Tips on Roman Catholic Parish Microfilm Research

Ten to twenty years from now we will all look back at the long hours we spent in the dark behind a microfilm reader and laugh at our antiquated research methods. For the time being, until all records are digitalized, I have a few suggestions to help you offset the aggravations associated with interpreting microfilm records.

The Legibility Issue. The quality of the County Mayo parish records is quite variable. Some pages are so faded, the ink smeared or bleeding through the previous page, that interpretation of the record can be quite difficult. Others can be quite clear. A good magnifying glass, come yellow paper for contrast (depending on the type of reader you are using) can be helpful to enhance the image. Consider scanning the records you find if your library has a scanner. I scan them at 400 dpi (you could probably use 200 dpi) and save them as jpegs on my thumb drive. Tiffs have better image quality but take up a lot of space. You can then view, enlarge and enhance the images at home on your own computer.

Unfamiliar given name variations and Latin verbage. If you dont recognize that Gulielmus is your grandfather William you could overlook a key record. It is a good idea to become familiar with the Latin which is most commonly used in church records.

Use of unofficial abbreviations, nicknames, and spelling surnames and townlands phonetically. Kitty for Catherine, Jno for John are just two examples. The name variation list I have compiled is incomplete, but covers the most common alternative names I have encountered in films. When townlands are given, many times they are hard to recognize such as Mildems for Milford Demesne or Surragh for Srah. I find it invaluable to keep a list of townlands within each civil parish so I can identify townlands when they are given. I use the book General Alphabetical Index to the Townlands and Towns, Parishes and Baronies of Ireland. I have heard that this resource is searchable online as well. Sean Rud created a great online Ireland Townland Database, which would be another great resource to utilize.

Lack of indexes and records out of sequence. I have not found indexes for any of the County Mayo microfilms that I have looked at thus far. Even if it was indexed I would be hesitant to assume that it is complete and that all records on the film have been included. If you stop looking at the film because your ancestor was not in the index you may be missing out on a vital genealogical record. If multiple priests are making entries into the log, records may be out of sequence and easily missed. To avoid these mistakes, look at the whole film from start to finish if you think there is even a remote chance your ancestor could be in there.

Unfamiliar phrases. You will likely encounter the phrase "Certificate of Freedom Issued" in your microfilm research. It had me puzzled for quite awhile until I saw a request for a certificate of freedom for Patrick McCormack in the Charlestown Parish records. Apparently his wife had died in the United States and he was requesting permission to remarry. His request was denied because he could not provide convincing proof of her death. When a twin birth occurs, the term "gemini" is often used with just the child's name and godparents listed. Look at the previous record for the child's twin and parent's names. The phrase "churching" followed by a woman's name had me puzzled for quite awhile until an avid genealogist from San Diego enlightened me. "Churching" refers to the practice of women who have recently given birth presenting themselves to the Catholic Church to be blessed. The only caveat is that the child had to be legitimate and not baptized in a non-catholic church.

If after five or six hours of microfilm viewing you decide that this is just not your "cup of tea," there are two wonderful resources available to you. The Irish Family History Foundation website has a searchable database that has both a free component to view the indexes and a pay componet to view details. County Mayo has it's own Family Hertage Centers - one in the north and one in the south that will do commissioned research for you. Keep in mind that the more details you have at your disposal, the more fruitful your search is likely to be.