Questions and explanations. The very welcome release of the Catholic Parish Registers online has prompted a number of questions from Kerry descendants. The question bothering most enquirers is ‘Why does xxx parish register only start 1840’? or ‘Where are the records before 1780 for xxxx parish?
Descendants of Kerry emigrants from the United States, Australia and New Zealand in particular, find it difficult to understand the situation where we do not have baptismal, marriage or indeed death records going back before 1820/1850. This problem is as a result of the general religious restrictions and the Penal Laws from the late 16th century to the Catholic Emancipation Act of 1829, it was difficult and dangerous for priests to keep and/or maintain records. As a result only a small number of parish registers survive of baptisms and marriages before 1820. The urban parishes of Tralee (1772), Killarney (1792) and Listowel (1802) have the earliest records but the records for more rural and poorer parishes start much later.
Again there is a misunderstanding in that descendants also assume that the parish structure itself began in the year from which the records are available. The present parish structure of Kerry Catholic parishes was ultimately defined after the Counter Reformation by Rickard O’Connell in 1613. Due to the political situation there were no seminaries in Ireland. Fr. O’Connell had attended the Seminary of Salamanca and been ordained for the Diocese of Ardfert. He was appointed vicar apostolic rather than bishop and he immediately set to re-organising the diocese.
The questions are not just coming from Kerry descendants of course. In my work as part of the GAS (Genealogy Advisory Service) at the National Library, this question is posed again and again for parishes throughout Ireland. Descendants from all over the world flock to the Library hoping to find that elusive ‘birth’ record of a long lost ancestor. We explain that ‘births’ were not recorded in Ireland until after 1864 and then we are into the search for the baptismal record. We may not be able to find a record of the actual baptism, if it is too early but we can usually help in finding some trace of a family through land/shipping/ estate records. A lot depends on the quality of the research already carried out in the country the emigrant arrived in.
 Kieran O’Shea, ed. The Diocese of Kerry formerly Ardfert, (Strasbourg) 2005
Thanks for your current blog. The topic of the Catholic Parish records online as to how they compare to the transcribed parish records online at Irishgenealogy.ie is a confusing matter. I know many of the transcribed records on the Irishgenealogy.ie site are not available and don’t fall within date ranges currently available on the nli.ie site. Do you think Irishgenealogy.ie site will ever post the originals for County Kerry? Hope you are able to clear this up.
Thank you for our comment Chris. No I don’t think we will ever have the original registers published on the nli.ie site. This is where I start to exhibit signs of nervous anxiety!! You see the entire record of registers is fraught with inconsistencies.
Firstly I would have to say that we in Kerry are very lucky that we have the transcribed records on http://www.IrishGenealogy.ie. If we didn’t we would be paying RootsIreland every time we wanted to look up an index. It would be almost impossible and certainly time consuming to find entire families, which it really is very easy to do on http://www.IrishGenealogy.ie. Having said that, transcribed records are never going to be as accurate as the originals. I am finding this myself in my research work. Last week I had an IrishGenealogy record for an Edmund Brick baptised in Castlegregory on 7 February 1842. Yet when I check the original baptismal record on registers.nli.ie, there is no record on that date. So what to do next? Maybe its the incorrect year or incorrect month, I will just have to search methodically through the register until I find him.
The major inconsistency that I am finding is the situation where there are records either on nli.ie or IrishGenealogy.ie and they originals are not in their home parish now. I say ‘now’ as obviously they were there when when someone was imaging or transcribing them or listing them on O’Kief Coshe Mange. I have a book at the printers just now where I will be dealing with each parish and the various times scales and places where all the records are to be found. The is Finding Your Ancestors in Kerry, to be launched by Jimmy Deenihan T.D., Minister for the Diaspora, at the Library in Tralee on Mon Sept 7th.
Back to the original registers. I feel very strongly that these registers are a major part of our Kerry heritage and should be protected as such. We have monuments and wild life protected but not these irreplaceable records. They are private property – each parish and the diocese in particular own and have responsibility for the registers. I welcome the online provision of the registers on the NLI.ie site as it may go towards less handling and thus preservation of these 19th century archives.
If I can be of any help, just email me. Kay