To build Roman Catholic family relationships in Ireland during the period prior to the 1863 Civil Registration Act (Ireland) the researcher must rely heavily, if not entirely, on the sacramental registers of baptism and marriage for this critical information. But this source itself is fraught with problems created by neglect, accidental destruction, or government repression.
The keeping of sacramental registers in the Roman Catholic Church was decreed by the Council of Trent, a meeting of bishops convened by several popes between 1545 and 1563. Promulgation of the decree throughout Europe and the British Isles was slow, and compliance varied from diocese to diocese. The efforts of the parliaments of Ireland and England to spread the doctrines of the Reformation in Ireland hampered the efforts of Roman Catholic bishops to implement the decrees of the Council of Trent. As a result many of the registers commence only in the early 1800's.
Sacramental registers in Ireland were prohibited by the penal law of 1703 that forbade priests to record the reception of baptism and marriage. Fortunately for the family historian the law was not enforced uniformly in the cities and across the rural country-side; and despite the ravages of climate, time, and improper storage, a number of sacramental registers commence about 1830 when the Catholic Emancipation Act of 1829 repealed the penal laws. It is interesting to note that six of the twenty six dioceses of Ireland (Achrony, Clogher, Drumore, Killala, and Raphoe) have no registers dating before 1800.
The sight of an elderly register is intimidating if not discouraging. Three factors combine to make the registers difficult to read. Their physical condition is often quite deteriorated - poor quality paper combined with faded and smeared ink, frayed edges and torn pages that led to details being lost forever.
Handwriting is often illegible - and the abbreviations often make sense only to the priest who wrote them. Some entries are written in Latin of different standards. Family historians are thankful that none were written in Irish!
As descendants of nineteenth century Irish men and women, we will generally find that the starting date of the local parish register defines the earliest extant record of our ancestor, for it would be unusual for the records of their families to go back much earlier than 1800. And for most of us, the early 1800's is likely to be the limit.
The purpose of this presentation is three-fold. It will analyze a number of formats within which the Church required elements of baptism and marriage information are to be found; these will include both Latin and English entries taken from registers in various geographical areas. Secondly, it will examine social customs surrounding the administration of the sacraments, and finally it will offer some cautions to be exercised during register research.
A few cautions when reading a sacramental register...
A Sampler of Latin Terms, Given Names and Abbreviations Found in Sacramental Registers
Baptism filius = son patrinus = godfather filia = daughter patrinia = godmother illegitimus = illegitimate patrini = godparents thorus = legitimate birth parentes = parents ex illegitimo thoro = illegitimate birth sponsores**godparents natus = born SS = godparents baptismus = baptism PP = godparents baptizatus = baptized Marriage Death testes = witnesses vidua = widow conjuncti sunt = they were married sepultus = buried consanguinitatis = of blood relationship defunctus = dead disponsus = dispensed Names John = Joannes, Jno. Charles = Carolus, Chas. James = Jacobus, Jas. Honor = Honoria, Nora, Nancy Mary = Maria Ellen = Elena, Nellie Michael = Michaelus, Michl. M'l. Margaret = Margretta, Margt. Bridget = Bridida, Brid, Delia, Bt. Eliza = Elizabeth Anne = Anna, Nan, Nancy
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___________. A Guide to Irish Parish Registers. Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Co., 1995.
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