Accessing Civil Birth, Death and Marriage Records 1864-1922

Civil or state registration of all births, deaths and marriages began in Ireland on 1st January 1864. Non-Catholic marriages, including Protestant and Jewish marriages as well as those conducted in a government registry office, were required in law to be registered from the 1st April 1845 - read more.

Before the advent of the Internet and online databases the only source of this information for pre-1922 births, marriages and deaths was the General Register Office, Northern Ireland [GRONI] in  Belfast or the General Register Office, Republic of Ireland in Dublin. Below you will find details of how to access this information in the Registry Offices and on the relevant online databases. Note that the information below relates to pre-1922 events only. All births, deaths and marriages registered from 1922 onwards can only be obtained from GRONI, Belfast or, in the case of marriages, from Local Registry Offices. Note that, at the moment, pre-1922 marriage certificates are not available at Local Registry Offices.

General Register Office, Republic of Ireland [GROI]

At the moment, you can obtain a photocopy of the actual entry in a birth, death or marriage register by visiting the GROI in Lower Abbey Street, Dublin or by contacting the GROI office in Roscommon. Both offices still use the original civil registration indexes.

The actual books [red for births, green for marriages and black for deaths] containing these indexes can be searched manually at the Lower Abbey Street Office in Dublin. These indexes will provide:

  • the name of the person;
  • the registration district where the event was registered; [Note that this is the Superintendent Registrar's District i.e the Poor Law Union]
  • the year [and quarter of the year] when it was registered;
  • the volume and page number of the particular register containing the entry of the birth, death or marriage.

Armed with this information you will be able to obtain a verification of the entry. The verification that you will be given in Abbey Street is a photocopy of the entry in the register.

Up to five verifications can be obtained per visit. Any extra verifications will be posted to you later. One of the advantages of using Lower Abbey Street is that, at the time of writing, visits do not require prior arrangement, you simply turn up on the day.

This same information from the indexes can be used to obtain a verification [photocopy] of an entry in a register from the GROI at Roscommon either by phone or post. However, there is a waiting list for enquiries to Roscommon. Roscommon can also supply certified birth certificates.

Note that the GROI only holds copies of birth, death and marriage registers for Northern Ireland counties up to 1921.

For up to date details on procedures and fees at GROI go to www.groireland.ie. It is important to check procedures and fees, since there are likely to be changes from time to time.

General Register Office, Northern Ireland [GRONI]

At the moment, if you have sufficient details of a pre-1922 birth or death you can contact the GRONI in Belfast by phone or letter for a verification. In my experience it is better to phone.

The following information will normally be sufficient to obtain a verification of a birth entry:

  • the name of the child;
  • the names of both parents, including the maiden name of the mother;
  • the year when the child was born or the birth registered;
  • where the birth was registered and, ideally, the actual place of birth. At the very least, you will need to know the Local Registrar's District where the birth was registered. Knowing the Superintendent Registrar's District is not sufficient.

The following information will normally be sufficient to obtain a verification of a death entry:

  • the name of deceased;
  • the age of the deceased at death;
  • the Local Registrar's District where the death was registered,
  • the occupation of the deceased [if known];
  • where the deceased died [if known].

Until recently all pre-1922 marriage registers were held in the Local District Council Registrars' Offices where it was possible to obtain either a verification of the entry in the register [a typed transcript], or a certified birth, death or marriage certificate which contained a copy of the actual entry. At present this information can only be obtained from GRONI, Belfast.

The following information will normally be sufficient to obtain a verification of a marriage entry:

  • the names of the bride and groom;
  • the year when the marriage took place;
  • where the marriage took place - i.e. the name of church and the Local Registrar's District where the marriage was registered.

If you do not have the above information to obtain a verification of a birth, marriage or death from GRONI, then you can visit the GRONI in Belfast to view their computerised marriage indexes. Note that GRONI, Belfast do not use the same indexes as GROI, Dublin and Roscommon.

Visits to search the indexes in GRONI, Belfast have to be arranged in advance. Having found, what you think, is the appropriate entry in the index, you can then request a verification of that entry or a copy of the marriage certificate.

For up to date details on procedures and fees at GRONI go to www.groni.gov.uk/index/family-history.htm. It is important to check procedures and fees, since there are likely to be changes from time to time.

Ireland, Civil Registration Indexes

At the beginning of 2009 a database of the civil registration indexes for all of Ireland became available on the Church of Latter Day Saints [LDS] website This database has been created from the indexes which the Mormons microfilmed in the 1950s. The section of the database relating to Ireland is known as the Ireland, Civil Registration Indexes 1845-1958. Note, however, that this database does not include the indexes for Northern Ireland counties after 1921.

The Ireland, Civil Registration Indexes website will provide you with the date when a birth, marriage or death was registered, the district in which it was registered, the volume and page number of the register in which the event is recorded and, in the case of deaths, the age and estimated year of birth of the deceased. Note that the registration district given is the Superintendent Registrar’s District, not the Local Registrar’s District where the event would have been registered. Also note that from 1878 onwards, the date includes the quarter of the year when the event was registered.

The information from the Ireland, Civil Registration Indexes is sufficient to obtain verifications of a birth, marriage or death entry in the civil registers from the GROI at Roscommon or in Abbey Street, Dublin. Note, however, that GRONI, Belfast no longer use these original indexes.

See examples of searches for the registration of a civil marriage, birth and death in the Ireland, Civil Registration Indexes.

Online Databases

Most people researching their ancestors, pre-1922, are not normally interested in birth, marriage and death certificates - per se - they simply want the details of the event. Before the advent of the Internet and online databases the only source of this information for pre-1922 events was the General Register Office in either Belfast or Dublin or a microfilm or copy of an entry in a church register.

Since the 1980s a number of websites offering searchable, online databases of marriages, births and deaths have appeared on the Internet. These include the databases at the rootsireland.ie website. These databases of marriages, births/baptisms and some deaths/burials have been compiled by the IFHF County Genealogy Centres. The centre relevant to North and Mid Antrim is the Ulster Historical Foundation. Here you will be able to search for civil marriages. This database should contain all civil marriages for the area. The database also contains some births and deaths. Unfortunately, for North and Mid Antrim, none of these are civil births or deaths. The births and deaths have been entered from church records and are patchy. Initially you can search the indexes of this site free and the details of a particular record can be purchased on a pay-per-view basis.

See example of searches for a marriage and a birth in the Ulster Historical Foundation online databases. See example of searches for a marriage and births at the IFHF website at rootsireland.ie.

Another useful website, especially for marriages, is Emerald Ancestors. It would appear to have an index to civil marriages in Northern Ireland, plus some church marriages. There is a free search which gives the full name of one partner and the first name of the other partner. The next search level, where a fee is required, provides the exact date of the marriage and where the marriage took place. See example of such a search. If you want the full details of the marriage from Emerald Ancestors, you will have to pay a further fee.

Family History Centres

Another alternative venue where microfilm copies of some of the original entries in the civil registers can be viewed is the Mormon Family History Centre in Racecourse Road, Derry. Note that these microfilm copies only cover the following years:

  • birth registers 1864 to first quarter of 1881,
  • marriage registers 1845–70,
  • death registers 1864–70.

The centre also holds the microfilm copies of the Ireland, Civil Registration Indexes which are now available in database format on the Internet. There is another Family History Centre on the Holywood Road in Belfast. However, as far as I know, it appears to be out of commission at the moment.

The Family History Centre at Racecourse Road, Derry is only open at certain times during the week and you will need to contact them to book a time. Their telephone number is 028 7135 0179.

Conclusion

The availability of online databases containing records of births, deaths and marriages and the Ireland, Civil Registration Indexes has meant that there is now less need to visit either Belfast or Dublin to manually search the indexes. With regard to "copies" of a birth or marriage entry in the civil registers various options are available ranging from a full birth certificate from GRONI or GROI to a database entry from the various online databases. Strictly speaking, the database entries and the typed verifications do not have the same status as a photocopy of the actual entry in a register. However, in most instances the database entry and the typed verification are usually adequate. Obviously the choice that you make will depend on your circumstances, comparative cost and how quickly you want the information.

Depending on how much information you want, entries in church registers, usually give sufficient information about a birth, marriage or death. This is particularly the case with protestant marriages where there is virtually no difference between a marriage entry in the church marriage register and the civil marriage register. Ideally, in the case of births, it is useful to see both the church and civil entry of a birth. Each of them provides slightly different information. For example, with Roman Catholic baptisms there can be extra information such as the names of sponsors and, occasionally, a note against the baptism of a child giving the details of their marriage at a later date. On the other hand many Roman Catholic registers do not give precise details of the father's place of residence at the time of a child's birth - civil registers normally do.

Copyright 2011 W. Macafee.