One of the most important collections held in the Public Record Office of Northern Ireland is of church records.
Of special interest to anyone tracing their family tree are the
registers of baptisms, marriages and burials. Many of these for the nine
counties of Ulster have been copied by PRONI, or have been deposited
In order to identify which records exist in a particular area
researchers should consult the Guide to Church Records. This guide
lists, alphabetically, churches of all the main denominations who have
records deposited at PRONI, and is available on the Search Room shelves.
The Public Record Office does not hold records for all churches in
Ulster and, in some cases, these may still be in local custody.
The Guide to Church Records is also an invaluable method of discovering
the name of the parish to which a particular church belongs. The parish
was originally an ecclesiastical administrative unit which became the
basic geographical unit in early census records, land surveys and tax
Anyone interested in finding out the name of the townland to which a
particular church belongs should consult the Alphabetical Index to the
Townlands and Towns, Parishes and Baronies of Ireland, which is also
available on the Search Room shelves.
The quality of the records will vary from denomination to denomination,
and in some cases from church to church. For example, Catholic baptismal
records usually include the following information:
date; child's name; father's name; mother's maiden name; name of
godparents; residence of parents.
Church of Ireland baptismal records, however, usually supply only the
child's name; father's name; the mother's christian name; the name of the officiating clergyman.
It is useful to note that most of Church of Ireland clergy recorded burials as well as baptisms and marriages, unlike the Catholic clergy. These COI burial registers include the name, age and townland of the deceased and often include local families of different denominations.
Many of those who emigrated were not land owners, or even tenants of land or house property. It can be profitable to start your research with the parish registers even if your ancestor was born, married, or died after civil registration started.
The parish priest is the custodian of his parish records and practically all of the original registers are held in the parishes of their origin. The National Liberary in Dublin holds microfilm copies of most of these registers.
Most Catholic registers started during the early part of the 19th century; but there are many parishes with later starting dates. Catholic parish records usually consist of baptismal and marriage registers.
Some parishes, generally urban, have registers dating from the last part of the 18th century. It is important to note that some Catholics were buried in Church of Ireland burial grounds.