November 14th, 2011

Are you the Son (or Great-Great Grandson) of a Preacher Man?

I found on tracing my ancestry that one of my relatives was a clergyman in the Parish of Liverpool during the latter half of the 19th Century. The discovery was accidental as I was browsing Baptismal registers looking for another relative, but I was in no way disappointed! Rather than find the Baptismal record of the ancestor I was searching, I noticed that another person of the same surname was actually performing baptisms in the area. Needless to say, I was excited to find a new ancestor to investigate; the only thing was where to begin looking for the records I required for verification. The baptismal records I had found my ancestor in were secular ones and not attached to any denomination, nor did they give one for him.

I searched high and low in Parish records, until finally I located immigration related documents suggesting my ancestor had actually moved to the Liverpool area from Ireland. Once my search reached the shores of the Emerald Isle however, my ancestor seemed to vanish. I couldn’t locate any Ship Passenger Lists or Immigration records confirming that my relative had left from Dublin, which would have been the primary departure port for Liverpool at that time. Unperturbed, I turned to church records in Ireland. I knew this would be a challenge as I didn’t know what religion my relative was, and so began my journey into the maze of religious documentation that has been amassed over the centuries in Ireland.

At this point in time I haven’t located my ancestor in Ireland, but I have discovered plenty of places to look in if your ancestor was a clergyman. Following is a list of resources you can use to acquire further information on family members who served as priests or pastors in Ireland or elsewhere. I will categorize the information first by country, with sub-categories for the particular religious documentation to be found there. Keep in mind these resources are for finding information on clergy particularly, and as such do not include standard church and parish registers.


Roman Catholic Resources

The foremost source of information on Catholic clergy and nuns in Ireland is the Irish Catholic Directory, which has been published every year since 1837. An example of what the Directory contains can be viewed online at, where a Full Copy of the 1920 Directory has been made available by the University of Toronto courtesy of their John M. Kelly Library.

Many records of the clergy are kept by individual dioceses, and a personal email or letter stating your interest in tracing your family history may open the door to otherwise inaccessible records. The contact information and individual websites for every diocese in Ireland can be found at

There are several invaluable printed sources that should be in the arsenal of anyone researching an Irish ancestor of any sort, but which are especially useful for tracing clerical records. They can be ordered from and are respectively:

Irish Records: Sources for Family and Local History, by James Ryan


Irish Church Records, Their history, availability and use in family and local history research, by James Ryan

Another valuable resource for finding Catholic clergy in Ireland is the Maynooth Students & Ordinations Index 1795-1982. This list covers the initial one hundred years of candidates who entered the seminary at St Patrick’s College, Maynooth, Ireland’s National Catholic Seminary. Access is only through the College Archives managed by the librarian, who may be contacted via email at the Maynooth College Library.

Anglican Resources (Church of Ireland)

There is basically one go-to place for information on Anglican clergy – The Church of Ireland Library. In addition to its catalogue of over 40,000 books, the library has sought to secure any printed matter associated wit the church, and as such as amassed quite a collection of journals, periodicals, directories, and a large collection of parish and diocesan histories.

The library also serves as custodian for the Irish Huguenot Archive, a collection consisting of a variety of writings published by the Huguenot Society as well as miscellaneous printed matter relating to the Huguenots and their history in Ireland.

The National Library of Ireland also holds records of certain dioceses, and the valuable The Ecclesiastical Register which contains the names of clergy, prelates and dignitaries of many Irish churches.

James Charles’s Irish Church Directory (issued in 1862 and annually since then) – arranged by diocese, it shows patron, incumbent and curate, and is indexed. A section at the end of each volume shows the succession of bishops in each diocese, with dates of their episcopate, from the earliest known times.

Methodist Resources

As the Methodist religion was born out of a movement away from the Church of Ireland, it can be difficult to locate records for Methodist clergy. The earliest records date from around 1815, and refer specifically to Wesleyan Methodists, and as such are identical to the Church of Ireland registers from where the members came. The Methodist religion was also more of a movement than a church in its early stages, and as such its members attended other churches such as Quaker or Presbyterians establishments, many of which consequently contain Methodist records.

Methodist Ministers Moved Around

When the Methodist movement was in its fledgling stages, its ministers preached a circuit. As they roamed the countryside, many records were lost, or left in an entirely different locale than one would expect to find them. There are some resources available to genealogists seeking Methodist clergy records though, one being the Public Record Office of Northern Ireland. They have produced a county by county listing of the surviving Presbyterian registers, indexing them by date and location.

Presbyterian Resources

Presbyterian records are notoriously difficult to locate, and those of their clergy are even more so. There are two publications that are useful;

  • The Rev. James McConnell’s Fasti of the Irish Presbyterian Church 1613-1840 (Presbyterian Historical Society, Belfast: 1938) and
  • John M. Barkly’s Fasti of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland 1840-1910 (3 vols., Presbyterian Historical Society, Belfast: 1936-1987)

Unfortunately these publications can be as difficult to find as the records they can help you to locate. There are two more sources of potential value; Simm’s and McIntyre’s Belfast Almanack of 1837, which lists members of the Presbyterian hierarchy of Ulster and the addresses of its members, as well as McComb’s Presbyterian Almanack of 1857 which provides an alphabetical listing of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church, highlighting the structure of the Presbytery, the Congregation and town of individual members.

Finding an ancestor who was a clergyman can be one of genealogy’s greatest challenges; believe me I know. I’m still trying to locate vital records for my ancestor, but I know if I “keep my nose to the grindstone” I’ll eventually uncover something, even if it’s another trail to follow! What I’ve recently done was contact the diocese in the last known area in which my ancestor was located, asking them if they might know of any records the church may have that are not generally made available to the public. I have included as much information about my ancestor and why I am researching him, so hopefully I will receive a positive response.

If you get stuck, you might try the same approach. If you would rather look further on your own, City and Trade Directories often contained the names of clergymen, while obituaries for the last known location of your ancestor may also be fruitful. In the next Blog in this series I’ll be covering resources for locating clergyman ancestors in The United Kingdom of England, Scotland, and Wales. Until then, Happy Ancestor Hunting!