Tracing Your Ancestors Giude





Tracing Your Ancestors Guide - Courtsey of Fáilte Ireland


Completing the Ancestral Jigsaw 

Pulsing through Irish veins is an adventurous spirit that has inspired millions of Irish people to roam the globe over the centuries. The causes of the many waves of migration have been varied. Religious fervour motivated seventh century monks to set about re-Christianising Europe. 


In the seventeenth century disillusionment and defeat drove the warring Irish nobility to Continental Europe, where they made their mark in the armies of Austria, France and Spain. They were followed to the Continent in the eighteenth century by traders and merchants, while adventurous seafarers left for South America and Newfoundland. Presbyterians from Ulster crossed the Atlantic in their thousands throughout the 1700s to find a place free of trading and religious restrictions. 


From the eighteenth century, the Irish made up a very large part of the British Army which brought Irish men to unexpected places such as India and South Africa. Soldiers were among the first Irish to reach Australia, along with Irish transported convicts, but they were followed by free settlers whose numbers increased throughout the nineteenth century.


Emigration to Canada and the United States or migration to Great Britain were options pursued by people from all parts of Ireland and all religious denominations before the great catastrophe of the Famine in the late 1840s. It began a mass exodus that continued for decades, up to the mid-twentieth century. The descendants of the disparate groups that left Ireland’s shores are all welcome on the ancestral trail. 


Following the Footsteps of our Forefathers 

In Ireland, the past is encompassed in the landscape. Ancient folklore, legendary tales and historical events abound in every corner of the country. Neolithic tombs rub shoulders with Celtic crosses and are situated mere miles from medieval castles and stately homes. 


Ireland is an island that is steeped in beauty as well as history. Its green fields and craggy terrain are the subjects of many Irish songs and poems. Every corner of the countryside has a tale to tell and every city a ‘yarn’ to spin… and who better to recount these stories than the Irish people themselves. Now that you are planning your trip to Ireland and hope to combine your holiday with a little family history research, this is the time to make good preparation. Before deciding to rush off and book a flight to the land of your ancestors, it is important for you to study the history of your family. In order to be in a position to attempt worthwhile research in Ireland and plan a visit to the ancestral area, you must work back through the records in your own country to identify your emigrant ancestor. Then you must gather as much basic information as possible on that ancestor, such as: 


 - Name of ancestor 

 - Approximate date of birth 

 - Parish or county of origin in Ireland 

 - Religious Denomination 

 - Names of ancestor’s parents 

 - Name of ancestor’s spouse 

 - Date and place of marriage 


Getting to the root of your family tree 

The first task is to seek out information from your own immediate family. Encourage older relations to recount their stories. Gather all written material such as letters, wills, diaries, photographs, certificates and other family documents. If, however, you have no older relatives to consult about family history, or if the family archives hold no vital clues, don’t be disheartened. 


A wide range of genealogical records should be available in record repositories in your country and many of these may be searchable on-line. Sources vary from country to country, but the types of records that are likely to provide information include vital records (birth, death, marriage) held by civil authorities, census returns, city directories, church records (baptism, marriage), gravestone inscriptions, newspaper obituaries, wills, naturalisation papers and passenger lists. You might begin by seeking advice from your local library as to which records are applicable to your country and where they are held. 


If your ancestor left Ireland before the Famine the research in your own country will inevitably become more extensive and the paper trail may become harder to follow. For example, the majority of Ulster Presbyterians who went to the American colonies in the eighteenth century sailed to ports such as Philadelphia and then dispersed throughout what became the southern 

states. There will be no record of their passage and finding wills or deeds may prove difficult. Remember that you have the option of engaging a professional researcher in your country if it becomes too specialised for you. 


Once you have taken the search from your homeland to Ireland, you can decide how to approach the Irish records. Many people enjoy conducting their own research and are happy to spend successive holidays in Ireland doing so. Others prefer to have the digging done for them so they can go straight to the ancestral area. Others again like to combine some research with the personal visit. Either way, the most wonderful aspect of ancestral research is the visit to the county or the parish or even the very house where your ancestor was born; seeing the church where they worshipped or walking in their footsteps through the village or town that was once their world. 



Conducting Your Own Research 

If you enjoy doing your own family research and the chase is as important as the end result, you will get the most out of your stay in Ireland if you plan well. As many Irish genealogical sources are available in national repositories in Dublin and Belfast, this can be a useful starting point. 


If you know the county or counties of origin where you need to carry out research, you can also make contact with the relevant local repositories. In Dublin the National Library of Ireland, the National Archives and the General Register Office are all centrally located. 

The National Library has a dedicated genealogy room where researchers can access online resources and get advice from the trained staff there. The Library also holds many original and unique sources. Please visit before your trip to learn more about its holdings. 


The National Archives of Ireland similarly has many sources and provides a free genealogy advisory service to members of the public which is operated by the Association of Professional Genealogists in Ireland (APGI). 


You can start your research before your visit to Ireland, by accessing the growing amount of Irish genealogical material available online. These are some of the key websites which provide access to Irish genealogical material: – This site includes a database of the 1901 and 1911 Census returns including digitised images of the original documents forms for all parts of Ireland. – This is a government run site with a database of church records relating to many locations in Counties Kerry, Dublin, Carlow and Cork. It also includes some church records for the diocese of Cork and Ross. Further records will also be added to this site. – This website is operated by the Library Council of Ireland and comprises a database of the Griffith’s Valuation, a mid 19th century property valuation survey which includes images of the original and accompanying maps. - This is a National Library website with a database of Irish Manuscripts held in various repositories and articles in Irish periodicals. - This website is run on behalf of the county genealogy centres, providing access to a free index of over 19 million church, civil, land, census, gravestone and ships’ passenger records for most Irish counties. There is a fee to view the full details of any record. tracing your ancestors in Ireland. - This website is run by the Latter Day Saints Church and contains a database of Irish civil records index of births, deaths and marriages from 1845 –1958 which is searchable online. - This website includes over 3.5 million crime and legal records, almost 2 million names in directories and almanacs, and exclusive land and estate records, census substitutes, travel and migration records, and details of Irish who fought overseas. - This website is run by Glasnevin Trust (CHY5849) and contains a database of cemetery and crematoria records from Glasnevin, Goldenbridge, Newlands Cross and Dardistown, dating back to 1832. 






Please note that the staff of these repositories may not always conduct research on behalf of enquirers but they will facilitate visitors conducting their own research. 



The National Archives in Bishop Street is situated within a five minute walk of the ancient St. Patrick’s Cathedral. It is the ideal starting point because of its Genealogy Service. This service is provided free of charge to personal callers. Members of APGI offer expert advice to visitors on their specific family history research, explaining where to go and how to use relevant records. Visitors then go about their research in the Archives or in other repositories and they are welcome to return to the Genealogy Service for further guidance as often as they wish. 


Among the many collections in the National Archives of interest to genealogists are the 1901 and 1911 census returns (also on-line), surviving fragments of the 1821, 1831, 1841 and 1851 census returns, transportation records – Ireland to Australia 1788 – 1868, Landed Estates Court rentals, Griffith’s Valuation, tithe applotment books, testamentary records, many estate papers and microfilm copies of some Church of Ireland parish registers.





The General Register Office’s administrative headquarters is in Roscommon but its Research Room is in Dublin, close to the Abbey Theatre. The GRO holds the civil records of marriage, other than Roman Catholic, from 1845, and birth, death and Roman Catholic marriage from 1864 for all Ireland to 1921, as well as civil records of birth, marriage and death from 1922 for the Republic of Ireland. The website includes a database with an index 

of these civil records. Civil records of birth, death and marriage from 1922 for Northern Ireland are held at the GRO in Belfast. 




The National Library of Ireland on Kildare Street is situated within a twenty minute walk of the National Archives – just east of Dublin’s main shopping street, Grafton Street. Its staff-run Genealogy Advisory Service room has free access to a wide range of on-line databases. The Library’s holdings include microfilm copies of most Roman Catholic parish registers up to 1880 (and in some cases up to 1900), most Irish national and provincial newspapers, 

Griffith’s Valuation, microfilm copies of the tithe applotment books, tithe applotment books, many estate papers and, of course, printed books and periodicals. In addition, access to the Genealogical Office manuscripts is gained through the Library’s manuscript reading room or its microfilm room, depending on the particular manuscript. 




The Irish Family History Foundation has an all-Ireland network of 33 county genealogy centres providing local genealogy services for over 25 years. Trained researchers/genealogists carry out commissioned research using county genealogical sources and unique local knowledge. Alternatively, users can search the data and pay to view the details of records at, which contains over 19 million Irish records from the 1600s to the 1900s including births, baptisms, marriages & deaths; Griffith’s Valuation; Tithe Applotment Books; the 1901 & 1911 census records; gravestone inscriptions, and other sources.  


A current list of the available sources for each county can be found on the website, which is designed to assist users in locating records relating to a family in a specific county or in a number of counties.  The email allows researchers to ask questions or get free expert advice on researching their family history. 





If your ancestor was born in the Province of Ulster, a visit to the Public Record Office of Northern Ireland (PRONI) in the Titanic Quarter in Belfast is essential. Among the records held by PRONI are (for all nine counties of Ulster) the 1901 census returns, Griffith’s Valuation, tithe applotment books and copies of church registers of all denominations; (for the six counties of Northern Ireland) testamentary records and Valuation Office material. In addition, PRONI holds estate papers from various locations in Ulster and other parts of Ireland as well as testamentary records for areas such as Co. Louth, which are not within Ulster. 



The Valuation Office is located in the Irish Life Centre in Lower Abbey Street, Dublin, close to the Abbey Theatre. It houses manuscript revisions of Griffith’s Valuation, documenting all changes of occupancy of land from the time of the original survey to recent decades. Corresponding maps are also available. The Valuation Office material is extremely valuable to the family historian, as it charts the history of a family’s property. The material for counties now in Northern Ireland are held in PRONI. 




The Registry of Deeds is located in Henrietta Street – immediately north of Dublin’s main thoroughfare of O’Connell Street. It was established in 1708 to regulate property transactions. Registration of deeds was not obligatory but thousands of transactions were registered throughout the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. They relate mainly to the professional and mercantile classes and ‘strong’ farmers, as well as to the aristocracy and gentry and can be a  

valuable source for more prosperous families. However, you are much less likely to find a registered deed for a small tenant farmer. 




The Representative Church Body Library (RCBL) is the principal repository of archives and manuscripts of the Church of Ireland (the Anglican Church). It holds the registers of over 600 parishes from counties now in the Republic of Ireland as well as microfilm copies of many others. Note, however, that it does not hold all surviving C. of I. registers. Other sources available at the RCBL include biographical information on C. of I. clergy, vestry minute books for various parishes and material gathered by genealogists such as Swanzy and Welply. 



Most Irish Presbyterian congregations were based in or near the province of Ulster and copies of the majority of their registers of baptism and marriage may be found in PRONI. Registers for congregations in the rest of Ireland can only be found in local custody. The Presbyterian Historical Society of Ireland (PHSI) in Belfast holds some original registers, as well as copies of the registers micro-filmed by PRONI, some session minutes, presbytery minutes and biographical data on Presbyterian ministers. 




Glasnevin Trust have digitised and made available all records from the Trust’s cemeteries and crematoria at Dardistown, Newlands Cross, Palmerstown and Goldenbridge and Glasnevin. The records can be searched online for a nominal fee at Alternatively, when you visit Glasnevin Museum, you will receive a genealogy voucher as part of your admission ticket, to get you started online or at the Museum’s Genealogy area. The records avail- able provide details of the social and economic history of Ireland, popular professions, diseases that were prevalent, how long people lived and how they died.  

Glasnevin Trust also provides access (by appointment only) to their Archive Room for those who wish to view original records for research purposes. 



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