Anpharoiste – Transcribing the Irish Catholic Parish Registers

My latest foray into digital humanities is by far my most ambitious. Anpharoiste (“the parish”) will be a platform for curating and crowdsourcing the transcription of a remarkable genealogical resource that has become available online.

In July 2015, the National Library of Ireland (NLI) published digitized copies of microfilm images of Irish Catholic parish registers of baptisms and marriages on a dedicated free-to-access website.

The NLI website describes a collection of ~ 373,000 digital images from 550 microfilm reels of 3,500+ registers from 1,086 parishes in Ireland and Northern Ireland.

Parish Registers

The start dates of the registers vary from the 1740 – 50s in some city parishes in Dublin, Cork, Galway, Waterford and Limerick, to the 1780 – 90s in counties such as Kildare, Wexford, Waterford and Kilkenny. Registers for parishes along the western seaboard do not generally begin until the 1850 – 60s.

Microfilm Images

In 1949, Dr Edward MacLysaght, Chief Herald of Ireland and Keeper of Manuscripts at the National Library of Ireland, approached the Bishop of Limerick offering the NLI’s services to help in the permanent preservation of the genealogical information contained within the Catholic Church’s collection of parish registers. The NLI’s offer to microfilm parochial registers was taken up by every member of the Hierarchy. Although civil registration of births, marriages and deaths began in 1864, records were not accurately kept for a number of years, so a cut-off date of 1880 was applied for the microfilming of registers.

The usual procedure followed in relation to the microfilming was to send a senior member of NLI staff to a diocese to collect the registers, bring them to the NLI in Kildare Street for filming, and then return the registers to the diocese. The filming of registers diocese by diocese began in the 1950s and was completed over a period of 20 years. Additional filming of registers from a small number of Dublin parishes took place during the late 1990s.

Digital Images

Church registers of marriage and baptism are considered to be the single most important source for family history researchers prior to the 1901 census. In many cases, the registers contain the only surviving record of particular individuals and families. With growing numbers of people engaged in family history research and limited on-site facilities at the NLI in Dublin, the decision was taken in 2010 to digitize the parish register microfilms.

In October 2014, the NLI Board formally approved the making available of the microfilm images online on a dedicated free-to-access website. The individual registers have been reassembled virtually and made available to users via a topographical database.

The digitization of the Catholic parish register microfilms is the NLI’s most ambitious digitization project to date. It demonstrates the NLI’s commitment to enhancing accessibility through making its collections available online.


The “materials” of Anpharoiste will be digital images of parish registers that are associated with two experimental, government-assisted emigrations of poor people – including my father’s ancestors – from the south of Ireland to Upper Canada in 1823 and 1825.

The “structure and function” of Anpharoiste will be  supported by my own installation of Omeka – a free, flexible, and open source web-publishing platform for the display of library, museum, archives, and scholarly collections and exhibitions – including the Scripto plug-in for crowdsourcing the transcription of the digital images.

Next: The cool URIs of the Irish Catholic Parish Registers websitewebsite