ages, occupations and relationships.
What has survived of the 1821 Census as those of 1831, 1841, 1851, 1901 and 1911 are available through the LDS Family History Centre Libraries.

1831 – Only the County of Londonderry is preserved.
It lists the name of the head of the family, numbers of males and females, residences, numbers of servants and religions. A portion of the 1831 Census for St Brides parish Dublin also survives.

1841 – Taken the night of 6 June. There is only one parish in the whole of Ireland where the original record exists and that is for Killeshandra Parish, County Cavan. Some copies of other censuses in County Cork survive. The rest of 1841 was destroyed in the Four Courts fire in Dublin in 1922.

1851 – The following is a list of the areas where this census still survives. Drumkerran, Fermanagh, and the following parishes in Antrim: Carncastle, Kilwaughter, Rasharkin, Tickmarccrevan, Craigs (Agohill) Killead, Ballymoney, Aghagallon, Larne, Dunaghy, Aghalee, Ballinderry, Grange of Killyglen.
The census was similar to the 1841 Census which gave names of members of the family, ages, occupations, relationships, year of marriage, education, birthplace, and a list of those who died in the last ten years as well as a list of absent members.
The rest of 1851 was destroyed in the Four Courts fire in Dublin in 1922.

1848-1864 – Owing to the lack of genealogical information and census information the Griffith’s Valuation records, which cover the time period of 1848 to 1864, serve as a type of census. The Griffith’s Valuation records contain no personal particulars at all other than the names, townland, addresses and acreages held together with the estimated land values. Available to use through the FHC library.

1861,1871,1881,1891 – These censuses were officially destroyed.

1901 – Taken on the night of 31 March this census is basically the earliest existing record for the whole of Ireland. Information supplied is good.

1911 – Because of the lack of earlier census the 1911 census was released early and is very useful.

In 1908 the British parliament passed the Old Age Pension Act, which was applicable to British subjects of the United Kingdom.
Eligibility for Old Age Pension included
Have attained the age of 70 years (in 1908 this meant born before 1838)
To have resided in the United Kingdom for at least 20 years
Yearly income must not exceed £31/10/00. Applied to men and women regardless of marital status
Each claimant was required to provide proof of their age

Problems in applying for Pension – Civil registration of births in Ireland started 1864. How were they to prove a birth before 1838?

Solution to problem in applying for Pension – The ages should be found in the census for 1841 and/or 1851. In 1841 they would need to appear at least as 4 years of age and in 1851 at least 14. The 1841/51 census records for all Ireland still existed in 1908 as they were not destroyed until 1922.
The Old Age Pension (OAP) claims that used these census for verification, amount to a copy of the 1841/51 census. Some army records were used but the census was the principal source of verification. Claim forms were used and as the officers checked the applications they made various notes on the claim form. The claim forms have been microfilmed and are on 26 LDS film, which in general cover Ulster only (i.e.Northern Ireland) plus Cavan, Donegal and Monaghan. The records for the Republic of Ireland are held in the National Archives, Dublin and have not been filmed. They are not as informative as the Ulster set.
An Index to the Ulster claims is being created extracting the details from the films. The index is then being published on microfiche and the Dunedin Family History Centre Library has Parts 1 and 2 containing approximately 60,000 records. The finished Index will have approximately 120,000 to 150,000 records. These have been heavily indexed so read the guide at the start of the microfiche being attempting to use the actual index.

Types of information you will find by using the films
Claimants gave various details to substantiate their claim
Details of their situation in 1841 & 1851
If married at the time, married name for a female
Name of parents (often Mother’s maiden name)
Age at the time of the claim
A number of places of residence

Notes made on the claim forms indicate amongst other things
If the family was found and the age on the census
Frequently notes were made of the entire family group
Marriage date of the parents
Absentee family and deaths in the family in the 10 prior years
Some officers deliberately omit information on anyone other than the claimant.

Some filmed entries are very hard to read.

Useful Addresses

General Register office,
Joyce House,
8-11 Lombard Street East
Dublin 2, Eire.

General Register Office
(Northern Ireland)
Oxford House
49-55 Chichester Street
Belfast BT1 4HL

National Archives of Ireland
Bishop Street
Dublin 8

Public Record Office of Northern Ireland
66 Balmoral Avenue,
Belfast BT9 6NY

Representative Church Body