Guide to General Register Office of Ireland
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Research in the General Register Office, and Overseas Applications
There is an option for personal research in the Search Room of the General Register Office, which is particularly availed of by genealogists and others requiring the quickest possible access to data in vital records. The fees charged are £1.50 per five-year search for one entry in the indexes of births or marriages or deaths, or £12 per day for an unrestricted general search in all indexes for the convenience of more frequent users. Thereafter an additional £1.50 is payable for each photocopy registration, so that it can be seen that costs can soon mount up, and indeed an increase in fees has been in the offing for some time. It should be noted that direct access is allowed only to the indexes of births, marriages and deaths, as unfortunately it is official policy that the registers themselves or even copies of same should not be made accessible to the public, hence the necessity to purchase copy registrations. Attested certificates for official purposes cost £5.50 each including search fee, but in general genealogists prefer to carry out their own research in the Search Room and the cheaper £1.50 copy registrations are suitable for most genealogical purposes.
The indexes of births, marriages and deaths are bound in red, green and blue respectively and while formerly on open access to those who paid for a general search, they are now most inconveniently held behind a desk and must be handed out by staff, leading to queues and delays. The indexes are a single volume yearly until 1877, but are divided into four quarterly sections (bound in one or two volumes) from 1878, so it is very important to note that from that year four indexes, to 31 March, 30 June, 30 September and 31 December respectively, must be searched. Births registered late are at the back of the yearly indexes, and it is important to remember to check these also. There follows a summary of the main features of the three classes of indexes:
The birth indexes give year, and quarter from 1878, name of child, Registration District, volume and page in the register ( from 1903 to 1927 and from 1966 to date the mother's maiden name and date of birth also appear).
The marriage indexes give year, and quarter from 1878, name of person married (the bride is indexed separately from the groom under her maiden name), Registration District, volume and page in the register (from 1903 to 1927 and from 1966 to date the partner's surname and date of marriage also appear).
The death indexes give year, and quarter from 1878, name of deceased, age, Registration District, volume and page in the register (from 1903 to 1927 and from 1966 to date the date of death and marital condition also appear).
Records of births, marriages and deaths in Northern Ireland from 1922 onwards are held in the General Register Office in Belfast.
Because access to the registers is not permitted, thorough acquaintance with the layout of the indexes is required, and the information in them should be copied carefully to ensure that the correct copy registration can be ordered. Remember again that the Registration District is the same as the Poor Law Union in which your ancestor's place of residence was located (PLU=RD), and the relevant Poor Law Union can be identified by reference to the Townlands Index 1851. Knowing the Registration District in which a birth, marriage or death took place is another way of being able to eliminate irrelevant entries when searching the indexes. Of course if an entry cannot be located in a given Registration District, identify the names of adjoining Districts (see list arranged by county) and check entries in these also.
A good knowledge of the possible variants of a surname is required, and in some cases different initial letters as well as spelling variants need to be checked in order to ensure that a relevant entry is not overlooked, for example, Carr/Kerr, O'Connor/Connor, MacMahon/Mahon. For further information on surname variants, see Edward MacLysaght's Surnames of Ireland and Matheson's Surnames in Ireland. It is also advisable to treat stated years of birth as approximate only, and to be prepared to search the indexes for some years before and after. When searching for individuals with more common surnames in the earlier indexes in particular, one may find multiple birth entries needing to be checked out. Where more than one entry of possible relevance is found in any of the indexes, there is no alternative to the expensive process of ordering copy registrations of each systematically, in the hope of finding the correct one by a process of elimination (the humorously-titled 'lucky dip' system).
The refusal of access to even copy registers of births, marriages and deaths in Ireland is rendered all the more inexplicable by the fact that users of Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints Family History Centres internationally may gain access for free to microfilm copies of these records. It should also be noted that the Latter-Day Saints, world leaders in the application of information technology to genealogy, have computerised a portion of Irish births from 1864 to 1870 which can be searched freely via their FamilySearch website (again, one must recommend as a matter of urgency the completion of an Irish project to make vital and other records available via the Internet).
Of course not all of those abroad may have access to or wish to travel to a Latter-Day Saints Family History Centre, and there is also the option of commissioning searches in General Register Office records by post. Payment is accepted by the General Register Office in some foreign currencies, including US Dollars and Sterling, and it is probably advisable to provide details of the birth, marriage or death records you require and make an initial enquiry as to exact cost before sending payment (address letters to General Register Office, Lombard Street East, Dublin 2, Ireland). General Register Office staff will typically search the indexes for an event for a given year and two years before and after, and if more extensive research is required it can of course be commissioned from private professional genealogists and record searchers.