robably the most common misconception about Irish
research (and usually the first thing you hear if you want to do
Irish research) is that all the records burned in the Four Courts
Fire in 1922. That is not quite true for, while almost all
records at the Four Courts did burn, in many cases more than one
copy of a record existed. The Fire wasn't the only calamity
awaiting Irish records though; many "useless" documents
(such as census records from the 1800s) were destroyed
periodically by the government.
Irish research is difficult; that's not meant to discourage
you from doing Irish research, it's meant to prepare you for
what's ahead. What causes the difficulty is records are scarce
for the whole of Ireland. Some records are difficult to access
while many records suffer from the fact that the details are
lacking. Our poorer ancestors (the vast majority of the Catholic
Irish) didn't create an awful lot of records. Other than the
parish records, their name listed on a lease may have been the
only records generated in their lifetime.
Now, while there aren't a lot of records that survive for ALL
of Ireland, there are many that survive for smaller geographical
areas. This one fact alone is what makes knowing your ancestors
townland in Ireland so important.
Researching Irish Ancestors who Emigrated
- Find out all you can about your family tree from your
- Fill out your understanding of these ancestors by
searching through papers in their local towns or
searching through immigrant lists.
the townland in Ireland your immigrant ancestor came from.
Researching Irish Ancestors who Lived in Ireland
Once you've discovered the townland of your Irish ancestor, you
have the following options:
- You can begin your Irish research. The social class of
the ancestor you're searching for will define where you
start (as your search progresses, you should look at both
- Middle to Upper Class
- You can take the expensive way out and get help
from Irish genealogy researchers:
Hints for Genealogists:
- Check repeat sources. Someone may include what another
- Don't go under the assumption that Northern Ireland or
the Republic of Ireland records are exclusive to their
own country. A large number of the Irish moved from one
area to the other because of economic or social reasons (i.e.
famine, religious persecution, etc.) Overlapping records
occur because of the way some families were spread out
over the island.
- Be Thorough. Leave No Stone Unturned. Information turns
up in the most unlikely places.
- Be Aware of Your Sources. Things aren't always what they
- Study your history:
- Locality and Area History - What went on while
they were alive in their townlands?
- Social History - What lifestyle did or could they
- Relational History - Family, Immediate relations,
Allied or Collateral families, Associated
Families, Non- Related families. Knowing who,
what, when, and where will help you locate and
identify particular families -- especially in
common names such as Kelly, Burns, Maguire,
- Learn Social Customs and Government Practices. Occupation
or Social Status such as spinster, widow, gentry,
esquire, carries with it a load of information with just
the one word.
- Date or Place association. Very important in Irish
- Find out what records were created when particular
transactions took place -- such as marriage contracts,
land deeds, wills, heraldic grants, marriage bonds, court
- Check Surname books for general location of name in
Ireland. Use only as a guide, not as a source in and of
- Take Good Notes -- Note any and all information: Surname
and Christian Names, Nicknames, Use-names, Locality,
Event and circumstances surrounding event, Date (be as
precise as possible), Occupation or Status, Religion ALL
information is 'Vital Statistics' when it refers to an
individual or group of individuals linking them to a
place, date, or other people.
- Check all resources before taking NO or YOU CAN'T or YOU
NEED as the final say so.
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