Originally posted in my blog for the In-Depth Genealogist – see here.
Certificates of birth, marriage or death seem almost to have been designed for genealogists. They are the gold standard in proof of an event in an ancestor’s life, and also make a nice artifact in your collection. In Ireland, registration of births, deaths and marriages started in 1864 except for non-Catholic marriages which start in 1845. The agency with responsibility for providing these records is the General Register office, which is based in Roscommon, Ireland and is part of our national Health Service. Their website is www.groireland.ie.
What you can get: You can order several different forms of records from this office. The easiest and least expensive is a photocopy of the entry in the register compiled at the time. (Note that this is not the original certificate with your ancestor’s signature, although these do exist). If you are unsure of your information, it may be convenient to order a photocopy rather than a certified copy. They cost €4 (about $5) plus postage, and it will allow you to check that it is the one you want before you get a certified copy. The certified copy is a transcription of the original in a formal witnessed document. These are available in either a short or long form. The short form only has basic information and is mainly used for proof of age etc. The long form (which costs €20) has all of the information on the original register and is also quite a handsome document.
What do the certificates contain? Birth certificates will give you the obvious information on names of child and parents (including the mother’s maiden name), and address and also the occupation of the father. Marriage certificates will state the names and ages of bride and groom; the residence of each at the time of the marriage; names and occupations of the fathers of bride and groom; and the names of the witnesses. They also state the church at which the wedding took place, which may allow you to access church records. Death records are the least useful, as they contain no information on relationships at all. They show date and cause of death, address, occupation and age. They also show the name of the person registering the death, which may be a clue.
How you can get them: If you are sure of your dates and names, you can order a certificate by mail or email through the www.groireland.ie website. They are available entirely on-line for events after 1921, but for events occurring before this, you must specify the event and order by mail or email. If you are unsure of the date, the GRO will conduct a search of their register for a period of +/- 5 years of the date you suggest. However, there are advantages to doing this search yourself and then supplying the GRO with the reference number of the certificate you want. This is particularly so if you are searching for a very common name. You can search online (or in the National Library of Ireland, or the Gilbert Library if you are in Dublin). On-line you can search Ireland, Civil Registration Indexes, 1845-1958 on FamilySearch, or Find My Past for the event you want. The search-form for each allows you to specify dates and names of parents etc. If you do not have much information on parents or dates, and the name is common, you may have to order several certificates to ensure that the correct one is among them. The result will include only the information on the index, but it is enough to get the Volume, Page number and year of the event you are seeking. You can then order this from the GRO. Using the Familysearch.com or findmypast.ie index, you have effectively the same search capacity as does the GRO staff, so if you cannot find the event, then neither will they. For certificates in the Northern Ireland counties after 1922, you can apply here.