Tracing Irish ancestry can be challenging. Wars, natural disasters, famine, and poor record keeping have caused the loss of many important records, including church records, census records, workhouses, union, poverty relief loan records, and Irish overseas newspapers.
The building blocks of all family trees are births, marriages, and deaths (BMDs). Irish genealogy civil records are the key to discovering your ancestors, their siblings, and their parents. Fortunately, thanks to online resources and a slew of new ways to trace your ancestry, including home DNA kits, it’s easier than ever to get back to Ireland’s second quarter of the 19th century.
Regarding tracing your Irish ancestors, the main source of BMD information is civil records. Irish civil registration wasn’t made compulsory until 1864, so it is estimated that up to 15% of births went unregistered and 30% of deaths.
While these BMD records are essential, they don’t always provide the clues you need to locate your ancestor. To find their place of origin, search the General Register Office of Ireland’s online database or, for a more comprehensive and detailed approach to finding your Irish ancestors, try online archive of historic registers, including parish maps and indexes.
Suppose you’re struggling to locate your Irish ancestors at their home address. In that case, it may be worth broadening your search to include workhouse and union records. Even if these records don’t reveal the exact location of your ancestor’s birthplace, they can give you clues, for example, the names of other passengers traveling on the same ship who might be relatives or poverty relief loan records that note two guarantors, often family members.
If you know the date and place of your Irish ancestor’s marriage, it may be possible to find the marriage record online. Marriage records often include both spouses’ parents’ names, which can help you work back a generation. You can also uncover helpful information about the bride or groom, such as their religious denomination.
You can search for birth, death, and marriage records on the GRO (General Register Office) website for Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. This is free to search, but you need a subscription to view the records.
To get the most out of this resource, knowing the district where your ancestor’s event might have been registered is important. During the early years of civil registration, Ireland was divided into Superintendent Registrar’s Districts (SRDs), usually the same boundaries as Poor Law unions, created to administer relief for those in need.
When researching Irish ancestors, you may encounter what many genealogists call a brick wall. It is the common assumption that all Irish records were burned in a fire at the Public Record Office in 1922 during Ireland’s Civil War. This unfortunate myth has led many would-be researchers to give up on tracing their Irish roots.
Fortunately, many resources can help you break through this research barrier. Clues about Irish births, marriages, and deaths can be found in both church and state records.
Church records often predate civil registrations and can provide much more detail than a civil certificate of the same name. They can also include the mother’s maiden name, which can be very helpful in locating records in both Ireland and the United States.
If you cannot access Irish church records, try searching for your ancestor’s name in the Social Security Death Index or contacting local genealogy centers in their area of origin. You may also want to consult newspapers, particularly those published in the United States, which may have information about an immigrant ancestor’s family life and their point of departure from Ireland.
Remember that Irish surnames are quite varied, and you must check for variations of your ancestor’s name when searching for civil and church records. This can be very challenging, especially in the 19th century when names were often spelled differently by different generations and by informants on official documents.
Investigating burial records is an excellent place to start when tracing Irish ancestry. They can provide clues about your ancestor’s place of origin, especially if they were Catholic. They can also reveal occupations and, in some cases, even relationships.
While family legends can offer valuable insight into your Irish roots, it’s important to remember they may not be 100% accurate. For example, a cherished story of a grandparent who bravely saved their comrades in the First World War may be a chartered accountant who worked at an office.
The surviving 19th-century censuses are invaluable when researching your Irish heritage. However, they can be more difficult to find than in other countries because Ireland lost many of its early records in a fire at the Public Record Office in 1922.
If you have difficulty finding your Irish ancestors in the 1901 and 1911 censuses or their marriages or deaths, try broadening your search to other sources such as workhouse, union, and poverty relief loan records. Even passenger lists can help; providing names of relatives who also came to the U.S. at the same time or naturalization records can give you a person’s Irish place of birth. Many of these records are free online, while some require a subscription to view (on-screen) the transcription or image.