Always worth a look..

With the free and indexed historic Irish civil birth records now available online at Irish Genealogy (, there has been a tendency to go there as the first port of call for events after 1864 – they are quicker to search than parish records and the information and penmanship, in the main, is much clearer.

However, a recent case demonstrated the benefit of also examining both civil and parish records, where possible.

(Note: In the example below the names and dates have been changed).

We were searching the birth of a James Downey – circa 1873 – in the Kilmallock registration district. Sure enough, we quickly identified the record we were after: born to parents Peter Downey and Mary Downey, formerly Purcell.

Naturally our next step was to search for Peter and Mary’s marriage in the preceding years. No Sign. Not entirely unusual, as sometimes marriages aren’t registered with the civil authorities, and although parish registers survived for the area in which they lived and neighbouring parishes, there was no sign in those either.

At this point we started to spread our net wider to try and learn more about Peter and Mary, so we sought out the corresponding parish baptismal record for James to see who the sponsors were, in case this offered pointers in relation to the families of Peter and Mary.

Lo and behold when we viewed the parish baptismal record, there was an annotation on the baptism (ill.) indicating that James was in fact the illegitimate son of Peter Downey and Mary Purcell. Therefore, our searches for their marriage were always going to be in vain as no marriage prior to James’ baptism existed.

Parish records by the nature are far more varied than their civil counterparts, which are by their nature prescriptive in the information they record. One will often see annotation by priests which record detail that would never appear on a civil record, anything from details regarding legitimacy, consanguinity in the case of marriages; we have even seen priest record details of emigrations beside entries in registers.

So while the ease and convenience of searching the civil records has put them to the fore for the post 1864 period, there is always merit, where possible, to review the corresponding parish entry as well, just in case it contains any extra nuggets of genealogical gold.

By Stephen Peirce

Stephen Peirce

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