Irish General Register Office records

First name

The range of first names in use in the nineteenth century was severely limited among the vast majority of the population. Apart from some localized names - 'Cornelius' in south Munster, 'Crohan' in the Caherdaniel area of the Iveragh peninsula, 'Sabina' in the east Galway and North Roscommon area - the anglicisation of the earlier Gaelic Irish names was restrictive and unimaginative. In all parts of the country John, Patrick, Michael, Mary and Bridget occur with almost unbelievable frequency. Combined with the intensely localised nature of surnames, which reflect the earlier tribal areas of the country, this can present intense difficulties. For example, a single quarter of 1881, from January to March, might contain twenty or more John (O')Reilly (or Riley) registrations, all in the same registration district of Co. Cavan. A further obstacle is the fact that it was very rare for more than one first name to be registered. Therefore someone known to the family as John James (O')Reilly will almost certainly appear in the index as a simple John. It is of course possible to examine all of the original register entries, but unless some other piece of information such as the parents' names or the townland address can be used to cross-check, it will almost certainly not be possible to identify which, if any, of the original register entries is the relevant one.

This uncertainty is compounded still further by the persistent imprecision regarding ages and dates of birth, which means that over the seven or eight year period when the relevant birth could have taken place, there might be fifty or sixty births of the same name in the one county.

One way to surmount the problem, if the precise district is known, is to examine the original registers themselves to build a picture of all families in which the relevant name occurs. Local access is now almost impossible, but the transcripts on and were made from these local registers and allow searching at local registrar's level, as opposed to the Superintendent Registrar's Level available on IrishGenealogy and FamilySearch.
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