Find My Past gives you access to browse, search and view 18th and 19th-century record collections of Irish Catholic baptisms, marriages, and burial.
This article explains the importance of the parish registers and how they are organized. We’ll give you our best tips on browsing and searching for your ancestors in the registers.
And we’ll look at some alternative sites (free and paid) that have similar access.
What Are The Irish Catholic Parish Registers?
To understand the Catholic parish registers, we need to look first at the organization of the Catholic Church across the country.
Parishes and dioceses
The Catholic Church is organized geographically into parishes served by one main church and a parish priest. There may be smaller churches within a larger parish but there is a single administration for the parish.
Parishes are collected into wider geographical areas governed by a diocese with a Bishop or Archbishop.
An example from County Cavan
For example, there are 34 Catholic parishes in County Cavan.
The parish of Lavey has two Catholic churches. They are both named after Saint Dympna, which can be confusing if you’re an outsider! Locals refer to them as upper Lavey and lower Lavey.
There is one administrative unit that organizes both churches.
Most of the parishes in County Cavan are part of the Kilmore Diocese, which also governs some parishes in neighboring counties like County Meath.
However, there are a handful of Cavan parishes that fall under the neighboring Meath Diocese. And just to repeat myself, some parishes in County Meath are in the Kilmore Diocese.
I won’t get into the reasons here. But it’s worth keeping an eye on which diocese is associated with the parish records you find. That may help when you are using several sites to track down more records.
Parish priests carry out baptisms, marriages, and funerals (burials) for their local community. They are also responsible for recording the details of these events in parish registers.
The registers are owned by each church and are usually stored within church buildings.
You may see references to them as stored in the vestry or the presbytery. The vestry is a small room within the church, and the presbytery is often where the priests reside.
Where are the older parish registers?
There is considerable concern amongst Irish genealogists about the storage of the older parish registers.
Some dioceses have taken a lead in collecting historic parish registers from their local churches for specialist storage and archiving in the Bishop’s House.
However, most are still kept in local parish buildings.
Some parishes have taken steps to purchase specialist storage boxes and materials for precious old documents. But this appears to be sporadic across the country.
This makes the work of sites like Find My Past even more important.
What’s The Difference Between Irish Parish Records And Civil Records?
As I described earlier, the parish records are made and kept by the Catholic churches.
In contrast, civil records are governed by the State. Civil registration of births and deaths was introduced in Ireland in 1864.
Civil registration for marriages was introduced earlier in 1845, but only for non-Catholic marriages. Catholic marriages were included in civil registration from 1864.
We have a separate article on Irish marriage records on Find My Past, which focuses on the civil regstration records.
Here, I’ll run through the two major differences from the point of view of genealogy research: dates and easy access to the records.
Differences in dates
The Catholic parish records can get you back further than 1864.
In general, we can get back to the 1840s for most counties with parish records.
Depending on the county, you may find parish records going back to the late 18th century and early 19th century.
Differences in access
The indexes to Irish civil records are on Find My Past and some other sites, but the full transcripts and images aren’t available.
The images can be ordered from the Irish General Records Office for a fee.
How To Browse The Irish Catholic Parish Registers On Find My Past
The website is a little confusing because it has a category for “Church Registers” and another for “Parish Baptisms”.
If you’re looking for Catholic records, then you don’t want “Church Registers”. These are the registers for the Church Of Ireland.
Instead, you’re looking for the record sets in these subcategories:
- Parish Baptisms
- Parish Marriages
- Parish Burials
Somewhat confusingly again, you’ll also see a sub-category beneath these three called “Parish Registers”. You might think that groups the other three subcategories, but I’ve tested it – and it isn’t.
This is how I browse through all three types of records together.
Use the left pane on the Search page
The categories are named slightly differently depending on which Find My Past website you log into.
If you’re logged into the co.uk version expand “Birth, Marriage, Death & Parish Records”.
If you’re logged into the .ie version, expand Life Events (Birth, Marriage, Death).
The subcategories are the same across both sites.
If you use the subcategories as your launch point, you can only choose either baptisms or marriages, or burials. This may be just what you want.
But if you want to browse more generally, then follow these instructions to add filters into the main window.
Browsing a name across all parishes within a county
Now you move to the main window of the Search page and enter some basic details.
- Enter a last name.
- Enter a county into the location box below the Country dropdown.
Scroll down the page to find the “Subcategory” input box. There is a link beside the box named “Browse subcategory”.
This pops up a window that lets you choose Baptisms, Burials, and Marriages together.
Click on the appropriate checkboxes and click the “apply filters” link to close the pop-up page.
This is what my search page looks like when I’ve got it set up. (I’ve clipped out some sections like dates which I don’t set at all).
My combination of surname and county only throws up 22 results. That’s certainly low enough to browse through each one.
My other maternal grandparent is from the same county but the family name was Smith. That’s nearly 6,500 results. I’d start applying more filters with that kind of volume.
How Did Find My Past Get The Catholic Parish Records?
The National Library of Ireland embarked on a massive project in the 1950s to put the parish registers on microfilm. Most of the registers have been digitized at this point, although there are still some gaps.
Find My Past entered into a partnership with the National Library to create transcripts and searchable indexes of the microfilm images.
The transcripts were prepared from the microfilm at the National Library, not the original registers.
Are The Irish Catholic Parish Registers Available Elsewhere?
There is one free alternative and one paid alternative.
National Library Of Ireland (free)
You can access and browse the microfilm of the registers for free at the National Library website.
The drawback is that the search capabilities are very limited. You can search by an individual parish, but then you’ll need to scroll through images of the pages from the register.
Ancestry.com also entered into a partnership with the National Library to prepare transcripts and searchable indexes for the Catholic registers.
Not available on FamilySearch.org
You may be used to getting access to records for free on FamilySearch.org, the website ran by the Church Of Jesus Christ Of The Latter-day Saints (the Mormons).
However, the rights to reproduce the Catholic parish records have not been made available to FamilySearch.org.
This is due to differences in religious practice between the two organizations. The Catholic hierarchy objects to the practice of “proxy baptism”. This does not seem to be an issue that will be resolved any time soon.
More About Find My Past
Check out our article on the Irish Petty Sessions on Find My Past. These court records can be invaluable in your research into Irish heritage.
We’ve also reviewed the newspaper collections on Find My Past.
If you want to know more about the company, we have an article on the ownership of Find My Past.