Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Tuesday's Tips: A secret stash of Irish Roman Catholic parish registers?

St. Patrick's Church, Ringsend, Dublin, established 1858.
One of several Dublin City churches
whose parish registers are not online.

The launch on 8 July of the National Library of Ireland's Roman Catholic Parish Registers website no doubt delighted many the world over. Yes, the site may be a bit glitchy at times, and for some here is absolute proof those of us who said some of the registers might prove difficult to read had been telling the truth; however, overall it is a boon for researchers who find themselves away from the island of Ireland and in search of baptism and marriage records for Irish Catholic ancestors.

Despite this godsend from the NLI those researchers who land on a page bearing the statement 'The NLI does not have any registers available for this parish' may find themselves asking 'well, where are these parish registers'? 'What happened to them?' 'Is there a seemingly secret stash of Roman Catholic parish registers, and if so where are they?'

Contrary to a belief held by some, Roman Catholic parish registers were never housed in the Public Records Office (PRO) of the Four Courts. The obvious upside of this is no Catholic registers were destroyed in the huge explosion and fire that decimated the Public Records Office in the west wing of the Four Courts complex on 30 June 1922, during the Irish Civil War. It is parish registers of the Church of Ireland, along with a significant cache of irreplaceable documents — some dating to the 13th century — which were stored in the PRO (See: this post).

Historically the Catholic Church has always borne sole responsibility for keeping and protecting its own original records. No doubt over time this proved quite a challenge, considering the suppression of Catholicism and its accompanying penal laws, not to mention that lovely fellow Oliver Cromwell and his Irish campaign of 1649-50, a marker of which was his penchant for blowing up Catholic churches.

Although no Catholic parish registers were destroyed at the Four Courts, what some researchers may not be aware of is not all Catholic parish registers have been made available to the public. Some parishes still hold all of their own registers. They are neither part of the collection held by the NLI, nor are they part of what is online at irishgenealogy.ie or at RootsIreland.

St. Colmcille's Church, Swords,
built in 1827.
Thankfully their records are accessible.
The original National Library of Ireland microfilm project, which is now online, covers 1,066 extant parish register sets out of a total of 1,153. This translates to an NLI collection comprising over 3,500 individual registers. Among the registers not included in this number are those for some of the churches in Dublin City. Also, the County Dublin parishes of Clontarf, Naul and Santry are not a part of the NLI set of registers. RootsIreland (see Dublin North) does have some records for Naul and Clontarf, but Dublin City is not part of RootsIreland reserve. Dublin City Library & Archives has a database of burial registers for three now closed cemeteries at Clontarf, Drimnagh and Finglas. As well, there are a number of parishes in counties Antrim, Down, Galway, Kerry, Mayo and Meath whose records do not comprise a part of the NLI collection.1 

If you have had no luck online with the NLI collections or other online sources, you may wish to contact a parish directly. Also, you may find such an approach helpful if you are in search of a post-1880 record for which no civil registration record exists, since most of the NLI collection pre-dates 1880. For contact information see the website Catholic Hierarchy which has a listing of the 26 current Catholic dioceses. Within this catalogue are links to parish churches throughout the island of Ireland. As well, the Archdiocese of Dublin has a listing of all its parishes, including location and contact information, at http://www.dublindiocese.ie/parishes/. Many churches have their own websites; some include information about retrieving transcriptions of records.

In some parishes a sacristan or administrator will search the registers for you. You will need to submit as much information as possible with your request, including the approximate year for the record you are in search of, as well as the name or names of the person[s] in question. Sometimes you will be required to pay a search fee, in addition to the fee for the transcription of the individual record itself.  Whether or not such a fee is specifically requested, a donation to the church is always welcome. Transcriptions usually cost between €5 and €10 each, but rates vary around the country.

From Westport parish for €10 I was able to purchase a transcription of the 1885 marriage record of my paternal great-grandparents, a very helpful transcription since the register is not online, nor is there a civil registration record for their marriage. From St. James Church in Dublin, I was able to obtain baptism transcriptions for all of my paternal grandfather's siblings for €5 a piece. On a side note: although the registers for St. James Church dating from 1737 to 1890 are listed as among those on irishgenealogy.ie, oddly enough the registers holding the baptismal entries for my relatives —which date between 1887 and 1890 — are not among those on the site. The sacristan for St. James explained to me that not all of St. James' old registers are on the site. Yet another good reason for contacting a parish directly if you cannot find the record for which you are searching.

Transcription of the 1885 marriage of Patrick Geraghty and Margaret Toole.
This record cannot be accessed online.
A transcription from St. James Church, Dublin City, County Dublin.
The parish register in which this information appears is not online.
Of course, making contact with a parish is no guarantee a record will be retrieved for you. Some churches have neither the staff nor the facilities to conduct searches. Privacy concerns are sometimes cited as a reason for no immediate access to parish registers, no matter what the dates. For example, Louisburgh Parish in County Mayo notes the following on their website: "For reasons of security and confidentiality old registers cannot be made available for inspection by the public." However, when possible Louisburgh parish will reply to written requests for records. Some members of the bishopric believe such records should only be viewed by immediate family members. As well, there are churches, such as St. Nicholas of Myra in Dublin, that require you to seek permission from the Diocesan Chancellery before they will provide transcriptions for any records dated after 1914.

As you can see the rules for access can be many and varied, and are sometimes dependent on which parish holds the records you are seeking. Still in all, contacting a parish directly is definitely worth the effort if you are in search of baptism, marriage and death entries in parish registers with no online presence. After all, parishes aided in these searches long before the internet came along, and your ancestor's records may be a part of the almost secret stash of Irish parish registers which cannot be accessed online.

What success have you had finding parish register records 
with no online presence?

St. Colman's Cathedral, Cobh, County Cork,
built in 1879, consecrated in 1919.
Registers for Cobh are part of the NLI collection,
although some are in very poor condition.

1. See John Grenham's Catholic Records Locations for specific parishes in counties Antrim, Down, Galway, Kerry, Mayo and Meath whose records do not comprise a part of the NLI collection.


Sunday, August 2, 2015

Mike & Mary Ever After: 2 August 1954

Today, on what would have been their 61st wedding anniversary, I fondly review images from their wedding as I remember our mother and father, Mike and Mary, lovebirds for all time. You are both much missed and remembered with love and laughter.

On her father's arm, Mary Ball and the stroll into St. Patrick's Church, Ringsend, Dublin.
The marriage ceremony as viewed from the choir loft of the church.
Now husband and wife - Michael and Mary Geraghty
From left to right:
John Geraghty (Dad's brother), Michael Geraghty (my dad), Mary Ball (my mam), Kate Ball (Mary's sister).
After the church wedding, the very serious business of signing the register.
It's time to celebrate.
At their wedding breakfast, the cutting of the cake.
Family all together, outside St. Patrick's Church, Ringsend, Dublin, Ireland

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