Help, my ancestors were Irish!

Photo by Giuseppe Milo

Photo by Giuseppe Milo

“My family were from Ireland.”

Those are the words that many Family Historians dread to hear. I sometimes hear a thud inside my head like a heavy door being pushed shut or a distant bridge to the past being blown up. However, even in the last five years, more and more help is available to those who want to uncover their Irish heritage.

Researching Irish ancestry brings a number of problems:

  • Protestors against British rule destroyed the Irish Public Record Office, housed in Four Courts, Dublin, in 1922. Very few of the contents, which included about half the Church of Ireland (Protestant) Parish registers, census returns, wills and other government records, survived.
  • Historically, the majority of the Irish population was Roman Catholic whose registers did not begin until the late 18th century in towns and the 19th century in rural areas. Most of the original Parish registers remain with their churches and the majority has been copied onto film and can be viewed at the National Library in Dublin. Unfortunately many of these are still not yet accessible online.
  • There are relatively few surnames shared by most of the population.

Here are some resources we use at Family Detective to overcome these obstacles:

  1.  Try the big names like Ancestry.co.uk and Find My Past. Both these companies have been adding Irish records to their collections over the past few years and if you haven’t searched them for a while there may well be a few gems yet to be discovered. Find My Past has been particularly proactive and you can now search Irish Prison Registers, a list of Famine Immigrants and Irish Wills to name a few. Don’t forget to use your * or ? symbol to search for surnames which may be preceded by ‘O’ or ‘Mc’.
  2. Family Search, the free site set up by the Morman Church, has some Irish records. Search under ‘Records’ rather than ‘Genealogies’ for results from official documents rather than information submitted by members of the public.
  3. Roots Ireland created by the Irish Family History Foundation, has over 20 million records online. We have found treasure there, but it can get rather expensive.
  4. The National Archives of Ireland website has most of the 1901 and 1911 census records which survived the fire in 1922.
  5. Have a look at the Griffiths Valuation on Ask About Ireland. In the absence of Irish census records, this land valuation carried out by Richard Griffiths between 1847 and 1864 remains one of the most important surviving genealogical sources.
  6. For Northern Irish research try the Ulster Historical Foundation site. Although you may have to combine this with cross-referencing of birth, marriage and death indexes on Ancestry.co.uk if you want to order in a copy certificate. It’s not very user-friendly.

If you don’t get any joy from these sites then it might be time to consider a trip to Dublin, a beautiful and fascinating city that I would heartily recommend visiting. I’ll be giving you the low-down on that in a future post, so don’t forget to subscribe to this blog so you don’t miss it.

Discussion: How have you overcome obstacles in your Irish Research? Are there other websites you would recommend? Please feel free to post your comments or questions below.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.