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Strategies for Starting Your Irish Research

    I’ve had quite a few emails this past week from people just starting their Irish research and trying to figure out where to begin.  I thought I’d repeat a blog I wrote back in 2011 with some updated information.  

   Most people have  heard that “you can’t research in Ireland because of the fire.”  Although the fire at the Public Records Office in Dublin in 1922 was devastating, there are still many records to research your 19th century ancestors.  The farther you go back, however, the more difficult it becomes.  

    The key piece of information you need to be successful in Irish research is the locality where your ancestors lived in Ireland…and I’ll admit, that is sometimes difficult to find.  Some people have the information buried in their files, and don’t recognize it.  So before you begin, learn about the various Administrative Divisions in Ireland.  (Follow through the next three blogs to learn about all of the Divisions.)  Sometimes our ancestors referenced different divisions on various papers.  John Daly said he came from Claremorris on this Petition for Naturalization (Poor Law Union); Crumlin (Townland) on  his Immigration.  His half-brother’s obituary told me he was from Mayo (County).  Also realize that it was not unusual for our ancestors to give the name of the closest large town, which may be in different administrative divisions.  For example, Patrick Moughty said he was from Mullingar, but was actually from a small townland about six miles away, but in a different parish, barony and Poor Law Union.

   You need to check all the records your ancestor left in this country (or other country of immigration) to find the locality information.  That includes records that are not on the Internet, such as church records, newspapers, land and probate records.  Since the Irish practiced chain migration, watch census records for names of siblings, cousins, nieces or nephews that came later when more information is contained in the record.  If you’re not successful move to siblings, witnesses on various documents, sponsors on baptisms, friends, associates and neighbors.  Think about why your ancestor settled in a particular area…probably because they knew someone from their home in Ireland.   So if your ancestor didn’t leave the information, perhaps someone in their circle did leave it. 

   If your ancestor was born in Ireland after 1864, there is likely a birth certificate.  If you can identify the Poor Law Union (this became the Registration District for Civil Registration) you may be able to find the birth.  If the name is common, you’ll need some other piece of information such as the father’s name, the mother’s maiden name or perhaps names of siblings.  There are now versions of the Irish Civil Registration Indexes  available at FamilySearch, FindMyPast, Ancestry and IrishGenealogy.ie (which is free, but restricted to 100 years on births, 75 years on marriages and 50 years on deaths).  Between 1922 and 1958 only the Republic of Ireland is included in the Index.  The certificates are not available online and you will have to order them from the General Register Office for about $4.50 However if your ancestors were from one of the six counties of Northern Ireland (Down, Armagh, Antrim Londonderry, Tyrone or Fermanagh) the General Register Office of Northern Ireland is a great resource.  Not only can you search the index, but you can immediately get a copy of the certificate (for about $3.00).  The records are available from the start of civil registration, with the same restrictions of 100 years for births, 75 years for marriages and 50 years for deaths.

    The expansion of the Irish Family History Foundation online database of church records is another great resource.  Prior to civil registration, this is the only place you’ll find information on baptisms or marriages.  (Burial records are infrequently kept for Roman Catholics but some do exist.)  This site is now a subscription only site, however it’s possible to sign up for one month for $28.  Not all churches are available so check their online sources to see if yours is there, and the years covered. 

    Finally, IrishGenealogy.ie.  This site is hosted by the Department of Arts, Sport and Tourism and in addition to the civil registration indexes, has transcriptions of church records for baptism, marriage and death available to view free of charge.  The focus is Kerry, Western Cork (Diocese of Cork and Ross) and Dublin City.  One of the interesting features of this website is that it will find a name, whether it appears as a name of a child, parent or sponsor.  Hopefully the government will continue to populate this site with new records.  

   This past July, the National Library of Ireland completed a digitization project to put images of all of their Roman Catholic parish registers online. The site is images only…no indexes.   If you have a date and location from the transcriptions at either the Irish Family History Foundation or IrishGenealogy it is very easy to go to the year and month on the images.  If not, you may have to go through the images page by page but be warned, some of the images are not very readable.  

    Remember, if you’re planning research in Ireland (and I hope you’ll check out the information on my Ireland Research Trips) you need to do your homework before you leave.  The websites listed above will help  you prepare for a successful research trip to Ireland.

    Happy Hunting!


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