Back door man

The Mormon FamilySearch is without doubt the most important family history site in the world. It can also be a royal pain. For years I’ve been going to its main record collections for Ireland, picking out the most important one ‘Ireland Births and Baptisms, 1620-1881’ and then tearing my hair out trying to figure out what exactly I’m searching. Argh. ‘Index to selected Ireland births and baptisms. The year range represents most of the records. A few records may be earlier or later’. Argh.

It turns out I was making a basic mistake. Don’t go in the front door. Go around the house and sneak in through the back door, the catalogue. Try this for an experiment. Go to and just enter Ireland in the Place box. No fewer than two hundred and fifty-one separate categories pop up.

Howlin’ Wolf, the original back door man

You can explore at your leisure. For now, just add ‘Public Record Office’ into the ‘Author’ box. You’ll get 395 subsections for PRONI and forty-two for “Ireland: Public Record Office”. Go down to the “Ireland: Public Record Office” subsection ‘Testamentary documents in the Public Record Office, Dublin’ and click. You’ll see a list of 136 microfilms of which 69 have the wonderful little camera icon beside them, meaning they’ve been digitised. Click on one of those and you’re in Wonderland. More than half of the NAI ‘D’,’ T’ and ‘M’ manuscript series are there, freely viewable. If you come up with a reference to  one of these (from NAI’s own card index, from the version on FindMyPast, from, you don’t have to schlep all the way to Bishop St., Dublin 8 (or your nearest LDS centre) to look at the full document. There it is, the 1866 will of John Gilmore.

NAI’s wonderful, no-frills testamentary card index

And there’s more. The Betham notebook abstracting the family information from all Kildare diocesan wills up to 1828? No bother.  Eustace Street Dublin Presbyterian Registers? Certainly, sir.  Or what about the French Presentation NAI collection?

But of course my real reason for rummaging around like this is to find out exactly which Irish church records have been transcribed. Search on the church name and if a little microscope appears beside the film number, bingo, it’s been transcribed and you can go to the transcript by clicking on the microscope.

I’ve begun adding direct links to my own parish register listings – check out St. Peter’s, Athlone. Just click on the film number.

24 thoughts on “Back door man”

  1. Marvellous, I’ll try that straight away & Kildare Wills will be a bonus. Thanks very much for pointing that out.
    Worse indexing I’ve seen re Mormon records is the pre 1813 Welsh records when they assumed everyone still used the old way of using Father’s christian name as their surname. Absolute nightmare.

    1. cwmyoy –
      Indexing for the records on FamilySearch is done by volunteers from all over the world. “Mormon indexing” is a misnomer.

      John – thanks for the post. Sharing to my Irish research group.

  2. Thank you John, for your tireless work to help those of us struggling with all the search engines out there. Short cuts are always welcome, along with explanation. 🙂

    Forever grateful,


  3. Great info but what about all those records not digitized? Family Search is discontinuing its microfilm lending later this summer which will cut off access to many critical records.

  4. Just wanted to say thanks John for all the information and help over the years,many years ago when I started to write down the information I had been given by my gran I discovered there were no “How to ” books until I came across yours in the records part of the library (eventually I bought my own copy)and then the early years of Irish Roots Magazine again Thank Yo

  5. John, great article …

    Have you any knowledge of why the early Irish marriage and death register images are on restricted access ? I would have thought that with the IGIE ( 19th cc bmd image releases nobody would be objecting … they would certainly help fill in the 19th cc gap for marriages and deaths within the IGIE images currently available …

    “These images are viewable:
    To signed-in members of supporting organizations.
    When using the site at a family history center.”

    eg … Death records of Ireland, 1864-1870, with index of deaths, 1864-1921 … they have lots of camera icons 😉

    I have asked FamilySearch but no response as yet …


  6. John, As you point out, all the fantastic info on familysearch can not always be found “intuitively”. This type of backdoor approach should be very helpful. Thank you for sharing.

    1. My gr. uncle married a Hepburn from Guelph, ont. he was a Davidson from Cavan, Ireland. Married in Toronto, Ont. looking for info on the family. If this might be your family please email Thank you

  7. Thank you for this information John as I use the LDS website quite often….although as yet never by the back door!

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