8 July saw the launch of the National Library of Ireland’s (NLI) Catholic Parish Registers website. As with any new launch patience was important in the early hours. Heavy traffic did slow the system down initially. However, I eventually managed to connect with the website that evening.
I have now spent a few very satisfying hours looking for the records for my County Mayo ancestors. These are my early thoughts.
- Obvious really, but you do need to have an idea where your ancestors were from, and from there the Catholic parish. This does not necessarily correspond to the Civil Parish. It also pays to be aware of adjacent parishes and also any parish boundary changes. The NLI Parish Registers website provides a helpful link to help identify the appropriate parish and there are other websites and books which perform similar functions. In cases where you are unsure of the location of your ancestors Griffiths Valuation and surname distribution patterns may provide clues. But if like me you have ancestors called Murphy, the use of these can be limited. Fortunately I know the area of East Mayo from which most of my ancestors hailed although a couple are proving elusive.
- There are limitations in terms of date coverage. The registers start from the 1740s/50s in some areas of Ireland and generally end in around 1880, although there are some exceptions to this cut-off point. Registers in County Mayo tend to start later. The County Mayo parishes I am interested in illustrate this. Kilbeagh baptisms range from 1855-1881, marriages 1845-1866 and a different marriage set on a separate film for 1855-1881; Kilmovee has 1854-1881 and 1855-1881 (not the same entries) baptisms, with marriages 1824-1848 and 1854-1880; Knock baptisms range from 1868-1881 and marriages from 1875-1881. So not a great deal of coverage in terms of years to follow a family generationally, and the baptisms and marriages timeframes do not correspond exactly. Relating this to one branch of my family, my grandpa, John Callaghan, was born in 1895 in Carrowbeg near Kilkelly, County Mayo. His parents Michael Callaghan and Mary Murphy were married in 1883 and his eldest sibling was born in 1884. None of these events fall within the dates of the Kilmovee registers. I can follow his mother’s family (she was born in around 1856), from Sonvolaun, in the Kilmovee registers. But his father was born in around 1848 and possibly came from Shanveghera Townland (Knock), for which there is no coverage for the relevant period. So the registers have been of limited help here.
- There are 56 parishes across Ireland which are not covered – fortunately this does not affect the parishes of my ancestors which all feature to some extent, although maybe perhaps not for the years I would want. Ballycroy in County Mayo is an example where there is no coverage.
- The registers cover mainly baptisms and marriages. So if you are seeking burials you are probably going to be out of luck. This is the case for all the known Catholic parishes of my ancestors. In my quick scan of County Mayo I only found Kilfian, Killasser and Kilmoremoy (which also falls into Sligo) had burials.
- Christian names are in Latin. Can be a bit daunting at first but there are websites which help with this.
- The names in the registers are not searchable by keyword. So it is old-fashioned page by page trawl through the scanned microfilmed document, although you can narrow the date parameters if necessary. To be honest I love looking through the complete register. It gives me more of a feel for the community in which my ancestors lived. I also have an indication as to surname spelling variations. It also means I am not reliant on someone else and their possible omissions and errors in transcribing or indexing. You can fast track the process if you have Ancestry access using their “Ireland, Selection of Catholic Baptisms 1742-1881”, “Ireland, Selection of Catholic Marriages and Banns 1742-1884” and “Ireland, Selection of Catholic Parish Deaths 1756-1881”. Be warned though the Latin name issue can create problems if you do use this method. A search for my paternal great grandfather Patrick Cassidy under is Anglicised name does not come up on this Ancestry search. But he can be found under “Patritius Cassidy.” So consider wildcard searches.
- I love the fact that for baptisms mother’s maiden names and sponsors (godparents) are included in the registers. These can provide further family connection pointers.
- One of the Kilbeagh Marriage Registers provided an “impedimenta” column providing additional information such as degrees of relationship, so again useful follow up clues.
- Finally it does help to know the history behind the records to explain why things are the way they are. In this respect I find “Irish Church Records” edited by James G Ryan a useful, clear-written reference.
Yes, in common with other similar projects there are some pages where writing is faint and difficult to read. One page I looked at in Kilbeagh had what looked like a leaf, but was probably a giant ink-splodge, obliterating part of the page. Not great if that is the page you are interested in.
But I am overjoyed that such a fantastic, free genealogy resource is now available for those with Irish Catholic ancestry. And the site is one to which I shall return frequently as I try to find out more about my County Mayo roots, including my pre-famine Gavan and Knavesy (and its numerous variants) ancestors, for whom I have still to identify origins.
Finally, to date the identified County Mayo surnames relevant to my direct-line ancestry are:
 http://www.swilson.info/ – love the soundex search
 The Irish Times website http://www.irishtimes.com/ancestor/placenames/ and “Tracing your Irish Ancestors” – John Grenham
 See the Irish Times website surname distribution feature http://www.irishtimes.com/ancestor/surname/
 Some time ago there was a fantastic East Mayo website which had transcripts of the parish registers from parishes within the area, including the later Kilmovee baptisms and marriages. This has long since gone. But it was a great help with my early Kilmovee searches. Thank goodness for the Internet Archive Wayback Machine!
 I use http://www.from-ireland.net/irish-names/latin-names-in-english/ and http://comp.uark.edu/~mreynold/recint7.htm and http://homepages.rootsweb.ancestry.com/~oel/latingivennames.html For a general guide to Latin words in Irish Catholic Parish Registers I use http://www.irish-genealogy-toolkit.com/latin-irish-parish-registers.html
 Kilbeagh Marriages Microfilm 04224 / 16
 Kilbeagh Marriages March 1859 Microfilm 04224 / 15
 Includes Knafesy, Kneafsey, Kneafsy, Nacey, Nasey, Neacy, Neafsey and Neasy to name but a few