Basic Irish Research Guide


Getting Started With Irish Research


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.


Beginning the Search


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:


  • Name
  • Other members of the family
  • Dates and places of important events such as birth, marriage, and death
  • Ancestral village
  • Occupation


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 A 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 copies.

If you prefer using a computer, you can download free programs such as Legacy ( or Personal Ancestral File, ( 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 incomplete.

Look for sources in your home that might contain the missing or incomplete family information.

  • Useful sources include birth, marriage, and death certificates; family bibles; funeral programs; obituaries; wedding announcements; family registers; and ancestral tablets.

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.

Background Information Sources


Learning 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.

To gain 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 IGHS website.

Original Records


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 country).

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 Librarys Website at 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 Service.

Enquiries regarding Presbyterian records can be addressed to the Presbyterian Historical Society.

Prior to the 1810s, 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 Grenhams Tracing your Irish ancestors and in James Ryans 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 or Griffiths 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 ancestor:

  • Search 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.
  • Search 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.
  • Search 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.
  • Examine 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.
  • Search 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.
  • Look 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.
  • Watch 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 You Find

Carefully evaluate whether the information you find is complete and accurate. Ask yourself the following questions:

  • Did the person who provided the information witness the event?
  • Was the information recorded near the time of the event?
  • 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 Findings


Copy 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.