Basic Irish Research Guide
Getting Started With
This article provides a brief introduction to the procedures
and records commonly used by Irish family history researchers. For more information and resources you can
consult our Research Resources on our IGHS website.
Your research will begin with you and your immediate family.
Ask questions of family members whom you think might know a little bit about your
family history. Begin recording
information by remembering facts about each member in your family that will
identify that person. Each person can be identified by personal information,
such as the following:
members of the family
and places of important events such as birth, marriage, and death
Consult old photographs on which names and dates may be
noted. Be sure to write the names you
know on the back of the photos. Visit family
gravestones and gather any documentation in which family information is recorded. As you do this, try to establish approximate
dates (of birth, marriage and death) as well as names (forenames and related
family names) and places of residence. This information will point the way to
relevant records. Of course, religious denomination is also important in
determining which records are relevant to your research. Get forms or computer
programs you can use to record your family information. They make the task of
recording and organizing easier. If you prefer writing information on paper,
download or print these two forms:
pedigree chart lets you list your pedigree (your parents, grandparents, great
grandparents, and so on).
Family Group Record—A family group record
lets you list an entire family and their information. You will need several
prefer using a computer, you can download free programs such as Legacy (www.legacyfamilytree.com) or Personal
Ancestral File, (www.familysearch.org)
or install any other family history program of your choice. Record the information you remember about
your family on the forms or in a family history program.
- First fill out a form for
your own family, and then work back to your parents and grandparents. You
can quickly see what you know and what information is missing or
Look for sources in your home that might contain the missing or incomplete
- Useful sources include birth,
marriage, and death certificates; family bibles; funeral programs;
obituaries; wedding announcements; family registers; and ancestral
Add this information to your pedigree charts and family group records. Record the sources of the information (use
the Notes or Sources section on the forms or in your family history program).
This helps you and others know where the information came from.
about the geography and history of Ireland will save you time and
effort by helping you understand the circumstances that influenced both the
lives of your ancestors and the records written about them. In studying the
history of Ireland, for
example, you will learn that there was a civil war in Ireland in 1921 and 1922 that caused the
creation of the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland.
necessary background information, do the following:
- Learn about parishes
or townlands of your ancestor's residence.
Examine maps, gazetteers, particularly townland indexes, and other
place-finding aids to learn as much as you can about each of the places
where your ancestor lived. Record the names of governmental and
ecclesiastical jurisdictions; nearby parishes, cities, and counties; and
other geographical features.
- Review histories.
Study a history of the specific area where your ancestor lived. Look for
clues about the people, places, religions, and events that may have
affected your ancestor and his or her records. For example, you may read
that French Huguenots immigrated to Ireland and settled in a
particular county. If your ancestor was a Huguenot, this would suggest
that you might find your ancestor in that county. There are sources that you can read to
learn of such migrations, settlement patterns, government jurisdictions,
and historical events.
- Learn about Irish jurisdictions. You will need
to know about Irish civil and ecclesiastical boundaries. For a brief
overview of Irish jurisdictions you consult our Research Resources on our
After surveying previous research,
you will be ready to search original documents. Many of these documents have
been copied on microfilm or microfiche. Original documents can provide
dependable, firsthand information recorded at or near the time of an event. To
do thorough research in original documents, you should search records of:
- Your ancestor's church in each place he or she lived.
- The jurisdictions
that may have kept records about your ancestor (parish, city, county, and
Most Irish researchers, however, begin with the following types of records:
The Records in Ireland
The principal sources used for genealogical research in Ireland fall
under the following headings:
- Civil Records
The civil or State registration of
marriages, other than Catholic marriages, commenced in Ireland in
1845. In 1864, civil registration of all births, marriages and deaths
began. These civil records are held at the General Register Office.
- Church Records
Microfilm copies - usually up to the year 1880 - of most
surviving Catholic parish registers are available for consultation in the
National Library of Ireland. For the start-dates of relevant registers - and
microfilm numbers - consult the List of Parish Registers. (Copies of the list
may be consulted in the Catalogue Room in the Genealogy Service, and on the
Library’s Website at www.nli.ie). Most registers may be freely consulted.
However, in the case of two dioceses - Cashel and Emly and Kerry - letters of authorization must be obtained
prior to consultation of the microfilms.
The situation regarding Church of Ireland
(Anglican) records is more complicated. Many original records were destroyed in
the 1922 Public Record Office fire. Some original registers are held in the
National Archives in Dublin,
others are in the Representative Church Body Library while some are retained in
the parish. The Public Record Office of Northern Ireland also holds many
original and copy registers. For a
comprehensive listing of Church
of Ireland registers, and
their whereabouts, consult the relevant lists in the Reading Room and Genealogy
Enquiries regarding Presbyterian records can be addressed to
the Presbyterian Historical Society.
Prior to the 1810’s, records of Methodist births, marriages
and deaths are found in Church
of Ireland registers. For
details of surviving registers after that date, contact the Methodist church in
the area closest to your area of research. For the Ulster counties, the Public Record
Office of Northern Ireland holds a county-by-county listing of surviving
registers and their locations.
For Quaker records, contact the Library of the Religious
Society of Friends. For information on
Jewish records, contact the Irish Jewish Museum.
- Census Records
Surviving census records are in the custody of the National
Archives. The earliest complete surviving Census is that of 1901. There are a
number of records which may be used as Census Substitutes, many of which are
held here in the National Library. There is a useful chapter on ‘Census Substitutes’
in D.F. Begley (ed.) Irish Genealogy: a Record Finder. County by county
listings of Census Substitutes can be found in John Grenham’s
Tracing your Irish ancestors and in James Ryan’s Irish
Records: Sources for Family and Local History.
- Land and Property Records
Under this general heading can be found two important Census
Substitutes - the Tithe Applotment Books (1824-1838)
and the Primary Valuation of Ireland
Valuation (1848-1864) – these valuable records are much used by genealogists.
Suggestions for Searching the Records
Follow these principles as you search the records for your
for one generation at a time. Search backward from your
chosen ancestor one generation at a time, proving parentage. Do not skip
back a generation or more and assume that a person is related to your
ancestor just because they share the same surname. It is much easier to
prove parentage than it is to prove descent.
for the ancestor's entire family. Look for clues that hint
of other family members. For example, in most families children were born
at regular intervals. Therefore, if you note a long period between two
children's birth dates, reexamine the records to search for a child you
may have overlooked. Also, consider looking at other records and in other
localities to find missing family members.
each source thoroughly. A small piece of information in a
record may be the clue you need to find a person or to trace a family line
farther, so thoroughly examine each record you search. Note, for example,
the occupation and address of your ancestor. Also note the names and any
other information given about witnesses, sponsors, neighbors, relatives,
guardians, and others.
a copy of the original record. In some cases, transcripts
of the original records are available. While transcripts may be easier to
read, they may be less accurate than the original records.
a broad time period. Dates found in some sources may be
inaccurate. Look several years before and after the date you think an
event occurred. A christening or baptism could have taken place anytime
during a person's life.
for indexes. Look for an index that covers the record
type, time period, and place you need. Surname indexes exist for many
records, including civil registration, probate, and land records. Make
sure you check the original records after consulting an index. The
original may contain additional information.
for name variations. The history of Ireland
contributed to many variations in Irish names.
Consequently, names are often recorded differently than you might expect.
Be flexible when searching for your names of interest. For more information
on name variations, see the “Names, Personal” section of this outline.
Evaluate the Information
whether the information you find is complete and accurate. Ask yourself the
- Did the person who provided the information
witness the event?
- Was the information recorded near the time of
- Is the information logical and consistent with
the information in other sources?
If the answer to any
of these questions is no, be cautious in accepting the information's
accuracy. You may want to verify the information by doing further research. As
you evaluate and verify, look for new information such as places, events,
dates, and names which may suggest other records to search.
Record Your Searches and
the information you find and keep detailed notes about each record you search.
Include in your notes the record's author, title, location, call numbers, and
description as well as the objective and result of your search in that record.