Site Contents

Start your ancestral search here
by Helen Kelly

Now 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.

For 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.

Once 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:

Civil 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.

Church 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 archives.

Census Returns:
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.

Miscellaneous sources:
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.

The Irish-born Ancestor:
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:

Approximate date of birth
Place of birth in Ireland
Religious Denomination
Names of Parents
Names of Spouse, if married in Ireland
Year of Marriage

If 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.

With 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 period.

Civil Records
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
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.

The 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 custody.

Micro-film 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 of Ireland.

In 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 research.

A 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.

Good luck in your Search!




Information Service and Quarterly Review,
Rookwood, Stocking Lane, Ballyboden, Dublin 16, Ireland
Fax: +353 1 4934538 Email: insideireland@eircom.net