A Letter from Ireland:

A Guide to Irish Family History Research


Are you engaged in Irish Family History Research? Maybe you have an Irish family tree that you only “dust down” from time to time? Irish family history research can be tricky in places – but sometimes all you need is the right guide to help you along the way!

Céad Míle Fáilte – and welcome to your Letter from Ireland for this week. How are things in your part of the world today? We’re just back from a trip to Belfast where we meet up with our Green Room genealogist, Jayne McGarvey, and got ready for the launch of our “Essential Green Room Guide to Irish Family History Research”. More about that below.

While in Belfast, we all headed to see Professor Brian Cox present a show called the “Wonders of the Universe”. It was a great night out, sitting back in the company of 5,000 other people and taking in the “bigger picture”. I could not help thinking how much we all have in common as we share this planet. A wonderful reminder!

I’m having a cup of Barry’s tea as we start into today’s letter – and I do hope you’ll join me now with a cup of whatever you fancy yourself.

Do You Have An Irish Family Tree?

I would say that over 90% of the people who read this letter maintain a “family tree” of some sort. You may be using a service such as ancestry.com or have beautifully bound volumes that you are keeping for the grandchildren or perhaps a few scribbles and precious photographs that you have kept in a shoebox down through the years. Do you have any Irish family history research in progress? Do leave a comment below and let me know.

At one level, family history research is quite simple. It’s “only” a question of combining names, dates, events and places in the right order for one of your ancestors. Then, you establish the correct relationships between all the individual ancestors you uncover. Simple indeed! I know, that’s the theory – whereas in practice it is usually more challenging, frustrating and fun.

However, there are some complicating factors that add to your Irish ancestry research. They include:

The Irish language: 

This was the common tongue for many of our Irish ancestors – even as they arrived in a new country. Everyone in their part of Ireland knew how the local place-names and surnames were pronounced. Then, somewhere along the line these surnames and place-names were written down by a cleric or a clerk. These were then later read by someone with no grasp of the presenting language before THEY went on to write what they thought they heard into yet another record book. So, there can be a wide deviance in the spelling and pronunciation of Irish surnames, forenames and place-names. This can make it quite tricky as you try to make sense of Irish records. And that is an understatement!

Non-availability of certain Irish records: 

Today, so many Irish records are freely available online – especially when compared with other countries. However, some Irish census records and church records WERE lost for ever in a series of local accidents, a fire at the centralised Records office in Dublin and more.

Luckily, experienced Irish family history researchers and genealogists have come up with a number of ways to work around those gaps in the official records. Some of these approaches involve the use of systems like “Irish naming patterns” to make educated guesses. Others involve using census and records “substitutes” to gather some of the names, dates, relationships and places required. Many of these approaches are peculiar to Irish family history research.

An Irish Family History Research Guide.

Over in the Green Room (see more here – a membership service we run for people who want to take their Irish family history research to the next level), we have been busy “baking” an “Essential Guide to Irish Family History” into that service. Part of this guide is a “Research Wheel” which we use as a map to help you decide which Irish record set to use for which research situation. It takes into account the “peculiarities” of Irish family history research.

Carina and I have recorded a podcast where we chat about the special challenges of Irish family history – and talk our way around the “Research Wheel” I just mentioned. You don’t have to be a member of the Green Room to listen to it. We are sure you will find it useful to reference this “wheel” we mention as you delve further into your Irish Heritage.

You can play the podcast below by clicking on the “play” button – and listen to Mike and Carina as they discuss the “Green Room Research Wheel” shown further below as well as lots more about Irish Family History Research:

Remember, if you would like to join us in The Green Room at any time you are more than welcome – we’d love to have you! You can find out more about the Green Room by clicking here.

We do hope you enjoyed that. If you have any Irish surnames and stories you want to share then please do comment below and let us know.

That’s it for this week,
Slán for now,
Mike & Carina.

  • […] cards and pensions to remind us along the way – whether we appreciate them or not! As family history researchers – it’s no wonder we get frustrated as the age of an ancestor often fluctuates as they […]

  • M says:

    I’m researching john horgan from Cork who married when his wife died aged mid 20s im told she died from a stomach problem ,he went to Glamorgan Wales with 3 children and married a Welsh wife i think her maiden name was Richards? My grate grate grandmother was one of his children think her name was Elizabeth her married name was ball her daughter Ruby ball was my grandmother any info on the tree would be appreciated thank you

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