Search our Archive


Patrick Nolan: Seeking out specialty records

So far in this series we have discussed the living memory within your own family; records compiled by the State relating to the birth, marriage and death of citizens and the census records, of which only 1901 and 1911 are currently available.

So far in this series we have discussed the living memory within your own family; records compiled by the State relating to the birth, marriage and death of citizens and the census records, of which only 1901 and 1911 are currently available.

We went on to consider church records, both written and headstones last week. There are those who consider that this is it! Full stop! There are no other records to be found or consulted. If you have not located your ancestors in these records give up the chase, is their advice.

Let me assure you that the reality is very different. What is true is that there are very few records other than those we have listed already which offer what is known among family history professions as “universal capture.” This expression indicates that other records are limited and finite as to time, or geo-specific as to place.

For example, Callan Town has a list of Sovereign, Burgesses and Freemen but of Callan only, while the Miller Robinson papers in the Royal Society of Antiquities have a list of Castlecomer House Tenants and Owners between 1812 and 1816.

Other records are confined to a designated profession or trade – the list of Employees of the Irish Revenue in 1709, those who applied for a spirit licence in 1831, while less fortunate people are included in the List of Women Tried in Kilkenny Courts and Transported to New South Wales between 1790 and 1828.

This week we have attempted to indicate some of these sources and their current locations. The full list of “Sources Documents and Records,” as compiled by us in Irish Origins Research Agency over a number of years runs to several pages and it is not feasible to include them all here, but copies of it can be obtained by emailing

During any individual’s lifetime he has contact with “officialdom” of state, church and other quasi-official agencies in many different ways. These contacts or interactions each generate a record of some description, providing evidence of their existence – at least. Sometimes with luck they can also provide pointers to – if not even details of – their age, social or economic status, commercial or professional position, occupation or occasionally an unfortunate run in with the law.

Some of these events and the records relating to them are listed below. This list is not exhaustive; rather, let it rather act as a springboard for your mind, suggesting other possible places to look and items to examine.

Events that may be recorded

Birth: Family Bibles are more popular in Protestant families; newspaper announcements, post 1830s, although they may provide no information as to the mother’s maiden name or that of the child, typically “To the wife of John Martin a son”; state records from 1864 as already discussed.

Baptism: Church records. Many and increasingly available in the County Genealogical centres. Earliest is Wexford Town, 1671. Start dates vary widely by county, to a lesser degree by religion and also from large towns to remote countryside. Circa mid-1820s is a good average start date.

First Communion: Some few individual churches do have records. There is a limited spread, but always ask. Spoons and other engraved gifts were popular in middle 19th to early 20th century – usually of silver in upper social classes. Photographs, from as early as 1910 onwards, may show family members and the sponsors of the child.

Confirmation: These are of very limited existence, but ask just in case.

Schooling: Primary schools existed from 1831. There is a good supply of roll books from about the 1870s but access and survival rates vary. A few are held locally. The ‘State’ Collection is not indexed and is held in the National Archives. Class photographs were popular as early as the 1930s.

Don’t confuse school rolls with the School Registers, which are held in the National Archives. The latter are the “Department’s file” of dealings with the school in question down the years. Can be useful for individual school teacher’s career paths and general details of the school itself but rarely for individual pupils.

Secondary schools in Kilkenny have differing start dates – i.e. St Kieran’s from 1782. The records are held in the school. Kilkenny College (St John’s College) records beginning in 1780 held in TCD. Loreto (1868) and Presentation (1887) are both held in their respective schools but the survival is patchy.

University: Trinity graduates and students from 1593 to 1847 are listed in Alumni Dublinenses. Other records date from 1846 to 1860, and from then to the present. The other Irish universities Queens in Belfast, UCC, UCD and UCG date from 1852 (circa) only.

Marriage: This is perhaps the single most useful record you can locate. Church of Ireland marriages are recorded by the State from 1845 to date, Roman Catholics from 1864 to date.

Records for the county of Kilkenny are held in the County Clinic, at James’s Green. Records for all the county are held nationally in The Irish Life Centre, Dublin. Births for the entire country from 1864 and marriages from the 1920s – to date but they are continuing to upload them – are currently accessible via an internal system in the various county clinics or equivalent.

Church marriage records are mostly held at parish level and are usually made available to visitors. But note that RC Church documents are not “public records” and are not available – as of right – but by Grace and Favour of each parish priest. So ask nicely.

Still there are reports of occasional difficulties in some Munster (Arch-diocese of Cashel) parishes.

Some Marriage Settlements are in the Registry of Deeds, Dublin. Marriage Licence Bonds for the period 1669 to 1823 which were in the National Archives were copied by Carrigan prior to their destruction and are in St Kieran’s College.

Other resources are newspaper announcements as early as 1780, family photographs from circa the 1860s, family Bibles and family photographs from late 19th century.

Land Ownership or Simple Occupation: The Registry of Deeds from 1709 and circa 1780s onwards for Catholics. Estate records – dates and level of detail vary greatly – mostly in the Genealogical Office, National Library. Early map makers and travel writers from the 1760s. Registry of Trees (tall trees were required for masts for The Royal Navy) were first compiled in 1767 and from time to time up to 1911.

Names of County Kilkenny landlords 1775. Commission of enquiry into losses suffered by His Majesty’s loyal subjects as a result of the Recent Rebellion of 1798 (NA). Kilkenny Freeholders 1809. Grand Jury Presentment Papers 1825 – with gaps up to the 1880s. Elsewhere some counties i.e. Carlow from 1813. Tithe Composition Applotment Books circa 1830. Griffiths Primary Valuation 1850. Land Valuation office records from 1855/6. Land Registration system from 1855 (Torrens System). Owners of land of one acre and upwards 1876 (published book). Most are available in the County Library at John’s Green.

Occupational records

Army: Some details from 1660 for officers; other ranks from 1815. All pre-1922 Army records are now UK based and offer limited access.

Legal records: Kings Inns admission papers from 1607-1867 IMC. Incorporated Law Society from 1852. Justices of the Peace – 1830 (et al.) lists.

Constabulary: 1840 list in Parliamentary Report.

Clergy: The Catholic Directory, annually from 1836 Church of Ireland directories 1814, 17 and 18, 24, 27 and 1830, 1841, 42, 43 and each year from 1862.

Political: Several published books and lists.

Publicans: Spirit Licence Applications 1830 – listing of those under £10 valuation

Railway employees: Railway Record Society has collected many such documents while Irish Rail (CIE) has also a good, albeit unsorted and not indexed collection in Westland Row, Dublin.

Trade directories: Kilkenny is covered by Lucas 1788, Bassetts 1824, Slaters 1845 et al. Numerous issues after 1850 – Slater’s, Egan’s etc.

Poor Law records: Minute books and various records of account. Good survival rate. Held by Local Authorities in the County Library – Local Studies Section in John’s Green covering the period early 1840s to 1890s.

Convicts: National Archives – look under courts, jails and many Government reports, especially Fenian and Young Ireland revolts.

Transportation: From the 1830s to 1865 frequent reports and commissions of enquiry, only rarely with individual names. But cross-check with Appeal Papers in NA which are now computerised.

Passports: Mostly from late 1920 only; very limited access other than for in law-related queries.

Census: In effect only 1901 and 1911 are available. Very minor remnants of the 1831 records, for small parts of South Kilkenny and Inistioge are extant in the NA with copies also available in Rothe House.

Death: State records from 1864; some (very limited) hospital, nursing home and doctors records have survived. Newspapers – national and local for obituary, inserted death announcements and sometimes news items – in this latter case disappointingly little of useful family information. Coroner’s Court Records – in the event of sudden or accidental death. Termination of employment records may be extant dependent on employer. Cessation of tax payments, social insurance. Payment of Death benefit (note individual tax records are not normally available outside the family.) Family Bible or other family-based records such as Mortuary Cards.

Some Catholic parishes now have a register entitled Liber Defunctorum – literally, The Death Book, which lists those who have received the Last Rites. In addition to the name of the deceased also can supply the age and most valuably where buried. Mostly date to the late 1930s only.

Burial: Gravestone inscriptions can date from the 1730s* with a very few earlier. A number of individual cemetery records have now been compiled and indexed at Rothe House. Check also for locally published parish histories, some of which have indexes to cemeteries. (*Note: monuments within churches to significant people may be very much older.) Long-established undertaker firms may have records but very few date prior to the 20th century. Some city cemeteries in Dublin have burial registers apart from headstones. Many Church of Ireland churches have burial registers while very few Catholic examples exist apart from the 20th century Liber Defunctorum.

Wills or Testamentary Documentation: Originals prior to about 1905 were mostly destroyed. Check the NA card index. Wills Book with limited details of Letters of Administration granted after 1858 onwards are in the National Archives. Apart from this index to them the wills themselves did not survive the 1921 fire. Consistorial Courts of Ossory 1536–1858, book published by Phillimore record the wills that were laid before the church authorities. Consistorial Administration Bonds 1848 –1858 survive. An index only to Consistorial Administration Bonds is available for 1660 to 1857. Abstracts from Prerogative Court’s records, book published by Bethams. Ossory wills, 1660-1803 compiled by Cannon Carrigan. Wills in the Registry of Deeds are the subject of a useful book by P.B. Eustace.

Look carefully and read fully!

When approached in a certain manner, it is sometimes possible to glean information or at least pointers to information from a thorough perusal of many surviving items. A careful examination by a skilled genealogist can generate a great deal from what at first glance is a seemingly mundane item. Consider, for example, you unearth a crumpled newspaper cutting which reads:

Mrs Josephine Lynch with her son Dr William Joseph Martin arrived in New York today abroad the SS “Atlantic” from Queenstown, Ireland after its maiden voyage taking only six days and 11 hours for the journey. Dr Martin is joining the successful medical practice of his well-known cousin, Dr Francis L McGrath M.D. (Cutting from a New York paper dated 16th August but no year is shown.)

In a court case, when questioning a witness it is first essential to establish that he was at the scene of the incident. So too in family research it is first necessary to determine the date of the source you are examining, in this case the paper cutting.

First establishing the year. The name “Queenstown” only applied to Cobh between 1849 and 1922/3, which gives us the first time frame, which is quite broad. The voyage duration, six days and 11 hours, was first achieved in the late 1890s, narrowing the possible date still more, while this ship’s maiden voyage took place in 1897 ,which we learn by consulting Lloyds of London Shipping lists.

Her name, Mrs Josephine Lynch – what does that tell us? She departed from Queenstown, so it is reasonable (but no more than reasonable – she could be from another country) to assume she was Irish. She is a widow, Mrs Josephine Lynch (most likely twice) as her son’s surname is Martin. So we are seeking a marriage of a widow (Martin) who married a Mr Lynch. She previously had married a Mr Martin; how many years ago? As her son is a doctor we can assume he is in his late 20s at least, suggesting he was born in the 1870s. Of course, he could be 15/20 years older but unlikely as he seems to be beginning his career.

Find his birth certificate – given he was born after 1864, when records began – the son of a Mr (first name unknown) Martin and mother’s name Josephine. His birth certificate will provide the maiden name of Josephine and the first or Christian name of his father (her first husband) and also his (the father’s) profession. Having secured his birth certificate, it is a simple matter to secure his parents’ wedding details.

His cousin – Dr Francis L McGrath MD, not described as Josephine’s nephew – provides pointers to one of his paternal or maternal grandparents. So the McGrath is from his father’s side of the family. Other factors of a less straightforward nature should also be considered. Why is it Josephine and her son, not the other way round – what does that tell us?

These 10 short lines from a newspaper, used properly, can lead to six months of research and discovery. This approach to all clues that come our way has been the basis of many successful family searches by Irish Origins Research Agency over the years. The process we apply has had us dubbed “time detectives.” Once learned and applied with practice, it may generate considerable success in your own family history quest.

When you have exhausted the people-based records we must next consider the daunting question of land-based records, which will be the topic of next week’s article.

More News

Buy the e-paper of the Donegal Democrat, Donegal People's Press, Donegal Post and Inish Times here for instant access to Donegal's premier news titles.

Keep up with the latest news from Donegal with our daily newsletter featuring the most important stories of the day delivered to your inbox every evening at 5pm.