SOME NOTES ON RESEARCHING IRISH ANCESTRY IN LIVERPOOL
By Jo McCann & Marie McQuade
Copyright© 2007 Josie McCann & Marie McQuade
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We suppose people have always crossed and re-crossed the Irish Sea between that part of the North West coast of England, we now know as Liverpool, and Ireland. It is, however, only in our relatively recent history that we look for our Irish ancestors. The main exodus, from Ireland into Liverpool, came in the middle of the 19th century as a direct result of famine in Ireland. Consequently, many of us can trace our Irish ancestry to that time. There were, however, many Irish already living in Liverpool, and, many more have come since. So how do we find out about all these people? Leaving aside oral tradition and also family recollections, we shall try to set out the main records which should be consulted, generally, in Liverpool Record Office & Local Studies Department, on the fourth floor of Liverpool Central Library, William Brown Street, Liverpool. From now on we shall refer to this as LVRO.
2. ST. CATHERINE'S HOUSE INDEX TO BIRTHS, MARRIAGES & DEATHS IN ENGLAND & WALES.
These are the yearly indices to those births, marriages and deaths, which were registered with the civilian authorities. In England and Wales, Registration commenced on 1st July 1837. Outside of St. Catherine's House, in London, the indices which will be consulted will, necessarily, be on microfilm or microfiche. In the Liverpool area there are several depositories where you can search these indices:
Copy certificates can be obtained from the Superintendent Registrar at the appropriate District Register Office or, although this is slow and more expensive, from the Office of Population Censuses and Surveys, General Register Office, Smedley Hydro, Southport, Merseyside, PR8 2HH.
LVRO does not have any records of Civil Registration of births, marriages and deaths.
Appointments are required for the Microfilm Unit and for certain Church of England parish registers at the LVRO.
The main aim of much preliminary research is to find an address to coincide with one of the censuses and so find a whole family; their relationships, ages, occupations and, most importantly, their place of birth. This preliminary research might have to be repeated time and again in order to maximise information from all the censuses available in Liverpool. The latest census available for research is the 1901 census, but going backwards, there are also the 1991, 1881, 1871, 1861, 1851, and 1841 censuses that can be looked at and also photocopied. It is not only because we wish to own a certificate for our grandmother's marriage, etc., that we buy one, but also because, among other things, it gives us an address, for her and her spouse - your grandfather. It is essential, therefore, to realise that those events which happen closest to the census years (1841, 1851, 1861, 1871, 1881, 1891 &1901) are those for which certificates are best obtained. It is also essential to realise that if your Irish ancestor was not explicit about his birthplace, on one census then other censuses must be consulted. All means to find an address, in Ireland, must be taken and this might involve following the life course of children, born in Ireland, but marrying later in Liverpool - maybe a daughter, who marries years later and obtains a different surname, will eventually, even forty years after arriving here, tells you where she was born. If ancestors came to this country before registration commenced in Ireland, and arrived here in late 1840's, it can be impossible to find whence they came unless you are very lucky. This is why every census should be searched so assiduously. There are, of course, one or two other ways of finding addresses, that could be used in conjunction with certificates, and some of these are noted below.
Street and Trade Directories, in Liverpool, commence in 1766. The earliest ones are most useful for finding those people who were involved in trade, and there are some Irish names in them. By the time we get to 1841, the directories are produced, either yearly or at least every two years. Although still mainly produced as trade directories, more and more 'ordinary' people are appearing in them. This is, by and large, still the case in 1891. Again it is important to realise that by the time they were published, they were in some ways out of date, so that if an address for a census is required, you will possibly need to look at one or two directories, round and about the census date. Directories up to 1904 are now on microfilm and can be consulted in Microfilm Unit, Liverpool Central Library. Directories after 1904, up to around 1970, can be obtained over the counter in LVRO. Other libraries in area - Crosby, Birkenhead, Huyton, and maybe some others - have limited stocks of original yearly books.
5. ELECTORAL ROLLS
Electoral Rolls are most useful in the period from 1878 to 1914. It is from 1878 that the 'head of household' is eligible to vote. This 'head of household', in simple terms, could be a man, or woman, who paid the rates for a particular dwelling. Other than as 'head of household' after the death of a husband, (which was an essential pre-requisite) women did not have the vote until 1919, that is, until after the First World War. To access Electoral Rolls, which appear at least yearly, one needs to fill in a form, with street name, (perhaps acquired from certificate or other source) and year, in which you are interested. The difference between the Directories and the Electoral Rolls, however, lies in the fact that not only will address be given for current year, but, if the occupant has moved in the previous twelve months, then his previous address will also be given. In theory then, it should be possible to trace an individual, fairly successfully, between some census years. This is most useful, obviously, between 1881 and 1891, but it also should enable you to get back to 1891.
6. PARISH REGISTERS
These are, of course, one of the most important deposits in any library, but in a city, such as Liverpool, it can be enormously difficult to actually find the parish where an ancestor had his children baptised. Whereas, a marriage certificate will always name the church in which the event took place, a birth certificate or a death certificate will merely give an address. One of the main problems then lies in the fact that so many churches sprang up in a relatively small area, in the late 1840's, to service the overcrowded, new, mainly Catholic, Irish community. The registers in these churches, although mostly in very good condition, can, once a marriage or other event has been located, vary in usefulness. The 'usefulness' can vary even within a register. In some cases, not only extremely good details of antecedents of the couple who are marrying will be given, but also their parent's addresses in Ireland. In other cases, only the couple's names, will appear. Although most of the Irish who came in to Liverpool, and this certainly applies to those who came because of the famine, were Roman Catholic, it is still possible that their records will be found in other church registers. In the case of marriages, there are very many marriages that were contracted, sometimes, but not necessarily, to Non-Catholics, in Church of England churches. Sometimes the couple were married twice; in the Church of England and then in the Roman Catholic church. Among the Church of England churches, in Liverpool, St. Nicholas' and St. Peter's were probably the most popular. Both were important and both were entitled to call themselves the 'Parish Church'. In the case of St. Nicholas' C of E, this was a church traditionally used by seamen of all denominations, and, if you are looking for a sea-going ancestor, then its registers should always be consulted. There are, of course, Roman Catholic churches, in Liverpool, also bearing the names of St. Nicholas and St. Peter. There are very many pages that could be written on Liverpool Parish Registers, suffice to say, that in the case of Roman Catholic ones, before the influx of Irish in 1840's, there were really only five within the Liverpool city boundary, these with dates of Parish Register commencement were:
Liverpool Roman Catholic registers are, in the main, deposited (up to 1900 at least) in the LVRO and it is the originals that can be looked at. The main exceptions, are:
Non- Catholic registers, mainly C of E but also some others, are also most often, deposited at the LVRO.
7. CEMETERY RECORDS
Although records, appertaining to services for the dead, can be found in various parish registers, there are separate records for actual burials. In the case of Roman Catholic ones, there are some churches, in Liverpool, which had small burial grounds attached, but after an Act of Parliament in the 1850's, which forbade burials within city boundaries, the large Catholic Cemeteries of Ford, Yew Tree and Ainsdale, were opened. This meant that, unless you already had a grave elsewhere, you must be buried in one of these new cemeteries. As well as the large Catholic Cemeteries, there are many other burial places, in Liverpool, where Irish ancestors may be buried. An article, dealing with burial places can be found in 'Liverpool Family Historian', Vol.16, no.3, pps. 88-91, Sep. 1994.
8. OTHER RECORDS
Will Calendars for England and Wales, from 1853 - 1944, can be found on the shelves of LVRO. Further details of these wills can be sought from; The Chief Clerk, York Probate Sub-Registry, Duncombe Place, York, YO1 2EA, rather than Somerset House.
From around 1800 certainly, there are newspapers, on microfilm, in the Microfilm Unit, which can be readily consulted at the LVRO. These are mainly useful, in the case of 'ordinary' people, for covering unusual events, such as an unexplained or sudden death. In the case of more 'notable' citizens, there are the usual birth, marriage and death columns. There are indexes to microfilms of Liverpool Obituary Notices and News Paper Cuttings, Biographicals, of Liverpool Worthies, 1879 - 1923.
There is a large collection of Workhouse Records in LVRO and they cover all kinds of eventualities. Many baptisms can be found amongst these records, whilst a large number of baptisms, of Roman Catholic inmates, can be found in the Baptismal Registers of St. Nicholas', Copperas Hill. Often, too, when people were ill, they entered the workhouse to be treated. Records of these events give names, ages, family relations and also addresses.
All of these records, described above, are really the main ones that you would use if searching for ancestors who came into the country in the last century. They would still be used for earlier immigrants, but in their case it is also possible for their names to be found in other records which listed 'Roman Catholics'. These are generally called Recusancy Records and also, sometimes, 'Return of Papists'. In the case of Non Catholic emigrants, the main 'Parish' churches of St. Nicholas and, also, St. Peter, have much earlier records than any of the Catholic churches. St. Nicholas' commence around 1604, and St. Peter's commence 1704. It is for these very early immigrants, who could be of any denomination, that specific English records such as: Hearth Money Rolls; Estate Records and Liverpool Rate Books, etc. would need to be consulted. These, however, are quite specialised areas and would need to be enquired about when needed.
We have tried, in these notes, to cover as many useful records as we think, the 'average' researcher will first need, in their research into Irish ancestry. We have referred, too, in the main, when talking about church records, to Roman Catholic ones. This is because most of our ancestors who came from Ireland, especially at the time of the famine, were Roman Catholics. This, as we have already pointed out, did not always confine their activities to Catholic churches, but this is, by and large, where most of them will be found.
We hope these notes will be of some use to anyone intending to research in Liverpool, and as far as we know they are accurate but, as always, we are grateful for any additional information that can be furnished.
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updated June 2007
Copyright © 2007 Josie McCann & Marie McQuade