• Irish Family History: Civil Registration

    Welcome to the second instalment on Researching Your Irish Family History. Here, Nicola Morris explains how you can access civil registration records online to help trace your Irish ancestors.

    NB: Ancestry and Find My Past are free to search, but require subscriptions to view records.


    From 1845 non-Catholic marriages in Ireland were registered with the civil authorities but it wasn’t until 1864 that registration of all births, deaths and marriages became compulsory.  Even though civil registration was compulsory from 1864 it is estimated that up to 15% of births and marriages went unregistered in the early years of civil registration and as many as 30% of deaths were not registered with the civil authorities.

    Births were usually registered by a family member, neighbour or midwife who had been in attendance.  It was compulsory to register a birth within the first three months or a late registration fine was incurred.  It is not uncommon to find a family who registered a child’s birth six months or more after the event but who changed the date of birth of the child to fall within the previous three months.  This means that you may find evidence of a child who was baptised in March but whose birth registration gives a date of birth in September of the same year.  The baptismal record is a more accurate reflection of the true date of birth of the child.  

    Using Irish birth registers

    Some families did not register the births of their children either on time or late.  This may have been because the fee for registration was beyond their means at the time.  Births were registered locally in the registrar’s district.  

    These registers were then sent to Dublin to be copied.  Some births were accidentally excluded from the Dublin copies during this process and are now missing from the national civil birth register.  They can be found by inspecting the original registers, but most of these registers have now been archived and stored beyond access.

    Birth registrations or certificates record the date and place of birth, the name and sex of the child, the name, address and occupation of the father and name and maiden name of the mother as well as the name and address of the informant.  In some cases the relationship of the informant to the child is stated and you can sometimes find maternal grandmothers or aunts who were present and who registered the birth.

    Using Irish marriage registers

    The registration of marriages was the responsibility of the parish priest or celebrant of the marriage and it is not uncommon to find marriages in church registers that are missing from civil registers, an omission by the parish priest, who failed to inform the civil authorities of the marriage.

    Marriage registrations or certificates are the most informative.  They record the name and denomination of the church in which the marriage took place, the name, age, marital status, occupation and address of the bride and groom as well as the names and occupations of their fathers, the witnesses and the name of the minister who carried out the ceremony.  Most 19th and early 20th century marriage certificates record the ages of the bride and groom as full, meaning that they are over 21 years of age.  Those under 21 are referred to as minors or their age is given.  

    Witnesses to a marriage were often siblings, cousins or peers of the bride and groom, and much less frequently parents.  Witnesses to the marriage of a minor may have been parents of the bride and groom.

    Using Irish death registers

    Deaths were usually registered by a family member or neighbour who was present or by the administrator of a hospital or the institution where the death took place.  Death registrations can be the least informative of the three registrations.   A death certificate will record the date and place of death, the name, address, age, marital status and occupation of the deceased, cause of death and the name of the informant.  The informant was not always a family member.  Unlike Scottish, American and some Australian death registrations, no other family members are cited on an Irish civil death registration.  The death registration of a person with a common name who died in a hospital or other institution, may not contain enough information to establish who they were or to identify their spouse or parents.

    The records of civil registration for Ireland are held by the General Register Office.  There is a public research room at Werburgh Street in Dublin city where researchers can search the index books for relevant entries.  The index books commence in 1845 for non-Catholic marriages.  From 1864 there are indexes for all births, deaths and marriages.  Between 1864 and 1878 all entries for each year are listed alphabetically by surname, with some late registrations and overseas events written into the back of the book.  From 1878 each book is divided into four quarters, so when doing a manual search you must make sure you check the book four times, and a fifth time for late and other entries at the back of the book.

    There is a small fee for searching the index books in person at the General Register Office (€2 for 5 consecutive years) and a fee of €4 for each copy.  However, if you cannot make it to Dublin you can access the majority of these records online.

    Where can I find Irish birth, death and marriage registers?

    The first set of records from the Irish General Register Office to be indexed formed part of the IGI (International Genealogical Index) where abstracts from birth registrations from 1864 up to about 1880 were transcribed.  These records can be found on www.familysearch.org and at Ancestry UK.  However, only the name of the child, date of birth and names of the parents appear in this collection and the townland address of the family and father’s occupation are not recorded, so the full birth registration should be sought for this additional information.

    The Church of the Latter Day Saints, who hold microfilm copies of the civil birth, marriage and death index books have transcribed the index books from 1845 (non-Catholic marriages) up to 1958.  These indexes were transcribed by volunteers and there are some errors and omissions.  The late registration entries and overseas and army births, deaths and marriages are also excluded from this collection.  They have been published online at www.familysearch.org and record the name of the party, the year and registration district, volume, page and quarter.  The index reference is necessary to obtain a copy of the original registration. These can be ordered from https://www.welfare.ie/en/Pages/Apply-for-Certificates.aspx, but Timeline Genealogy Clerk offers a service whereby genealogical researchers who have found records in the index can order in a more straightforward way: https://timeline.ie/irish-genealogy-clerk/irish-bmd-records/.

    The Irish Government website www.irishgenealogy.ie have published the indexes for civil registration as follows:

    Index of Births: 1864 -1916
    Index of Marriages: 1845-1941
    Index of Deaths: 1864 – 1966

    The original registers have also been published online for the following dates:

    Births: 1864-1916
    Marriages: 1870-1941
    Deaths: 1878-1966

    This means that if you find an index entry for a marriage in 1875 you can click through to the image of the original registration.  This is a free website and there are no fees for searching, viewing or downloading the records.

    The website www.rootsireland.ie represents the collections of church and civil records for each county heritage centre in Ireland.  The records for each centre vary from county to county.  Some counties have indexed the original birth, marriage and death registers using the local registration books.  This means that an event that was recorded in the original local register but was not copied to the copy registers in Dublin might be found in this collection.  This is a pay site and not every county is fully represented.  It is worth investigating the extent of the collections for the county you are interested in before searching this site.  However, if you do find this site holds relevant records for your research, you will find that the search function is very user friendly.  It is possible to search the civil marriage records for all children who married with a father named Edward Murphy or all O’Connor deaths that took place in the townland of Cloncurry.  This site is predominantly a collection of church records and we will tackle the many search options available in a later post on parish records.

    The above are the main websites where researchers can access the records for civil registration for Ireland.  After 1922 the records for Northern Ireland were kept separately and can be accessed online at GRONI: (General Register Office of Northern Ireland) https://www.nidirect.gov.uk/articles/search-gronis-online-records  where you will find all records relating to registration districts that became Northern Ireland from 1864 into the 20th century, with images of births over 100 years old, marriages over 75 years old and deaths over 50 years old.

    If you are starting to investigate your Irish family history and your ancestor was born or married or died in Ireland after 1864, you will need to investigate the records of civil registration.  The best place to start is with the two free websites www.familysearch.org and www.irishgenealogy.ie

    Where can I research my Irish family for free?

    The search engine at www.familysearch.org takes into account a far broader variant spelling of surnames and a search of the “Ireland civil registration indexes 1845-1958” should give you quite a comprehensive list of index entries (bearing in mind that late registrations and overseas and army registrations will be missing from this collection).  You can then compare this finding with the civil records listed for the same search at www.irishgenealogy.ie.   The reason for this is that www.irishgenealogy.ie will only list results for a very specific spelling of a surname, with few variants.   See how the two lists compare to make sure you are not missing birth, marriage or death entries on either site.

    For example, the surname McDonagh comes in numerous variants; MacDonagh, McDonough, McDonogh, MacDonugh, etc.  At www.irishgenealogy.ie you may find that only those index entries for McDonagh and McDonogh appear, while at www.familysearch.org you may find other variants such as MacDonough are also included.  Surnames with the prefix Mc and O’ can also be a problem at www.irishgenealogy.ie.  In some cases you may need to put a space between the prefix and the name, so Mc Donagh will turn up a different set of results to McDonagh.  In some cases on both sites the names have been recorded as M’Donagh, making them harder to find.

    By using the two indexes both of which are free to search online, you will get most comprehensive record of entries from the original index, including name variants.  Always cast your net as wide as possible; it is easy to exclude people from your search as it progresses.

    The only benefit to the indexes at Find My Past IE and Ancestry UK are their marriage finders.  Both websites identify brides and grooms that were registered on the same page.  This can make it easier to find a relevant marriage.  However, the marriages published online at www.irishgenealogy.ie from 1870 to 1941 record the bride and groom in the index entry, bypassing the need for the Ancestry and Find My Past marriage finder for marriages during this particular period.

    Where can I find Irish Civil Registration Information?

    The records for civil registration are organised by Registration District.  A registration district is the same as a Poor Law Union.  This is because the dispensary doctors of the poor law union were usually the local registrars.   If you are searching for ancestors in Ireland it is always helpful to know their registration district, making it much easier to identify relevant civil birth, marriage and death records.  Just because your ancestor married in Co. Kilkenny, does not mean that their marriage will be registered in the registration district called Kilkenny.  Co. Kilkenny contains several other registration districts.  

    Each county is made up of a number of registration districts and Clare Santry has published a list of the districts for each county on her website: https://www.irish-genealogy-toolkit.com/Ireland-civil-registration.html.

    Each registration district is divided into registrar’s districts, but the registrar’s district is not used in the General Register office indexes. However, it is used on the website www.rootsireland.ie so it may be helpful to identify the registrars’ districts within each registration district.

    If you have a townland address for your family or if you have identified them in the 1901 or 1911 census in Ireland, you can find the Union or Registration District in which they were living by checking the index of townlands or take a look at the enumerators return on the census, which will record the townland, civil parish, registration district and county. You can also use the place name search on John Grenham’s website; www.johngrenham.com  where you will find lists of all townlands in each poor law union (registration district) or you can search by townland to identify the registration district in which it is located.  This site will also list the registrar’s districts within each registration district or union.

    Bear in mind that marriages usually took place in the parish of the bride, so will most likely be registered in her home registration district.  Deaths were registered in the district where the death took place.  For example, I found a death registration for a man who died on the side of the road while travelling back from the market in Dundalk, Co. Louth, to his home in Monaghan.  His death was registered in Dundalk, where he died, making him very difficult to find when his death did not appear in his local registration district.

    Although a townland address may have officially been located in one registration district, the address may have been more convenient to a neighbouring district.  If you don’t find your ancestor in the district in which they should have been registering events, it may be worth trying the neighbouring districts, even if they cross a county border.

    It is always worth obtaining a copy of the original registration.  Many published family trees on websites like Ancestry simply contain a reference to the index entry, confirming that a birth or marriage was registered with the civil authorities.  The actual registration or certificate will contain a great deal more information and sometimes surprising clues, such as the name of an informant or an address or occupation, which may prove beneficial to your research.  The fact that the majority of these records are freely available online means that there is no excuse for not tracking down the original registration, if, of course, the event was actually registered.


    Nicola Morris M.A.G.I is a professional genealogist and member of Accredited Genealogists Ireland. She is the director of Timeline Research Ltd, one of Ireland’s leading genealogical research companies. Nicola has undertaken the Irish research for WDYTYA? in the UK and US and has appeared in numerous episodes. She was also the presenter of the first series of the Genealogy Roadshow broadcast in Ireland in 2011.

    Look out for next week's post, where Nicola will explore Roman Catholic and Church of Ireland parish registers, where to find them online and tips for getting the best out of the records.
  • Irish Family History: Getting Started

    In the first of six guest posts on Researching your Irish Family History,  Nicola Morris describes how to go about tracing your Irish ancestry.


    The fallacy that I frequently hear about Irish family history research is that it is impossible because all of the records were destroyed. This is far from true. Yes, some vital records were destroyed, and these losses can make Irish family history research challenging and frequently frustrating, but there are plenty of sources that do survive, you just need to know where to find them.

    Let’s start with what was actually destroyed and what survives. The most significant loss of records for Irish genealogy are the 19th century census returns. A census was undertaken in Ireland every decade from 1821. The returns for 1861, 1871, 1881 and 1891 were destroyed by Government order during the First World War, possibly because of a paper shortage. The remaining 19th century returns from 1821 to 1851 were largely destroyed in the 1922 Public Records Office fire. While this is a tremendous loss, it is not insurmountable. Irish genealogists have spent the last century identifying potential census substitutes that document the population during the same period. The 1901 and 1911 census survives intact and efforts are underway to have the 1926 census released by 2022.

    The two other great losses from the 1922 Public Records Office fire are the large portion of Church of Ireland parish registers that were destroyed and testamentary records. However, as the majority of the Irish population was Roman Catholic and few owned enough property to leave bequests, these records only apply to a small portion of the Irish population.

    The records for civil registration in Ireland, which commenced in 1864 when it became compulsory to register all births, deaths and marriages, survive in full. Roman Catholic parishes retained their own records and although the extent of surviving records varies from parish to parish, nearly every parish in Ireland is documented from at least the mid-19th century and in many cases from the 1830s and earlier. Many of these records are now available online on a number of different websites and in the articles to follow we will take a much closer look at how to find and search these sources for evidence of your Irish ancestors. 

    Things you need to start researching your family in Ireland

    Before starting a search for your family in Ireland it is always sensible to try and gather as much information about them as possible from the records for the country in which they settled. Research in Ireland is most productive if you can focus on a specific area. Families with common surnames can be distinguished one from the other using their address. Establishing a county, parish or town and address for your ancestors before you start research in Ireland will make your research that little bit easier.

    It is a good idea to try and establish where and when your Irish ancestor was born and the names of their parents and siblings and even extended family before you start. This help to locate the correct family in Ireland and avoids the danger of adopting the wrong Irish ancestors. I have met too many people who have plucked a person out of a database of Irish records because they have the correct name and were born at about the right time, but after years of research, turn out to belong to a different family.

    Try to locate your Irish born ancestor in every UK census return. Returns for some years may state a county or even town of birth in Ireland. While it may only state Ireland as a place of birth in 1881, the 1891 return or 1911 return may give a more specific address.

    Obtain a marriage certificate for your Irish born ancestor if they married in the UK, this should state their father’s name and occupation and possibly whether the father was alive at the time of marriage. Check the civil marriage certificate to see if the couple married in a Roman Catholic Church. Some Roman Catholic parish marriage registers, particularly in the later 19th century, recorded the names of both parents of the bride and groom.

    More recent death certificates in the UK record a date and place of birth and the maiden name of a married woman. While the given dates of birth are not always accurate, they can be a good guide for when your Irish ancestor was born.

    Roman Catholic baptismal records for the children of your Irish born ancestor should record the names of sponsors or Godparents to a baptisms. Sponsors with the same surname may have been siblings of your ancestor who also emigrated. Census returns and marriage and death certificates for siblings of your ancestor may contain more clues about the family’s origins in Ireland. It is also worth looking for the parents of your Irish born ancestor in UK census returns. While the parents may not have emigrated with their children, it is not uncommon to find the widowed mother settling with one of her married children in the UK later in her life, or following the death of her husband in Ireland. Cousins and aunts and uncles can also show up in census returns providing more potential clues to your Irish born ancestor’s origins. 

    Civil registration in Ireland only commenced in 1864 and is a complete record of all births, marriages and deaths from that date, although not all events were registered with the civil authorities. If you can find a member of your Irish born ancestor’s family who might have been born or married in Ireland after 1864, this is the person to pursue first. For example, should you find a niece of nephew of your ancestor who was born in Ireland in 1872 and is living in the house of your ancestor in the UK by 1891, they should be pursued. If their Irish birth certificate can be located, it will provide an address for their family, which is very likely in the vicinity of your own ancestor’s family. This will allow you to focus your Irish research on records for a specific area. 

    For example, a man named James Kelly, was born in Ireland in about 1858 and settled in England. In the 1901 census his niece, Mary Gallagher, was residing in his household with her husband and children. Her children were born in England. A birth certificate for one of Mary’s children established her maiden name was Cooney. No record was found for her marriage in England, but a search of the Irish civil marriage index found her marriage in Ireland. The marriage certificate established her address and father’s name. A record of her birth was found, which confirmed her mother’s maiden name as Kelly. The marriage of Mary’s parents in Ireland identified the father of James Kelly and James’ sister’s family address. Although this was a round-about way of locating the family, we did not know enough about James Kelly from UK records to be able to locate his birth in Ireland. It was the details relating to his niece that identified the correct family.

    Outside of large urban areas like Manchester and Liverpool, it is also worth looking at the other Irish emigrants who settled in the same place. They may have come from the same area in Ireland. 

    Researching the wider community and their origins may lead to a specific location in Ireland. Family or community groups may have emigrated to work in a specific industry. They may have been employed in the same industry in Ireland. It is possible that they were tenants of the same landowner, who held property in both Ireland and England.

    Some occupational records can state a place of birth. British Army service records, for example, should state the soldier’s county and parish of birth in Ireland.

    Once you have scoured UK records and built a detailed profile of your Irish born ancestor you are ready to start searching for evidence of them in Ireland.


    Nicola Morris M.A.G.I is a professional genealogist and member of Accredited Genealogists Ireland. She is the director of Timeline Research Ltd, one of Ireland’s leading genealogical research companies. Nicola has undertaken the Irish research for WDYTYA? in the UK and US and has appeared in numerous episodes. She was also the presenter of the first series of the Genealogy Roadshow broadcast in Ireland in 2011.

    Next week, Nicola explores Irish records of Civil Registration in more detail, including where to find them online and tips for how to get the best out of the information available.
  • Guest post: Neish - A One Name Study

    A one name study looks at the origins of a surname rather than a
    person or a family. Here, Alisdair Neish explains how getting
    involved with the study led to him discovering people from all over
    the world with the same surname.

    Alisdair welcomes information on any Neish-related names to add to the database, and is especially seeking help with Northern Irish branches: McNeice, McNiece, and McNeece.


    I learned early that it is not uncommon to grow up not knowing anyone else who shares your surname. My only Uncle and my Dad's last remaining Uncle died when I was around 12. It was 10 years later, the year my Dad died, before I met another Neish. My early research uncovered almost nothing other than the McNab Folklore. [1]

    I realised we were out there as the Neish / McNeish name had a habit of popping up in news items or documentaries, especially after the birth of the internet. I soon contacted lots of individuals who, like me, did not know much beyond their immediate family.

    Then I was emailed by John Sudell Neish who is creating a One Name database of every Neish who ever lived. I was able to tell John enough to link into his data and John was able to tell me that we were 6th cousins and was kind enough to provide me with details of my entire family group since our common ancestor  of 1715. My research continued though.

    Image: Loch Earn, home of the Neish clan (©  Patrick MacRitchie)

    Even with a rare name you have to be careful with research. I have seen family trees online where a man is recorded as marrying his mother and a “super” Neish fathering a child when in his nineties. Of course both were wrong. I have proven four “Alexander Neish” babies all born in one tiny farm village in the same year. Care is always needed. So many people became upset at John when he pointed out the sometimes glaring errors in their own research that he has stopped all direct online interaction to concentrate on the Neish list.

    I and a few others now do our best, using his data and practice, to fill that online gap. We also collate whatever new information we can learn and pass that back to John for corroboration and inclusion in the master database.

    I am happy to help anyone who is looking for Neish information if I can. Of course we are always happy to receive new information too, to add to the list which now stands at 25,000 individuals from all around the world. From farm hands to astronauts!

    By the beginning of Scottish parish records there were already five distinct family groups in Scotland. This suggested there was more history to uncover from before the days of parish records.

    The name (and its 40+ spellings) is rare enough that no-one had really worked on it since the 19th century. My own research is mainly into the many hundreds of randomly recorded individuals going back to 1200 AD (possibly even older but no firm proof as yet) which suggested a single source and most of my current work lies in trying to prove / disprove our early history. Nothing fitted the highland Clan system. That's a story for another day.

    Most Scots clan names refer to an allegiance to a particular group or a strong leader who protected the local population in times of trouble. For example Son of Gregor has given us McGregor. Today many groups claim to be part of Large clans and are considered to be septs of the clan. Some Neish joined up with the McGregors and are accepted by clan societies today as a sept. This does not tell us where they came from. Were the Neish the sons of one man or a group of folks living under the protectorate of that leader?

    Recently, following a request, I looked into the Northern Ireland family where the spelling generally altered to McNeice, McNiece, and McNeece. Unfortunately, due to the combination of changing government and a fire in the records office we have big gaps in the history of the family before the 1920’s. Establishing who belongs to which family on a countrywide scale is proving difficult and we would love to hear from anyone who has already looked at, or is currently looking into the Irish family to see if we can help each other.

    If you would like to get in touch with Alisdair, you can email him at alisdairneish@gmail.com, and/or join the Neish Facebook group.


    [1] A McNab chief headed "the violent feud with the Clan Neish, or MacNeish, who held the lands in the upper part of Strathearn and lived on the lower part of Loch Earn, which they called Neish Island." From http://clan-macnab.com/macnab-history

    As Alisdair noted above (and anyone researching Irish ancestry) can attest, Irish genealogy has it's own particular set of challenges for the researcher. In a few weeks, Pat Reynolds (FreeUKGEN's executive director) will be writing about records pertaining to Northern Ireland on our websites, and in the new year we will present a series of guest posts from a specialist in the field of Irish genealogy, to help you overcome those barriers.

  • Guest Post - George Sargent: The Forgotten Golfing Innovator

    ‘The first recollections I have are of playing up and down the road, with a stick, with a knob or crook at the end, and trying to drive along a round pebble, in imitation of the golfers. It must certainly have needed some accuracy.’

    George Sargent, Article in The American Golfer 1909

    Idly flipping through the pages of a golf collectables book at Gloucester antiques centre recently, I paused and looked again. There in black and white was the signature of my great-great-uncle George Sargent. I had never met him and until my sister began a family tree a few years ago many of our ancestors and stories had been an unspoken mystery.

    The book states that George’s signature was worth $350 in 2004. Further down the list, keen golfer Frank Sinatra’s signature is listed at $100 less. 

    Using census, birth, marriage and death, and marriage records we had discovered that George was born at Brockham, Surrey in 1882, was a professional golfer, and had won the US Open in 1909. But what had lead him to America? Why is my sports loving father so disparaging about ‘glof’ as he terms the game, and why did I read about George introducing the use of motion pictures to study the golf swing when there appeared to be no obvious proof that he had done so?

    In 1886 George Jonathan Sargent was an inventive, playful four year old living with his mother Amelia, father William, Alfred his five year old brother, and baby sister Rose Edith, my paternal great grandmother.

    The family moved to Epsom soon after Rose was born and George began imitating the golfers at the nearby Epson Down Golf Club, seeking out little round stones and straight sticks with a crook at the end just the right size to practice with.

    George often popped onto the course and soon became a caddy, carrying clubs, fetching stray balls and carrying out various duties. His father William worked hard, long hours as a maltster to support the family. The pressure on George to earn more money in a stable job must have increased when brother William was born in 1894.

    Golf was George’s passion, his life, and we can only imagine the family conversations that I suspect lead to the families disparaging ingrained view of golf as a profession.

    George was hardworking, willing to learn and had obviously made an impression at the club. Thomas McWatt took the enthusiastic youngster under his wing, and before his twelfth birthday George had begun a six year apprenticeship as a golf club maker with the professional golfer.

    By the age of sixteen George was flourishing at the game and McWatt, along with famed golfer Harry Vardon, encouraged him to a quite exceptional standard and he later proudly declared that ‘I could hold my own with any scratch man’.

    Harry Vardon took George to Canton golf club up in Yorkshire where he developed his game, learned how to teach golf and how to manage and design golf courses.

    He then moved back to Esher, Surrey to be coached by Sir Edgar Vincent. His first game as a pro was at Muirfield in Scotland. By the end of the first round he was in fifth place. It created quite the buzz and Harry Vardon later commented that everyone was walking round asking ‘Who the blazes is this Sargent?’.

    Great things were predicted for the young prodigy. After moving to Dewsbury in Yorkshire and winning several prizes, George competed in the prestigious ‘Open Championship’ at St Andrews, finishing in an astonishing fourth place.

    By 1905 George felt he had outgrown the UK pro circuit and moved to the Royal Ottawa Golf Club in Quebec, Canada, leaving behind his pregnant mother and unmarried pregnant sister.

    George and Beatrice on their wedding day 1907. Courtesy of Carol Hitchcock  granddaughter of the couple.

    George and Beatrice on their wedding day 1907. Courtesy of Carol Hitchcock granddaughter of the couple.

    In 1907 George returned to England to marry Beatrice Marguerite Pearce in Battersea and she joined him in Ottawa later that summer.

    A fruitful few years followed and George became a pro in New England at the course he had helped design - Hyde Manor Hotel in Vermont.

    In 1908 their first son, Alfred, was born in Quebec and in 1909 George left Beatrice in Liverpool as he sailed for New York on The Mauritania.

    George put his time to good use practising, but fared very badly at the US Championship at Myopia. Feeling he could do nothing right he tore up his card in disgust; ‘When I cooled off and saw how bad almost everyone else was I realized my mistake, and promptly made up my mind I had torn up my last card.’

    He put in weeks more practice in preparation for the US Open Championship and a few days at Garden City. Then something happened, ‘I commenced to develop a feeling I was going to win; that feeling never left me, and even when I started the first round 6555, which was enough to dishearten anyone, I never lost confidence.’ He determined to improve during the afternoon, started badly, improved then spent the rest of the match playing a tightly nudged game with MacNamara. On the ninth hole he heard clapping and someone said ‘You are level with MacNamara’ and a friend advised he kept cool. George felt no excitement ‘I might have been made of wood for all the feeling I had, there was just one determined object in my head to win.’

    And by George did he win! He heard a great ovation from the Gallery and realised he had done the unthinkable.

    He later modestly thanked his ‘brother pro’s’ for their generous congratulations, ‘I had come amongst them almost an entire stranger, and I thank them all for my kind reception.’

    George proudly wrote ‘Golf Champion’ as his profession on the 1910 USA census. He played in another fifteen US Opens finishing six times in the top ten, and won both the 1912 Canadian Open and 1918 Minnesota State Open. Other achievements beckoned aside from championships, as the family dotted around America popping across the border to Canada and back to England intermittently with a steadily growing family.

    George moved to the Chevy Chase Country club as head pro for seven years, then to Minneapolis, Ohio and Columbus, constantly re-designing and refining the courses he played on.

    George was a member of the Professional Golfers Association Of America from its beginnings and in 1921 was honoured to become the 3rd president, a post he held for five years.

    Selection of adverts. Courtesy Stephen Guyot, thegolfballfactory.com

    During his time at Chevy Chase he was also busy designing, manufacturing and promoting his own range of golf clubs.

    A well groomed mustachioed George stares from the posters;
    ‘Hit Hard and Look Spiteful, is what you have to do with most clubs, Smile and Take it Easy, is all you need with the Champion Clubs.’

    During the 1920s George was confident enough with his teaching to give golf lessons on the radio and this seemingly batty idea may have led him to his next innovation.

    C Francis Jenkins with one of his moving image inventions. Image: Wikipedia

    Sometime before 1930 he had met C Francis Jenkins, a pioneer in motion picture apparatus as well as the development of television. Several years before, George had begun studying the golf swing with an incredibly focused eye, using stereoscope photography to analyse the science of stance, grip and angle.

    We can only imagine his excitement at discovering that Jenkins had developed a movie camera that took an incredible 3200 shots a second. At the time an ordinary camera took only 16. George explained to the Sarasota Herald-Tribune that he and Francis could take ‘3200 pictures a second on 200 feet of film’ slowing ‘a golf swing down from something like one second to four minutes’. This is an achievement that OB Keebler described in the paper of 1930 as ‘the most important development, I suppose, in all the history of golf, so far as the teaching of this complex and baffling game is concerned.'

    George chose his three subjects expertly, Harry Vardon his mentor and old style golfer, Bobby Jones a newer buck on the block, and Miss Joyce Wethered ‘the greatest feminine golfer who ever lived’. 

    Bobby Jones age 14, Miss Joyce Wethered in 1953, Harry Vardon. Images: Wikipedia

    There were only four of these amazing cameras in the world and the film was produced by the PGAA; it must have cost a fortune considering the amount of film used. Around the same time George, ever the innovator, was experimenting on apparatus to ‘weigh’ a golf swing and by 1939 he had developed a cobbled-together machine that did just that. Along with analysis of champions' heights and weights, he calculated that the optimum swing for a win was 22° between the golfer's body and the golf club, all clearly demonstrated in Popular Science magazine.

    Having pieced together George’s articles and quotes, I now have the proof of his early innovation using motion pictures to analyse golf techniques. The film that he worked on showing his three chosen subjects can be found on Youtube:

    George and Beatrice had 10 surviving children; several went on to be golf pros, teachers and course designers. 

    George helped shape the future of golf through his application of innovative, practical scientific inventions. Perhaps it is because of his self-effacing, collaborative nature that much of his story has remained undocumented until now?

    Heather Tweed is an artist, writer and educator. She has spent five years scouring dusty manuscripts and unopened tomes, bringing to life a remarkable characters from the past. 



    Links and sources:

    National Library Of Congress catalogue, 35 stereographs of famous golfers demonstrating golf techniques:


    How I won The Open Championship, George Sargent, American Golfer 1909:


    Golf The Proper Way, The American Golfer, Vol 3 No. 6 April 1910:


    This Game Of Golf, Sarasota Herald Tribune, August 5th 1930:


    The Great Golf Hall Of Fame:


    Golf Club Patents 1935, George Sargent & William H Vaughn:


    Novel Scale “Weighs” Golf Swing, Popular Science August 1939:


    The Right Clubs and Balls:


    Analysis of Golf Swing film from Youtube video (above)

    Gilchrist’s Guide to Golf Collectibles, Roger E Gilchrist & Mark Emerson, iGuide Media, Inc. 2004

    Golf Club Patents, Sargent George, William H Vaughan, filing date Sept 4, 1935,
    Serial No. 40,089:


    Epsom and Ewell History Explorer, George Jonathan Sargent 1882-1962 Hazel Ballan 2012