Searching for your Irish ancestors can be daunting, but is worth the effort! Learn how to start the process of finding your Irish roots.
Genealogy Research,  How To

Searching For Irish Ancestors – Where Do You Start?


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Searching for Irish ancestors is tough, or at least, it can be!

I discovered my one Irish ancestor – my great-great-great grandmother Joanna Barrett.  She is one of the first brick walls I came across, and unfortunately, that wall stands firm.  I have not been able to advance this line back further. One day……

Why are Irish ancestors hard to research?

A few reasons can make our Irish ancestors hard to research.

  • We have not completed thorough research into them here in America (or Canada or Australia or….). I’ve discussed the importance of researching our ancestors here in America in a previous post.
  • Once we began searching for Irish ancestors on Irish soil, we find ourselves unfamiliar with the records Irish citizens created and/or we are  not familiar with the geographical area.
  • Lastly, Ireland suffered a tremendous record loss in 1922 due to a fire at the Public Records of Ireland.

Researching our Irish ancestors is daunting, but a challenge worth pursuing.

Searching For Irish Ancestors – Where Do You Start?

For the purposes of this post, I have assumed you have completed research of your Irish ancestor on this side of the Atlantic. Refer to Where Did My Immigrant Ancestor Come From? for strategies. 

The Census Records

The majority of Ireland’s census records were destroyed in the 1922 fire, but not all.  The 1901 and the 1911 census records are the only 2 full census schedules available to the public.

Prior to these, a few fragments of the census records did survive.  Fragments from 1821, 1831, 1841, and 1851 survived and while not many, if your ancestors are found in them, you can proceed with the genealogy happy dance. You can find these census fragments at and FindMyPast .

Birth, Marriage and Death Registers

Similar to researching English ancestors, birth, marriage and death records are found in church records and civil registrations.  Civil registrations began in 1864. Prior to that, parish and church records can provide the needed information.

Note that civil registrations began in 1845 for non-Catholic marriages.

The Civil Register indices can be found at FamilySearch, FindMyPast, and (World edition) .

Land Records

In the absence of the census records, two record collections become important to the researcher.

  • Griffith’s Valuation (1847-1864) serves as a type of census substitute for the mid-1800’s in Ireland. In the absence of the census records for this time, Griffith’s Valuation is a detailed look at where people lived and the property they owned or leased.
  • Landed Estates Court Rentals are the records of Irish land owners who became insolvent or were not able to hold onto their estates as a whole or in part. These records cover 1849-1875. Available at FindMyPast.


Newspapers become more and more important in your research as you progress to earlier time periods. The Irish Genealogy Toolkit has an excellent resource page for online and offline Irish newspapers.

Helpful Resources as You Begin Researching Your Irish Ancestors

These resources will help you get started on searching for those Irish ancestors. This not an exhaustive list for Irish genealogy research nor is it intended to be. After all, I am a US based researcher. But, like you, I do not have to go too far back before finding that immigrant ancestor. At that point new strategies and resources are needed to begin a new research phase.


Other posts of Interest:


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Searching for your Irish ancestors can be daunting, but is worth the effort! Learn how to start the process of finding your Irish roots.



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