Searching for Irish genealogy records can be daunting, but is worth the effort! Learn how to start finding your Irish ancestors!
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.
Why are Irish ancestors hard to research?
Researching Irish ancestors is a bit of a sub-specialty in genealogy. Like genealogy research in most areas, it presents with its own unique challenges.
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….). It is imperative we thoroughly research our Irish ancestors on this side of the Atlantic before attempting to explore the Irish records. Valuable clues can be found to facilitate your research in Irish records. It is very possible the answers to your Irish genealogy questions may be found in U.S. records. 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. Think back to when you began your genealogy research. Remember how you had to learn how to research? You needed to learn what records were available and which ones might hold pertinent information on your ancestors.
When you begin researching in the Irish records, you need to do the same thing. Take the needed time up front to learn how to research in the Irish records. Learn what records were kept, which ones still survive today and how to access them.
Lastly, Ireland suffered a tremendous record loss in 1922 due to a fire at the Public Records of Ireland. This is truly unfortunate for the Irish people and for Irish researchers. The loss of so many Irish genealogy records has created many brick walls for genealogy researchers.
I don’t share this to discourage you from researching your Irish roots. Far from it!
Researching our Irish ancestors is daunting, but STILL a challenge worth pursuing.
Searching For Irish Genealogy Records – Where Do You Start?
For the purposes of this post, I have assumed you have completed a thorough research of your Irish ancestor(s) on this side of the Atlantic. Refer to Where Did My Immigrant Ancestor Come From? for strategies. Again, if you have not completed your research here in the U.S. (or Canada or Australia….), you could be missing important genealogy clues!
[I’m stepping down off of my soapbox now.]
The Irish 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 just as a few fragments of the 1980 US census survived. Fragments from the 1821, 1831, 1841, and 1851 Irish census records survived and while not many, if your ancestors are found in them, you can proceed with the genealogy happy dance.
The largest surviving Irish census fragments are from 1821 and mention Antrim, Carlow, Cavan, Dublin, Fermanagh, Galway, Kilkenny, King’s, Limerick, Mayo, and Meath counties.
The 1831 census fragments are from Londonderry (Derry) County. Parts of the 1841 census survive County Cavan and in 1851 parts of the Antrim County survived.
In 1909 the old age pension system was introduced. In order to qualify, individuals had to prove they were over the age of 70. The 1841 and 1851 census records were used for this. While most of the 1841 and 1851 census records did not survive, the old age pension applications can be used as a partial substitute.
Irish Birth, Marriage and Death Registers
Birth, marriage and death (BMD) records are basic genealogy records no matter where you research your ancestors. It is no different for your Irish genealogy records research.
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.
Irish Land Records
You’ve heard the saying, “Location, Location, Location”. It’s important in real estate and it’s important in genealogy research.
In the absence of the Irish census records, two land 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. These are available at FindMyPast.
Newspapers become more and more important in your research as you progress to earlier time periods. Irish newspapers contain information on all social classes of Irish society. The court records documented in the newspapers can be quite illuminating, especially since many court records were destroyed.
Most do not have an index. Your best strategy is to narrow down the time frame you are interested in as much as possible and then start reading.
Even when you do not find your ancestor specifically, reading local newspapers will better your understanding of the Irish culture and what was important to that specific community.
Helpful Resources as You Begin Researching Your Irish Ancestors
- National Archives of Ireland – Make this your first stop in your Irish research!
- FindMyPast has an excellent collection of Irish records. Be sure to explore the FindMyPast blog including this post on the destruction of Irish records.
- Timeline Genealogy in Ireland has free resources and strategies for researching your Irish ancestors.
- Ancestry.com (World Edition)
Be sure and check out the article A county-by-county guide to Ireland’s genealogy records over at FindMyPast.
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.
Do you have a favorite Irish resource I did not mention? Share it in the comments below.