Tracing your Irish Ancestry back to Ireland can feel like quite a daunting task. Here, we see a 3 -Step process that you can use to structure your search.
Do you ever wonder where your ancestors came from in Ireland? Maybe you already know the county? If you already know the specific house in the specific village or townland, then you’re one of the lucky ones.
Many people of Irish ancestry often come across no more than record or gravestone that simply states “Born in Ireland”. Some older members of your family might add “the story goes that our family came from County Cork originally” – or something like that!
This guide is primarily aimed at someone who is beginning to trace their Irish ancestors back to Ireland. However, even if you have started that journey, I think you’ll find useful reminders and suggestions in each of the steps below.
This is all about getting your KNOWN FACTS together – which come in the following four flavours:
Where can you find these facts? There are two primary sources:
SOURCE 1. LIVING RELATIVES: In Ireland, if you want to find out something – you ask someone who knows already. The original Irish Google! This might sound a bit obvious, but through the centuries, we have placed a lot of emphasis on the oral tradition.
So, after you have jotted down the facts that you know – and you want to go back a step, say find the maiden name for your grandmother – it’s a good idea to ask someone who is alive already. And follow THAT question up with a “what do you remember about her”. You can then corroborate the memories you uncover with records at a later date. It is also useful to ask for photographs (often showing a date and place) as well as private correspondence.
SOURCE 2. RECORDS: Records in the country of immigration and records in Ireland.
MORE ABOUT RECORDS.
How do you gain access to these records? Presuming you have uncovered some records in your extended family possession, I think its a good idea to take the following approach – starting with number 1 and seeing how far you get:
1. GO TO YOUR LOCAL LIBRARY. Local libraries are often your gateway to local knowledge AND the online world – staffed by librarians who have been asked the same kind of questions many times. Libraries also often have access to memberships of online ancestry sites.
2. SIGN UP FOR A PAID, OR FREE, ANCESTRY SITE. These sites typically do 3 things for you.
The big Ancestry sites include:
A lot of local libraries offer free access to most of the services offered by one or more of these ancestry sites. Many of our readers have found membership of (or a visit to) their local historical/genealogy society a wonderful way to connect with like-minded people in their localities.
Alternatively, you can access your local records more directly e.g. go to your local census site online, check out online grave records sites and so on. As you search progresses, you will probably go directly to the source site for records more often anyway.
3. ENGAGE THE SERVICES OF A GENEALOGIST. This won’t be for everyone – but there are professionals out there who can accelerate your search by carrying out some, or all, of the research on your behalf. However, be aware that having something disproven can be just as valuable as something proven – but you may feel disappointed and wish you did not know!
The aim of your preparatory research in this step, is to find as many facts that will differentiate your ancestor from someone else of the same name.
So, let’s say you have worked your way back to your earliest arriving Irish ancestor. Ideally, you will uncover their:
Be sure to differentiate between the facts you have evidence for – and the “facts” that are guesses!
However, even just some of these facts may be enough to start working with Irish records in Step 2.
A note of caution: you will come across many “guesses” presented as facts on ancestry sites such as ancestry.com . This does not mean they are useless – you just need to have a little due diligence, especially as you start to gather facts from others.
Now for what can be a tricky bit! Here are the important dates and facts you need to know before looking at Irish records:
THE PRIMARY ONLINE SOURCES FOR IRISH RECORDS ARE:
Right – it might take you a while, and you might need some assistance with interpreting the information and connections you uncover in the Irish records. However, the following would be the ideal things that you would uncover at the end of Step 2:
All of these things would be ideal, indeed! It may take you days, weeks, months or years. However – it’s important to remember that new records and connections are being made available all the time on many of the above sites. What is not available today, may be available tomorrow.
Now, I realise that a trip to Ireland may be outside your means, or motivation, at the moment – however, once you have uncovered the likely homeland of your Irish ancestor – it can be a wonderful experience to connect with the area through visiting. This might involve connecting with possible cousins, visiting the ruins of their cottage, walking the land they once farmed, the church they were baptised in, the school they attended.
This sensory immersion can give you a wonderful insight into the life and times of your ancestor – a feeling of connection that no record can provide!
Well, I hope you enjoyed that overview of how to Trace your ancestors back to Ireland. If you have a question or comment on the approach that we suggest, please do leave it below. However, I’m afraid to say that we do not have the resources to answer specific questions related to an Irish ancestor – that’s why we created The Green Room – to give you that help in a friendly and affordable manner.
Many thanks to Jayne McGarvey, one of our Green Room-based Genealogical researchers, for her assistance in compiling the above.
Where to Start Searching for Your Irish Ancestor
7 Favourite Irish Ancestry Moments from Series 4 of the Letter from Ireland Show (#410)
3 Signs You Are making Progress as an Irish Family History Researcher (#409)
Letter from Ireland Magazine (May/June, 2019)
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