Free access to Irish civil records online

Friday, 9 September, 2016
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This week, the General Register Office have put the vital records online, with free access for all.  Over 2.5 million historic records of births, marriages and deaths are now freely available online, ensuring that Ireland continues to lead the way in giving access to historical genealogical information.

Free access to Irish civil records online

So what are the Civil registrations? What can I expect to find and how can I access them?

State or Civil registration of births, marriages and deaths commenced throughout Ireland in 1864 for all religions (1845 for non-Roman Catholic marriages). These records are very valuable sources of information, despite their late commencement dates. 

With the introduction of state registration, birth and death information was required to be provided to the local registrar who was usually the doctor, within 21 days. Late registration resulted in the imposition of a fine. Hence, in order to avoid the payment of a fine, later birth and death dates were often provided to the registrar. The informant of such information was obliged to be a relative, a medical attendant or a person present at the event (the birth of the child or the death of an individual).  The priest at a wedding was also required to provide all marriage information to the state.

State records of birth provide the following information: the date and place of birth; name if any; sex; name, surname and dwelling-place of father; name, surname and maiden surname of mother; rank or profession of father; signature, qualification and residence of informant; when registered; signature of registrar and baptismal name if added at a later stage.

State records of marriage record the following: when married; names and surnames of the bride and groom; ages; condition; rank or profession; residence at the time of marriage; fathers names and surnames; rank or profession of fathers; name of officiating priest and the church where the marriage took place.

State death records contain: the date and place of death; name and surname; sex; condition; age at last birthday; rank; profession or occupation; signature, qualification and residence of informant; when registered and signature of the registrar.  While the cause of death is also provided on death certificates the holders of copyright of these records prohibit us from disclosing this information.

In the early decades of state registration it would appear that many events were not registered with the state.  The number of absent records cannot be quantified (although one frequently notices baptismal entries in church registers with no corresponding state birth and vice versa).  Ages provided on the older state records should be treated as ‘approximate’.

Accessing the records

You can now access these records for free by going to Irish Genealogy.

If you wish to order a physical copy of a birth, marriage or death certificate you can order them directly from the Irish Government by following the steps below.

  • Go to this link Apply for Certificates and  print out the relevant form. 

  • Fill it out to the best of your ability and include any info you have from the index record, which you will have found on the online version (Irish Genealogy)

  • Check/tick the box that you want a Photocopy only which costs around 4 euros. (You will need to fill in credit card details)

  • You can also follow the links in the above website to  apply online but currently the only option is to receive a full certificate at a cost of €20. There is no option to receive a photocopy only

  • You have to mail the request to the GRO (address provided when you print the form).

  • You can ask GRO to e-mail the copy back. You can provide a credit card number and usually here are no issues.

Excerpt from form relating to fees:

Issues relating to Church and State Records

  • Inconsistencies between church and state records frequently materialise particularly in relation to recorded dates.  You may observe that the date of birth recorded on the state record is sometimes later than that on the complimentary church record.  Due to the fact that a pecuniary fine was incurred for late registration of births, marriages or deaths with the civil authorities, informants frequently adapted the date in question to avoid the penalty.

  • Ages recorded as they appear on all genealogical records, should also be treated with a certain guarded scepticism as they were very often based on subjective recollection on the part of the informant rather than on precise documented evidence.

  • Clerical errors and omissions on the part of both state and church authorities account for a sizeable proportion of all general discrepancies.  This may explain why certain births to John P Brennan and Kate Green appear on the church records but remain absent from the state records.

  • The repetition of a first name within an immediate familial unit occurs regularly and was a result of the practice of naming a new-born after a previous sibling who had died.

  • First names are often entered erroneously in state and church records.  These irregularities are generally related to the custom of using an individual’s second, third or even nickname rather than the first name given at birth.

  • Due to geographical overlapping and colloquial variations in place naming, a large degree of inconsistency occurs in relation to the recording of townlands, with the result that a townland very often changed according to different informant's testimonies.  The spellings of townlands in state and church records also varied and very often depended on the registrar’s interpretation of the informant’s phonetic delivery.

  • Surnames are reproduced as they appeared in the contemporaneous record referred to.  Family surnames were not of great importance in 19th Century Ireland as persons were often referred to solely by patronyms.

  • More general spelling variations regularly appear in state and church records and are transcribed on information sheets as they appear on the original records.