13/03/2017
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Top three tips for finding your ancestors in the Irish BMD registers

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Steven Smyrl shares his expert tips for getting to grips with a core collection of family history records – the Irish BMD registers.

Where once there was once nothing online relating to Irish civil registration birth, death and marriage records, there are now numerous online locations to search the indexes. Within the past six months, even these sites have been gazumped – virtually overnight – by a State website providing access not only to the indexes to civil registration records, but to images of the actual register entries… and all for free.

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In September 2016, the GRO in Ireland began uploading images of the civil registers linking them to the index entries, linking them to the index entries – and all for no cost.

Read on for super-sleuth tips and examples to help you explore the Irish civil registration records in great detail.

Tip 1: Experiment with search fields

Say your ancestors was a Michael McGuinness born about 1886 in Balbriggan, Co Dublin, which falls into the SRD of Balrothery. However, after searching for him using these details you came up with just one Michael with the surname spelt ‘Maginniss’.

Well, given that the surname McGuinness can be spelt in innumerable ways, you could re-run the search looking only for a Michael born in Balrothery SRD in 1886. Try this and you’ll see 14 results returned, and one of these 14 Michaels is the one called ‘Maginniss’ and there is another bearning the surname ‘Magennes’. This can help ensure you’re not missing a lead.

Tip 2: Utilise the mother’s maiden name

From 1900 the mother’s maiden surname is included in the birth index, which allows you to narrow down your search to many fewer results. But it also allows you to search only on the mother’s maiden surname.

For instance, if you stick my own surname (Smyrl) in as your only search criterion for the decade 1900-1909 the results return three entries under the fathers’ surnames of McKee, Logan and Morgan. Heretofore, I could never have found these entries without having first known the fathers’ surnames to search under.

Tip 3: Search widely and thoroughly now that the indexes are free

The fact that in Ireland there are localities and areas where the vast majority share only a handful of surnames means that identifying relevant records from the indexes is incredibly difficult. this is particularly so with deaths where, beyond the deceased’s name, the only other identifying personal information noted in the index is the age at death and, as this is so often years out, it significantly increases the number of records checked.

It used to cost £4 to obtain a copy of a record and costs could quickly mount up. Given that the register entries can now be accessed freely, this is no longer a concern. You can happily skip from one record to another, viewing the image itself to decide its relevance.

Find out more

Read Steven Smyrl’s in-depth guide to using the Irish BMD registers in the March issue of Family Tree magazine, available now.

About the author

Steven Smyrl is immediate president of Accredited Genealogists Ireland, chairman of the Irish Genealogical Research Society and executive liaison officer for the Council of Irish Genealogical Organisations. With his brother Kit, he is a director of the Irish probate research firm Massey & King.

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