Church records

Presbyterian Records

In general, Presbyterian registers start much later than those of the Church of Ireland, and early records of Presbyterian baptisms, marriages and deaths are often to be found in the registers of the local Church of Ireland parish. There are exceptions, however; in areas which had a strong Presbyterian population from an early date, particularly in the north east, some registers date from the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries. The only published listing remains that included in Margaret Falley's Irish and Scotch Irish Ancestral Research, (repr. Genealogical Publishing Co., 1988). This, however, gives a very incomplete and out of date picture of the extent and location of the records.

For the six counties of Northern Ireland, and many of the adjoining counties, the Guide to Church Records: Public Record Office of Northern Ireland, (PRONI, 1994) provides a good guide to the dates of surviving registers. The copy of the list held in the Office itself includes a listing of Registers in Local Custody which covers all of Ireland, but is much less comprehensive for the south than for the north.

Fully comprehensive listings of the dates and locations of all known copies of Church records, cross-linked to the areas they cover, can be found through Ancestor search or the parish maps and source-lists.

Nature of the records

Presbyterian registers record the same information as that given in the registers of the Church of Ireland (see above). It should be remembered that after 1845, all non-Catholic marriages, including those of Presbyterians, were registered by the state. From that year, therefore, Presbyterian marriage registers contain all of the invaluable information given in state records.

Record Locations

Presbyterian registers are in three main locations:

  • in local custody,
  • in the Public Record Office of Northern Ireland, and
  • at the Presbyterian Historical Society in Belfast.

The Public Record Office also has microfilm copies of almost all registers in Northern Ireland which have remained in local custody, and also lists those records held by the Presbyterian Historical Society. For the rest of Ireland, almost all of the records are in local custody. It can be very difficult to locate the relevant congregation, since many of them have moved, amalgamated, or simply disappeared over the last 60 years.

The very congregational basis of Presbyterianism further complicates matters, since it means that Presbyterian records do not cover a definite geographical area; the same town often had two or more Presbyterian churches drawing worshippers from the same community and keeping distinct records.

In the early nineteenth century especially, controversy within the Church fractured the records, with seceding and non-seceding congregations in the same area often in violent opposition to each other. Apart from the Public Record Office of Northern Ireland listing, the only guide is History of Congregations (National Library Ir. 285 h 8) which gives a brief historical outline of the history of each congregation. Lewis's Topographical Dictionary of Ireland (1837), available on this site, records the existence of Presbyterian congregations within each civil parish, and Pettigrew and Oulton's Dublin Almanac and General Register of Ireland of 1835 includes a list of all Presbyterian ministers in the country, along with the names and locations of their congregations. Locations of Churches in the Irish Provinces, produced by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, flawed as it is in many respects, can be useful in trying to identify the congregations in a particular area.
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