My First Experience Researching the Irish Catholic Church Parish Registers

My First Experience Researching the Irish Catholic Church Parish Registers

You may have heard.  The National Library of Ireland website now has the Catholic Church Parish Register records online and available to research for free.  The records are available to research for free.  I’ve been waiting a long time to get my hands dirty with Irish research.  To say I am eager to begin this research is an understatement.

Before You Jump In…

It’s important to know the parish before you start your search.  It isn’t good enough to know the county.  Each county has several parishes.  Before you can begin with these records you must learn the name of the parish your ancestors lived in.

Starting with Cam and Kiltomb

Records show that my great great great uncle, Patick Dolan, was from Cam.  If you’re interested, the records are found on the National Library of Ireland website. (Note:  You can click on any of the images in this article for a larger view.)

On the main screen, I entered Cam in the search box.

Main screen of the parish register website
Main screen of the parish register website

The next screen shows that Cam is included in the parish records for Kiltomb. It’s also known as Cam, Camma, and Kiltoom. This is in the Diocese of Elphin.

The records start with 1835 and go through 1865.  Marriage records extend to 1881.  Further research showed that these are the earliest records for this parish.

This is what is available for the parish of Kiltomb, Roscommon
This is what is available for the parish of Kiltomb, Roscommon

I knew instantly that I had a problem.  The Dolan and Kelly relatives I am looking for were born in the 1820s.  The records don’t extend far enough back for my search.  My direct line ancestors left by 1848, so this is another door closed

How to Research the Church Registers

Let’s talk about the research page.  Click on where it says Microfilm and the reel number to begin researching.

It’s really well designed.  They decided to keep the feel of a microfilm reader.  It is easy to scroll up and down and side to side within the records.

The controls are really useful:

  • The funnel takes you directly to a specific date within the records.
  • The + and – make the text larger or smaller.
  • The cloud allows you download the page to your computer.
  • The printer symbol allows you to print the page.
  • The four sun symbols allow you to play with the brightness.
  • The dark and light circle allows you to switch from black on white to white on black.
  • The circle arrow resets the image to the default view setting.
  • The four blocks allow you to see thumbnails of each image.
  • The two arrows in a circle allow you to switch to full screen mode.

Note:  If you’re on a mobile device, many of these filters/controls appear under the sprocket which is on the left hand side next to the funnel.  Click on the sprocket to see all options.

This is the main page of the first register book for Kiltomb, Roscommon
This is the main page of the first register book for Kiltomb, Roscommon

The records are fairly easy to read.  There are no indexes so you’re going to have to work through page by page.

Though in Latin, it is easy to make out the format.  If you’ve been through church registers then you know the format.  There aren’t a lot of word variations.

The one thing one needs to watch for is the first names are in Latin.  I came across this in the catholic church records on Kauai, Hawaii, where it was funny to see Portuguese people named Antonius and Johannem.  Some are obvious like Michaelis for Michael.  Others need to be researched.

The records themselves leave me wanting.  These are registers and not certificates or documents.  I know.  I shouldn’t complain.  Register books are better than nothing, right?  The information is limited in the early records and a little more expansive in the later years.  I’m not sure about all the parishes.  This is what you see in Kiltomb:

  • Baptismals:  name of child, date of baptismal, name of parents, name of godparents
  • Marriages: name of couple, date of marriage, name of witnesses
  • Deaths:  name of deceased, date of death, where they were from, age (There is another column with number hyphen number.  I’ve yet to determine what this is.)
This is what the register page looks like for Kiltomb
This is what the register page looks like for Kiltomb

Where do I go from here?

Okay, I admit it.  I am disappointed.  Not only does it not include the decade I need, many of the records don’t give the names of parents or grandparents, so even if I find possible matches I may not be able to determine without a doubt that they are my people.

I’m not one to give up easily.  First, I need to determine if the people in Cam had their events recorded in another nearby parish or if the records really were in Kiltomb are were lost.  I have reason to believe that the records I need which prove a relationship between Patrick Dolan and his siblings exist.  When his probate was refiled in 1907 (the originals were lost in the 1907 earthquake), a representative was hired in Athlone who provided evidence of the relationship.  Unfortunately, the refiled probate only includes the questions asked, it doesn’t include the answers.

Then, I’m trying to find Patrick’s sisters, Margaret (Dolan) Coyne and Bridget Dolan.  I’ve written about Margaret in my article:  I am tired of you, Margaret (Dolan) Coyne.  I’ve wasted plenty of time trying to find them in the US.  I suspect that was an error and they might not have left Ireland after all.

The problem is going to be whether there will be enough information in the records to make a determination.  That doesn’t mean I won’t try!  I may just record every Dolan and Kelly in the parish and see if there are connections.

Do you have Irish ancestors?  Which records will you be researching?


  1. History of Kiltoom Parish – Information from the Parish website
  2. Catholic Parish Registers List of Available Records (PDF format)
  3. Ireland Genealogy – Information from
  4. Irish Catholic Church Records:  Now Online and Free – Background information from the Armchair Genealogist




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7 thoughts on “My First Experience Researching the Irish Catholic Church Parish Registers

  1. Great work going on. Like you I was so excited at this new release of historical records. I open the new sight only to discover my toolbar is missing. Any clues? I rang NLI they referred me to you ( very Irish ) but, I can see from you article the the type of page I should have one screen. 🙂

    With regards Kamla.

  2. Kamla, Thanks for your comments! I’m not sure what’s going on with your exact situation. If you’re on mobile, the controls in the toolbar are under the sprocket on the left hand side. I’ve updated the article to reflect this. (I didn’t realize it was different than the desktop version until last night.)

    If you’re on a desktop or laptop, the only thing I can think of is that it might be appearing differently on your browser or anti-virus software is somehow blocking features. You might try a different browser to see if it appears differently.

  3. Kamla, thanks for your comments! I did a little research and realized that the website looks different on desktop than it does on mobile. If you’re using a mobile device, look for a sprocket on the left hand side. Most of the controls are in that drop down menu. If you aren’t on mobile, I would try switching to a different browser or seeing if your anti-virus software might be blocking the controls (maybe try turning it off to see if the website looks different). Hope this helps!

  4. I’m so sorry you reached another wall. I know how that feels! Yes, I do have some Irish ancestors, but I’m having trouble identifying exactly who they are so I can trace them back to Ireland. I have a couple of names, from a public family tree that includes some of my people. Alas, the person who added those names left no trace or clue as to their sources, so they remain nothing but names for now, and I can’t be sure they really are my ancestors. I’ll keep hunting!

    Thanks so much for following my web site. I hope you find much to enjoy or think about there.

  5. Kathryn, Thanks for stopping by! Research can be frustrating, can’t it? Even more frustrating with public family trees where you can’t verify the information given. I have now learned a couple I was following is not the right one. At least, I’ve ruled them out. I still feel there are records out there because something was used in 1907 to prove relationships over a contested will.

  6. Kathryn, We aren’t lucky every time we research to find exactly who we are looking for, so ruling out families is so important. Disappointing, but important.

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