Irish Family History Specialists

Tracing Your Irish Roots Online

 

Most of the online resources for researching your Irish roots mentioned below are free, although some of them require payment to get more details or are subscription only. These include Ancestry, Find My Past, Roots Ireland, Irish Newspaper Archive, British Newspaper Archive and The Irish Times.Genealogy.ie has subscriptions on all of these, so if you do not want to take out multiple subscriptions, you can always contact us and let us check the databases for you.

1901 and 1911 Census of Ireland

This should really be your first port of call for your research into your Irish roots. Unfortunately, during the Civil War which followed the War of Independence most censuses were destroyed. Only the 1901 and 19011 remain, although their is a list at the National Archives from people who applied for a copy of their entry in the 1841 or 1851 Census to proof that they were old enough to claim a pension when this was introduced.

The 1901/1911 censuses contains:

  • Name
  • Position (Head, Wife, Son, etc.)
  • Religion
  • Ability to read/write
  • Age
  • Occupation
  • Marital Status
  • Place of birth
  • Language

Both can be searched free online. The surname requires exact spelling  so you might try a number of variations, and I have seen cases of misspelling which makes it very hard to find someone. You should also note that ages can be wrong; these were often estimated, or people lied about their age to by older (for a job or pension entitlements) or younger. Unless you are lucky enough to have a very uncommon surname, you will need a townland as well. Alternatively, you might consider searching for a townland and review all occupants. It is possible to refine the search with additional data, but unless you are very sure about your information, it is best to start wide, and narrow it down until you get a reasonable number of records. These you review record by record. Make sure to tick the “Show All Information” box. The database contains both a transcription and images of the original census form. The latter also contains a description of the buildings occupied by the household (Form B1).
Note on townlands: this is the smallest unit of administration and often only contains a small number of families. Above the townland sits the civil Parish (not to be confused with the ecclesiastical parishes, which were entirely separate). Next up were Baronies and finally Counties. Confusingly in the Census you will also find the DED (District Electoral Division) which was for the administration of the vote.
In the census forms you will find the name of the Poor Law Union, District Electoral Division, Townland and Civil Parish on the B1 form mentioned above.

 

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Birth Marriage and Death Records

Next in line are the Civil registrations of Irish births, marriages and deaths commenced. This was started in  1864. Non-Catholic marriages were registered from 1845. Before these dates you have to rely on the Parish records, of which more in another section. You should also be aware that a significant portion of births, marriage and even deaths were never registered and thus go unrecorded.

The main resources for these records are the following two free databases:

We recommend you search BOTH databases, because they are not identical.

On Irish Genealogy you will find the indexes for

  • Births from 1864 to 1916)
  • Catholic Marriages form 1864 to 1940)
  • Non-Catholic marriages from 1845 to 1864)
  • Deaths from 1864 to 1965

The index often contain a link to the original registration, which you can download for free. But if not, the record will need to be ordered.

When searching, again be aware that you might have to try different variations and spellings of the names you are looking for. Also, you will be asked for a “Registration District“.  There were usually 3 to 6  registration districts in each county, and some districts crossed county borders.  Finally, be aware that people were not always born, married of died in the same area they lived in.

Family Search,  Ancestry (paid) and FindMyPast (paid) also offer Irish civil registration indexes up to 1958 (excluding records from Northern Ireland after 1922). However these are indexes only, and it often hard to be sure that you are looking at “your” ancestor or someone else’s.

For Northern Ireland after 1922  you will need to go to  GRONI  This contains the records for births over 100 years old, marriages over 75 years and deaths over 50 years.  You can search and view the original registrations for this period but you do need to sign up and purchase credits to undertake a search.

Parish Registers

If you are searching for the period before Civil registration started, you only source are the Parish registers (not to be confused with Civil Parishes). You do need to know in what country and – even better – Parish your ancestor lived. If you don’t know, a good starting point is to look at where your family lived in the the Census, as a lot of families would continue to live in a Parish for many generations.

Most Parish Registers only started round 1830, and for many counties even decades later. Also, over time, many have been lost. Other considerations are that priests were human and often made errors. Many of them could not write that well either.

The three main sources are:

  •  Irish Genealogy which is a free Irish government website. You should always check which registers are available before you start your search, as for some areas none have.
  • Roots Ireland. This is a paid site. You should always check which registers are available before you start your search, as for some areas none have. This database contains also some Church of Ireland registers, but not all. Not many of these survive anyway, as most were destroyed in 1922. However, only transcriptions are available.
  • National Library Ireland. This is a free site, that provides digitised copies of the Parish registers. Baptismal registers are also available at Ancestry and Find My Past.

For Northern Ireland, you should check their guide first. You can then head to PRONI for their catalogue.

 

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Wills

In the nineteenth century only people with property would make a will. Unfortunately the majority of these were destroyed in the Civil War in 1922. If you are lucky enough that your ancestors had property AND that the record has survived, they can however give you a lot of information on your ancestors and their family, as well as their property.
The “Calendar of Wills and Administration” is a list of all wills that were granted probate. You should take into account that it often took years after a death for a will to be proved. Also, the “Calendar” is just a list, not the will itself.

Other resources are:

Tithe Applotment Books

These were compiled between 1823 and 1838 for the purpose of assessing the rate of The Tithe, a religious tax that was levied for the upkeep of the Church of Ireland. An index online at Ancestry and the books itself are available at  The National Archives of Ireland.  This database contains many errors though, so it is recommended that your search for the parish or townland. As not everyone was liable to pay this tax, it is not a complete overview of property. For example, urban areas were excluded.

Griffith’s Valuation

The Griffith’s Valuation was a national survey of property to assess the rate of local taxation. Griffith’s Valuation identifies nearly every household in the country, giving you the head of that household, the name of their landlord and the type, size and value of their property. It was conducted between 1847 and 1864. It is available free at  Ask About Ireland. The database contains maps outlining the boundaries and list of the names of the households who occupied the land. It can sometimes be a bit tricky to “read” the index and find the correcdt piece of land that might have been leased or belonged to your ancestor. If you are intertested to learn more about the estate that your ancestor leased their land from (or if you were very lucky might even have owned), check  Landed Estates  (Does not cover the entire country though).

Ordnance Survey Maps

Ireland was one of the first countries to be mapped by the Ordnance Survey of Ireland. Their 6” maps were created between 1837 and 1842 and the 25” maps were created between 1888 and 1913.

 

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Burial Records

Another useful resource for researching your Irish roots are the Roman Catholic burial registers can be found at  Roots Ireland  (parish registers) or at the National Library of Ireland.

Church of Ireland records are at Roots Ireland and Irish Genealogy,

Ireland largest cemetery and burial place of many “great and good” is Glasnevin. Searching their records is free but requires you to fill in the year your ancestor passed away and if you want more details you have to pay for them.

Records from Deansgrange Cemetery in what is now Dun Loaghaire (and about which you can read stories in our blog) are also available online at Roots Ireland.

Gravestones

Although almost everyone was buried, not everyone could afford a gravestone. Cheap grave markers would have been made of wood and have long since disappeared. In some graveyards the poor would not own the grave and were not allowed to put up a gravestone or marker. Instead, they often planted a tree. At Deansgrange this has now grown into a real forest in the middle of the cemetery.

In most cemeteries graves would have multiple burials on top of each other, sometimes up to seven. In Carrickbrennan the top of the cemetery is significantly higher than the bottom. Due to a stream there, they could not “stack” the same number of coffins on top of each other.

Finally, a lot of gravestones have become illegible over time.

Online resource you might want to research are From Ireland, History from Headstones (paid) and Find a Grave.

Newspapers and Manuscripts

A very underutilised resource for researching your Irish roots. If you have access to them, checking a Newspaper Archive or Manuscript Database should be part of your research as they can contain a lot of information. Especially if obituaries were written about your ancestor. You should however take into account that deaths of the poor were not written about at all. The name of your ancestor can however appear in other articles, about births, marriages, sport, politics, crime, fundraisers, etc. Again, this is less likely (with the exception of crime) if your ancestors were poor.

All newspaper archives below are only available on a subscriptions basis, and you should check first which titles they cover.

For a manuscripts index go to the Manuscript Database of the National Library of Ireland (to see the manuscripts themselves though you will have to visit their offices) or PRONI (index and some manuscripts; this is a Northern Irish database but also contains information pertaining to the whole of Ireland).

Passenger Lists

If your ancestors immigrated into the US, you might find them at any of these lists:

It should be noted though that many Passenger Lists do not contain a lot of information and it is often difficult to ascertain if the person on the list is “your” ancestor or someone with the same name. Lists the early 20th century contain a lot more information, make sure to check the second page of the record.

 

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Petty Court Records

Our ancestors took each other to court much more often than we did. Often for very small disagreements. These “cases” were handled by the aptly named “Petty Session Court”. The Court Order Books have been published online at Find My Past. The books contain a very detailed record of cases that were brought before the Petty Courts. However, not all books have been digitised yet, so check what is available. Also, not all books have survived: most records are from the late nineteenth or early twentieth century. You might follow up any cases you have found with a search of the newspaper archives, as some would have been covered.

1831 Tithe Defaulters

A very incomplete resource. It contains 30,00 names of people from 12 counties who did not pay the The Tithe tax. At Find My Past

Prison Registers

Also available on Find My Past.  Again, these are not complete and many do not survive. Dublin’s records are most complete. If your ancesor is in the registers, it does not mean they were dangerous criminals; quite a few were imprisoned for being drunk. The records do contain a lot of information about the convicts, so you might actually be grateful!

Database on Irish Convicts sent to Australia

This National Archives database contains records for individuals sent to Australia from Ireland between 1791 – 1853 century. It gives details of the crime and the trial. Sometimes there is also  a reference to other material available in the National Archives of Ireland, such as police reports, letter from family, etc.

Irish Military Pension and Medal Applications 1916 – 1921

Men and women who fought during the Irish Ward of Independence (1916 to 1921) were entitled to a pension. And some of them to medals. To prevent everyone claiming , people would have to provide a huge amount of information, such as  what they had done in the period , the company in which they served and who their officers were. And they had to provide references. The files often contain letters from fellow soldiers and   officers. The applications can be researched in the Irish Military Archives.

1922 Irish Army Census

The 1922 Irish Army census is a list of all soldiers in the National Army on 12th/13th November 1922. It also give you the next of kin.

 Irish War of Independence Witness Statements

In the 1950’s people who had fought between 1913 and 1921 were asked to submit statements of their recollections. These are kept by the Bureau of Military History Witness Statements and are available online at the Irish Military Archives.  You are able to search the entire text of all statements, so even if your ancestors were only mentioned by someone, you should be able to find your them.

British Army and Navy Service Records

As Ireland was part of the British Empire and for many poor Irish young men Army or Navy service was the only way to make a living, many of them served in the British forces. Service Records can be found at Find My Past and Ancestry. Please not that that the Navy records on Findmypast are in their UK collection.

  • You will need the regiment your ancestor served in.
  • If you do not know this, search for campaign medals. These were given to EVERY soldier who fought in a certain campaign such as the Irish Mutiny, Boer War or WWI. The medal roll will give you the regiment. This includes women who served overseas, for example as nurses.
  • There are some specific Irish regiments (such as the Royal Dublin Fusiliers) but Irish men served in virtually every regiment.
  • Please note that a lot of WWI service records were destroyed during WWII. Also, you will not find anyone who enlisted during the first war, as their records were destroyed.
  • If you are interested, you can find out what the unit in which your ancestor service did during WWI here.

 

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General Register Office

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National Library Ireland

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The National Archives of Ireland

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Valuation Office

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Registry of Deeds

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Online Resources

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