Monday, 14 March 2016

Irish Catholic parish registers - which is the best site to search?

It's St Patrick's Day on the 17th, so it's probably not surprising that FindMyPast Ireland chose this month to release its collection of Irish Catholic parish registers. With the same records available on Ancestry, that brings the number of sites - and ways - to search these records to three, which is a giant bonus to those of us researching Catholic ancestors from Ireland.

Free Irish records

In July last year, the National Library of Ireland first released these records, which were warmly welcomed by genealogists all round the world. It's not just that they help us trace our Irish ancestors, a notoriously tricky thing to do (but not as hard as I thought when I started out). The other wonderful thing is that they're free to access.

At the time, I posted on Worldwide Genealogy about my first impressions of using this wonderful resource, which the NLI provided without an index. I wasn't going to look such a ground-breaking gift horse in the gob. But now, with FMP and Ancestry both providing access to the parish registers, it's possible to search them using the methods that many genealogists are used to on these two sites.

So this month I'm going to conduct a genexperiment and try all three out, looking for the same person, and see if any of them will become my favourite for Irish Catholic parish register research. I also want to know if I can search all three for free.

Catholic parish register search

I'll start with the first publishers of the Irish Catholic parish registers, the NLI's own website. Because you need to know which parish you want to search, I'm going to look for Daniel Delaney of the parish of Tomacork (Carnew). He may be related to my ancestor Nicholas Delaney, who was from the same parish. It's a fairly unusual surname in the area.

Shane Wilson has a useful tool on his excellent website for finding RC parishes.


Going to the home page, I entered the parish name (Tomacork, in this case). This took me to a page offering three microfilms. I needed the earliest:

Selecting any of the categories or the image all took me to the same page, the first image in this collection:

And from then on it was a case of scrolling through the records, looking out for the name Carnew (usually at the right-hand side of the page).

This took a while, and I found Daniel only as a father, here with his wife Mary as parents to Anne in February 1794:

The display's fairly small and I recommend switching to full screen view using the button on the top right. You can also adjust brightness using the buttons, but here I'm just giving you the image as is, for comparison.

Daniel's baptism and marriage must have taken place before these records were compiled, or else he moved to Carnew from another parish.


Next I searched for Daniel in the Catholic parish registers on Ancestry. I've got a subscription, but I wanted to see whether I could find Daniel without logging in. From the Birth, Marriage & Death, including Parish screen I selected Ireland as my collection focus and opened the card catalogue. Ireland, Catholic Parish Registers 1655-1915 is the last collection on the second page, so I hope I've saved you some time!

If you want to just browse, you'll need to know which diocese you're searching for to use Ancestry. I'm looking for Ferns. You then have the option to enter the parish name and year range - for me, it's Tomacork and 1785-1845. However if you just hit the year range it takes you to a page asking you to sign up for a free trial, which I don't need. I still wanted to see how far I could go in searching records which are available free elsewhere. So don't browse if you haven't got an Ancestry sub, you need to actively search.

So going back to the screen above I entered my search. I found that entering the exact diocese brought up a few results but not the one I wanted - but if I didn't enter the diocese I got 240 results and none of them were the one I wanted. That told me that I couldn't search baptisms by parents. So if I hadn't known that I was looking for the father of Anne, I'd have had to browse, just as with the NLI records. So I searched for Anne, and...

The first record! But to check, I hovered over View Record, and...

The right record (though Mary's name in the original is Costolough, not Cossolough). And that's as far as you can go without signing in. I don't know if you can go further by opening a free account because I don't need one. But I wanted to check the quality of the image, so I signed in, and here it is:
It's a slightly lighter image that the NLI's, but (peering at the screen) I think it's not quite such good quality. While using Ancestry, I found it fairly easy to navigate around the record set, so that will save me time researching these records in the future. If I hadn't got an Ancestry sub, I could use it as an index and get the images from the NLI. Or is there an easier way?


FMP offers its Irish Catholic parish registers for free. Again without signing in, I went to the Ireland Birth, Marriage, Death & Parish Records screen. But when selecting the record set, I found that FMP has separated the baptisms, marriages and deaths into three different record sets, so unlike with the other two sites, I had to choose.
Luckily, I knew I was looking for a baptism. But this time I got zero results. Once again, it was lucky I knew Daniel and Mary's daughter's name. Searching for Anne, I got zero results again. Was this because I'd gone straight to the record set, which is a method of searching FMP recommended by several genealogists with much more experience than me?
Back to the Search screen, and selecting only Births & Baptisms as a subcategory, no record set:

And there was Anne, the first record.

Clicking on the image icon brought me to a register/sign in dialogue box. I know that FMP Ireland has promised that the registers will be 'free to search, forever', but there's no mention of whether the images are free to view. Again, I don't want to open a new account just to check this because I already have a subscription to FMP. (How do I afford these subs, you may ask? I grab the special offers.) So I signed in, and here's the image:

It looks very similar to the NLI one. You can navigate using the < and > arrows, but there's no jumping to a page as there is with Ancestry.

So there you have it - three ways of accessing the NLI's Irish Catholic parish registers. Which will I use in the future? Obviously, it's a huge help to be able to search, though you need to know who you're looking for first (eg the daughter's name, not the mother's or father's, in this case).

I think I prefer the NLI site for scrolling through the images, though, as I said, I'll be using full screen. But for jumping around the records, Ancestry's the easiest. I suppose, in the end, it's a very personal choice.

And I'm hugely grateful to all three providers for making these superb records accessible.

It's a long post, so thanks for staying with me. There's so much more to say about these records! 


I'd love to know your thoughts if you've used the Irish Catholic parish registers via any of these sites. Have you got any favourites, or tips? Is there a clever shortcut I've missed?

Irish genealogy webinars

PS: There are some free Irish genealogy webinars taking place this week:

Family Search is hosting two sessions a day on Thursday 17th and Friday 18th. Full details over at Claire Santry's unmissable Irish Genealogy News blog.

FMP is holding its webinar tomorrow (Tuesday 15th) at 1600 GMT and the link is available here (this works for the UK; please check for your own area).
Thursday 17 March: Where is That? Finding and Understanding Places in Ireland. Starts 11am MST; 6pm GMT.

Thursday 17 March:
Ireland & Census and Census Substitutes. Starts 1pm MST; 8pm GMT.

Friday 18 March: Ireland Catholic Church Records. Starts 11am MST; 6pm GMT.

Friday 18 March: Irish Protestant Records. Starts 1pm MST; 8pm GMT. - See more at:
Thursday 17 March: Where is That? Finding and Understanding Places in Ireland. Starts 11am MST; 6pm GMT.

Thursday 17 March:
Ireland & Census and Census Substitutes. Starts 1pm MST; 8pm GMT.

Friday 18 March: Ireland Catholic Church Records. Starts 11am MST; 6pm GMT.

Friday 18 March: Irish Protestant Records. Starts 1pm MST; 8pm GMT. - See more at:


  1. An excellent comparison! You have raised some important issues: browse and search facilities, image quality and ease of use.

    The map search on the NLI 'Catholic Parish Registers at the NLI' website is easy to use. Switching between 'Show Diocese' and 'Show Counties' displays the Catholic and civil jurisdictions respectively. Zoom in for parish level detail.

  2. Thanks for your comment, and for the tip!


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