Finding Your Irish Ancestors – 19th & 20th Centuries Getting Started

Finding Your Irish Ancestors – 19th & 20th Centuries
Dan Poffenberger, AG®
British Research Consultant ~ Family History Library
[email protected]
Getting Started
Start with what you already know; talk with family; check previous research and compiled
records (; check other shared databases and published family histories.
Search or other search engines for: your ancestor’s name, place of residence,
and the word genealogy.
Immigration Records
If you don’t know the place in Ireland where your ancestor was born, you will need to search in
“country of arrival” sources.
To find information about your Irish ancestor, do the following:
Create identity/footprint for ancestor – Name; Event date (birth, marriage, death); Event
place (at least county); Names of family members - Parents, Siblings, Spouses; religion,
Read “Tracing Immigrant Origins” at > Learn > Research Wiki
Find everything about ancestor’s life in country of arrival; even small events contain clues
Research forward: documents of children/grandchildren may reveal Irish origins
Find everything for all of ancestor’s Irish associates - may have had connection in Ireland
Records to search
Search church as well as civil records in North America
Use 1900-1930 U.S. censuses to see what year ancestor immigrated and if naturalized
Military records may give birth country – > Learn > Research Wiki
>U.S. Military Records
Search family records: obituaries, cemetery/tombstone records, death certificates & funeral
home records
Volunteers for cemetery lookups -;;
Scots-Irish help:
Background Sources
In order to find an ancestor in Ireland you must know the name of the civil parish where they
lived. To understand how to find the civil parish, you need to understand the levels of jurisdiction
that exist in Ireland.
Understanding Levels of Jurisdiction
Organized from smallest to largest: townland and/or town > civil parish > barony > county >
Large cities – may contain several parishes
Ireland was one country until 1922 – then divided into Republic of Ireland (southern) &
Northern Ireland - Antrim, Down, Armagh, Fermanagh, Tyrone, and Derry [Londonderry]
Understanding Parishes
There are two types of parishes in Ireland: civil and ecclesiastical
• Civil parishes – typically share same names & boundaries as ecclesiastical parishes of
Church of Ireland (Anglican Church) – had own diocese
• Parishes of Roman Catholic church - only ecclesiastical; often have different names &
boundaries than civil parishes in the area – had own diocese
Tools for Finding Place Names: Maps & Gazetteers
Lewis’ Topographical Dictionary of Ireland –
Parliamentary Gazetteer of Ireland – online at Google Books
New Genealogical Atlas of Ireland:
General Alphabetical Index to the Townlands and Towns of Ireland
Maps and Gazetteers -- – check under both country & county level
Civil Registration
Irish government registration of all births, marriages and deaths
• April 1, 1845 -- Registration of non-Catholic marriages began
• January 1, 1864 -- Civil Registration of all births & deaths and Catholic marriages began
• Indexes to civil registration
o > Historical Record Collections > Ireland – 5 collections (no
o - indexes & transcriptions for some counties - index free
• Registers (actual records) available through Family History Library (FHL)
o Births: 1864 to March 1881; 1900-1913. Republic: 1930-1955. No. Ireland 1922-1959
o Pre-1871 marriage/death records; marriage/death for No. Ireland 1922-1959
• All registers available in Ireland - Office of Registrar General for Republic,; General Register Office for Northern Ireland, - pull
ordering form off web site, complete form with Visa card and mail by post.
• Northern Ireland is expected to be digitized soon (as of 27 February 2014)
Things to Remember
Never trust the birth date; 1/3 parents lied about child’s birth date (avoid paying late fee);
NOTE: Baptism dates may pre-date the birth date!
“Mc” and “O’” may be dropped off surname. Search with/without & try interchanging them
Estimated that about 15% of events, particularly births, were not registered in early years.
Births 1864-1876 & marriages 1845-1870 - indexed on but not
More help: > Learn > Research Wiki > “Ireland Civil Registration”
Church Records
Roman Catholic
Roman Catholic records not lost in 1922 fire; more lost through careless record keepers; may
be in Latin
• Most parishes did not keep registers until 19th century with exceptions for urban areas
• Check (pay per view site)
• Check
Roman Catholic records at Family History Library (FHL):
• About 30% of Catholic parish registers on microfilm - Catalog > Place/Keyword search
• Transcripts of other Catholic parish registers
• Casey Collection - covers Upper Blackwater River—North Cork and East Kerry
Roman Catholic records not at FHL:
• National Library of Ireland ( - virtually all RC parish registers pre-1880
• Public Record Office of Northern Ireland (PRONI, – No. Ireland
• Heritage Centers have indexed many RC records (see section below).
For local custodial information - Google parish name, county & Roman Catholic – Write a
letter or telephone - be courteous & offer donation for time.
Grenham’s - - list of Catholic
Church of Ireland
The established Church was the Anglican; less than half of records destroyed in 1922 fire
• These records were only ones legal in court of law until 1800’s – other religions may appear
Church of Ireland records at FHL:
• Very little on microfilm - some published and donated transcripts, e.g. Dublin, Limerick –
check Catalog with Place/Keyword search for desired parish
• Check indexes to Marriage License Bonds – check Catalog > Place search “Ireland” >
‘Church Records—Indexes’ (NOTE: Only indexes survive, not the actual licenses)
Church of Ireland records not at the FHL:
• Representative Church Body Library ( has originals
• PRONI ( holds many copies for Northern Ireland
• Many have been indexed by Heritage Centers (see section below)
• For local custodial information – same as above for Catholic records
Records not destroyed in the 1922 fire, most parishes did not keep registers until 19th century
with exceptions for urban areas
Presbyterian records at FHL:
• Few copies/transcripts; check Catalog with Keyword search > name of congregation
Presbyterian records not at the FHL:
• PRONI ( ) - extensive collection - see bibliography
• Many have been indexed by Heritage Centers (see section below)
• For local custodial information – same as above for Catholic records
Kirk Session Minutes – consider these for a congregation
• Often contain notices of intention to marry, some baptism/marriage entries, information
about migration (Certificates of Transference if they survive)
Methodists, Quakers etc.
FHL has almost all Quaker records but few for other denominations – see bibliography
Heritage Centres
will research on commission
Typically indexed at least Roman Catholic records for their area & many have indexed
existing Church of Ireland & some Presbyterian records
Valuable resource if you know county - some dates & relationships but that’s all. More
valuable in counties where FHL has no Catholic records - see for
complete listing. Most centres have records online pay-per-view with free indexes.
Online Sources
• > Historical Record Collections > Ireland – 5 collections (no images) & – web sites that are still growing
Always check Church of Ireland records in area of your ancestors
Check indexes to Marriage License Bonds, Church of Ireland – >
Catalog > Place-names search “Ireland” > ‘Church Records—Indexes’ (Only indexes
survive; no licenses)
Census Records
Only 1901 and 1911 survive in their entirety; images at - free
Check > Catalog > parish/county/country > topics like Census, Land
& Property, Tax
Check Google (or other search engine) - use key words “name of county/parish & census”
Check for existing county records.
Census Subsititutes
Use for a listing of county-by-county census substitutes
Record Type
Where to Find Them
Tax record. Contains heads of households only both those who leased land & those who owned
land; few records for cities/large towns (contains
only 40% of all heads of households)
Northern Ireland at
Republic of Ireland at the National
Old Age
Pension Claims
1841 &
Tax record - Contains heads of households only both those who leased land & those who owned
land; estimated coverage of 80-90% of all heads
of households.
Check Valuation Lists (also known as Cancel
Books, Revision Books) – 1850’s to 20 century;
lists of occupiers kept subsequent to Primary
Valuation; able to trace a tenement held from
generation to generation
Earlier records - Field Books, Tenure Books,
House Books and Quarto Books – at FHL
Based on searches made in 1841 & 1851
censuses for No. Ireland & Co. Donegal (before
Typically begin in the mid-to-late 19 century –
may need to check at local level
18 & 19
Lists of people entitled to vote or who voted at
elections – 18th & 19th centuries
Parts of Roscommon, Sligo & Galway
1740 &
Identified numbers of Catholics (“popish” = rebel)
Many published; covers only parts of selected
counties (mostly Ulster)
Muster Rolls
A government program:
• Anyone who planted at least one rood of flax
(¼ acre) entitled to a spinning wheel
• Entries for every county - best is Ulster (large
industry of flax growing/linen making)
Local militia; relate primarily to large landed
estates in Ulster
Hearth Money
Based on number of hearths in a home
Search the Catalog at FamilySearch or Search
Engines using “County/Parish Name” + title of
census substitute (to see if it has been indexed)
1740 indexed Antrim, Derry, Donegal &
Londonderry; 1766 indexed (mostly No.
Ireland) - FHL has film on both
Indexed on > Catalog >
Keyword Search > Muster rolls
se/counties/index.htm for existing
county records >
Catalog>Parish/County/Country >
Topics (Census, Taxation,
Land/Property, etc.)
Probate Records
Most pre-1858 wills were destroyed in the Four Courts fire in 1922. A comprehensive will index did
survive. Details can be best found at the Ireland Probates page of the FamilySearch wiki
• From 1858 to 1919, all Irish wills for the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland are held at the
Principal Probate Registry in Dublin. There are district probate courts and the Principal court. See the
FamilySearch wiki for details.
National Archives – Dublin
• Calendar of wills and administrations, 1858-1922
Public Record Office of Northern Ireland (PRONI)
• - – Will
Calendars for district probate registries primarily for Armagh, Belfast & Londonderry (1858-1943) with
some for Donegal, Louth & Monaghan
Things to Remember
Check spelling variations of surnames, use
Search for death record indexes online (Ireland Civil Registration Index, 1845-1958, deaths from
1864)– points to original record – obtain a copy
Understand historical timelines; Keep a research log
Other Online Sources
• – Global search; Learn > Research Wiki, Research Courses & Discussion
Forums; Blogs; Historical Record Collections; Catalog; Indexing – Community Trees (lineage-linked genealogies)
Search Engines
Grenham, John.Tracing your Irish Ancestors. The book is online
Ireland.Census Office. Gen. Alphabetical Index to Townlands & Towns of Ireland. London HMSO
Maxwell, Ian. Tracing your Ancestors in Northern Ireland. Edinburgh: The Stationary Office,
Mitchell, Brian. A New Genealogical Atlas of Ireland. Baltimore, MD: Gen. Pub. Co. 2002 (2 ed.)
Ouimette, David. Finding your Irish ancestors: a beginner's guide. Provo, Utah: Ancestry Pub.,
PRO of Northern Ireland. An Irish Genealogical Source Guide to Church Records, Belfast : Ulster
Historical Foundation on behalf of the Public Record Office of Northern Ireland, 1994.
Radford, Dwight & Kyle Betit. Ireland: A Genealogical Guide. SLC: The Irish at Home and Abroad,
Reid, Noel. A Table of Church of Ireland Parochial Rec.& Copies. Naas,Ireland:Irish Fam Hist
Soc. 1994.
Reilly, James. Richard Griffith and His Valuations of Ireland. Baltimore, MD. Genealogical Pub.
Ryan, James. Irish Church Records: Their History, Availability and Use in Family and Local
History Research. Glenageary, Dublin, Ireland: Flyleaf Press, 2001.
Wight, Judith Eccles A rose by any other name:guide to Irish Christian names. Provo,UT:J.E.
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