SPANNING THE CENTURIES
Start your ancestral search here
by Helen Kelly
that the heady days of the new Millennium have passed, and
the celebrations and festivities are fast becoming a memory,
we are starting to reflect more deeply on the fact that
we are creatures from the last century! The reality of this
is beginning to dawn on many of us as we realise that our
childhood memories truly belong to the realms of history.
With such thoughts in mind perhaps it is not too late to
add another resolution to our list and take on the role
of the family historian. Coming to grips with the recent
past should not pose too many problems. However, charting
the family history of those who preceded us in the last
two centuries is a much more daunting task and we must get
down to a great deal of hard work. It is therefore time
to dust down the family bible, open up the family treasure
chests, and most importantly of all, it is time to contact
Great-Aunt Hannah who in our childhood days regaled us with
wonderful stories concerning her grandparents. What an exciting
prospect for all of us lucky enough to have such legacies.
those who do not have such a treasure trove, the task is
more daunting. Straight away we can make our excuses and
tell ourselves that we never knew our grandparents and that
we have no elderly relatives to consult with. While our
task is difficult because of the lack of family lore, we
can nevertheless console ourselves with the fact that we
all leave a documentary trail in our wake. Even those who
emigrated from their homeland in the dim and distant past
left a documentary trail, albeit in many cases a fragmented
and tenuous one.
we get down to the serious business of charting our family
history, the important thing to keep in mind is that family
history begins with ourselves. We must first set out our
own personal details and then move to the personal details
of our parents and grandparents. At this juncture we usually
reach an impasse and the facts become a little less certain.
It is at this point that we need to direct our attention
towards the paper trail and seek out the relevant genealogical
sources such as those outlined hereunder:
Records of birth, marriage and death:
Civil records of birth, death and marriage in most countries
began in the second half of the 19th century. Civil records
of birth usually record full name of the child, the place
of birth, full names of parents, including maiden surname
of the Mother, occupation of one or both parents, and the
name of a person who was present at birth. Civil records
of marriage in many countries, including Ireland and the
U.K., usually record at least the names of the fathers of
both bride and groom. Australian civil records of marriage
usually record names of both parents, and the place of birth
of both bride and groom. In North America, Australia and
New Zealand, civil records of death usually record the names
of the parents of the deceased. In general, it is preferable
to locate a civil record in addition to a church record
for such events, as the civil records usually contain more
detailed information than that recorded in a parish register.
registers of baptism and marriage:
Church records of baptism and marriage are generally held
in the local parish. However, micro-film copies of such
records can also be found in various repositories such as
Latter Day Saintsí libraries, public libraries or church
In the United States, Federal Census Returns date from 1790.
Information contained therein is rather scanty up to 1860.
Returns up to 1920 are available at the National Archives,
Washington D.C. It is useful to know that Federal Census
Returns for 1880, 1900 and 1920 have been indexed by surname
and are therefore particularly useful. In Canada, the earliest
census was conducted in 1851 and subsequent censuses were
taken every ten years. Returns from 1851 to1901 are now
available in various repositories in Canada.
Additional information on ancestors can also be obtained
from such sources as obituary notices in newspapers, gravestone
inscriptions, naturalization papers, passport applications,
passenger lists and immigration records.
Once the name of an Irish-born ancestor has been established,
it is imperative to locate the following additional information
from documentary sources in the country of immigration:
date of birth
Place of birth in Ireland
Names of Parents
Names of Spouse, if married in Ireland
Year of Marriage
it is not possible to obtain all of the above from the ancestorís
personal documents, you should at least endeavour to establish
the names of parents and the county of origin.
this information you are then ready to start research of
Irish genealogical sources. Before beginning, it is important
to have some understanding of the nature of Irish genealogical
research, and to be aware of its possibilities and limitations.
The majority of persons carrying out research of Irish genealogical
records can at best expect to extend their search back to
the middle or second quarter of the 19th century. Some persons
can, of course, extend their search back to a much earlier
Civil registration of birth, death and marriage started
in Ireland in 1864, while civil registration of all other
marriages commenced in 1845. Before civil registration,
we are dependent on the existence of the relevant church
registers for evidence of ancestral baptisms and marriages.
Church registers in Ireland vary a great deal in their starting
dates. The majority of Roman Catholic Parish registers date
from the middle of the 19th century. However, many began
at a much earlier period, and some after 1850. Micro-film
copies of most Roman Catholic Parish Registers for all Ireland
(up to around 1880) are held at the National Library of
Ireland, and are nearly all openly accessible, with certain
exceptions, such as those pertaining to the Archdiocese
of Cashel and Emly. These may be accessed only through a
Heritage Centre in Tipperary Town, Co. Tipperary. You may
also commission a search from the County Heritage Centres
which are currently indexing and computerising parish registers.
Church of Ireland is the main Protestant Church in Ireland.
Its records suffered a great deal of destruction in a fire
in the Public Record Office in Dublinís Four Courts during
the Civil War of 1922. However, many transcript copies and
original registers of the Church of Ireland still survive.
Church of Ireland registers usually record burials, in addition
to baptisms and marriages. Registers of the Church of Ireland
may be found in different locations. Copies of those for
the Northern Counties of Ulster are usually held in the
Public Record Office in Belfast. Many original registers
for the Republic of Ireland are held at the main repository
of the Church of Ireland in Dublin. Micro-film copies of
some Church of Ireland registers are also held at the National
Archives in Dublin, and many registers still remain in local
copies of Presbyterian Registers for Ulster are held at
the public Records Office of Northern Ireland in Belfast,
and at the Presbyterian Historical Society in Belfast. Many
original Presbyterian registers remain in the custody of
local congregations in Northern Ireland and in the Republic
addition to civil and church records, the remainder of Irish
genealogical research can usually be conducted within land
and property records and census returns. Additional sources
such as land deeds, wills and testamentary material are
also available, but are less likely to yield positive results
for the majority of those engaged in Irish Genealogical
visit to the homeland:
On completion of research within your home country, the
mind naturally turns to the possibility of a visit to Ireland.
Before embarking on such a journey, you may opt to engage
the services of a professional genealogist in Ireland to
carry out research of Irish sources. Alternatively, you
might decide to undertake this research on arrival in Ireland.
If you select the latter option, it is best to start your
Irish trip in Dublin where the majority of genealogical
sources may be consulted. In order to make the most of the
Dublin visit, it is advisable to take advantage of the free
genealogy advisory service available to all visitors to
the National Library of Ireland in Kildare Street. Professional
genealogists are on hand to assess ancestral information,
and to guide visitors to the sources and repositories that
are best suited to their particular searches.
luck in your Search!
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