Please note: this is not intended to be an exhaustive list of every useful website and record Irish genealogy. I have just tried to include the basics.
General pointers to begin with:
The first thing to do is record everything you know already. Your own family’s birth, deaths and marriage dates. Get your parents to give you the details for their siblings and parents.
Talk to the oldest people in your family. Take a Dictaphone if possible and record them. Have some questions ready but be prepared that older people can’t always recall straight away so you might need to lead in by looking at photos or asking them about a specific event like their wedding.
You don’t need to spend money on family tree software. There are several free programs out there.
Genopro is an excellent free (also a cheap pro version) program as is Personal Ancestral file from the LDS Church. Ancestry.com (and its localised subsidiaries, we share with the .co.uk) is the Microsoft of the genealogy world. They push an excellent but expensive program called Family Tree Maker. 2016 note: Ancestry are withdrawing support for this program. It will still work independently but no new updates. Please search the genealogy forum where we've many threads on software!
I wouldn’t recommend putting your family tree on the internet, especially not for living people. It’s far too easy to steal an identity with the information in a family tree like birth date, place, mother’s maiden name, etc. But that’s my personal opinion.
In this topic, the Mormons are your friends. The LDS church does a vast amount of scanning, microfilming and indexing of worldwide vital records (births, deaths and marriages). Their website www.familysearch.org is invaluable. See a list of Irish resources here:
The main places you spend your time to do family research are:
National Archives – censuses, Griffith’s Valuation, wills, trade directories
National Library – church parish registers (now online)
Births Deaths & Marriages research room in Werburgh St in Dublin or by post/fax application to their head office in Roscommon. This is a place where you spend a lot of money so make sure to read the information below on it before going in there.
The internet: checking message boards and subscription sites: findmypast.ie, ancestry.co.uk, rootsireland.ie, irishgenealogy.ie
The first census taken in Ireland was in 1821 and they proceed on a 10 yearly basis until 1921 when there was a gap due to the civil war. But don’t get excited! In two separate incidents of tragedy and destruction, the first complete census of Ireland is from 1901. We also have a complete 1911 census. The censuses thereafter (starting in 1926) are subject to a 100 year rule, so there’ll be no new census data until 2026, though the FG/Labour government has an early release for it in their plans but I won’t be holding by breath. It’s not even microfilmed, and they would have to redact everything to do with still living people. There are some fragmentary census returns for parts of the country held in the National Archives of pre-1901 censuses. The good news here is that the NA has the 1911 and 1901 censuses up on their site free of charge: www.census.nationalarchives.ie
They also have the fragmentary remains of 1821-1851 plus census search forms (which were used for people to provide proof of age when claiming the Old Age Pension, from 1908 onwards).
So what’s on the census and how useful is it?
Once you’ve found your correct people, you’ll get a list of all the people living in the house, which would include any lodgers or servants. People are listed with their relationship to the head of house who is usually first on the list. Religions, gender, age, ability to read and write, occupation and marital status is given. On 1911 but not 1901, if there is married woman, details are given of how many children born and how many still alive and how long they’ve been married. Also ability to speak English and Irish and any infirmities such as deaf, blind, dumb are listed.
A word of warning about age and spelling:
If you’re not getting any returns for your ancestors, mess around with the spelling. 100 years ago people were not as age conscious either. Ages will be guessed at and when you extrapolate a year of birth, don’t be surprised if the corresponding birth cert is as much as 5 years either way out. The old age pension was first given in 1908. Some miraculously aged as much as 20 years in the ten year period between 1901 and 1911. People are also just wrong. I have one census return in my family were the head of house incorrectly records how long he’s been married, his daughter’s age and his son in law’s age. As many people were still illiterate, spelling was variable. So you might find your McCormack ancestors using Cormack or a slightly different form of your own surname.
Births, Deaths & Marriages
So you’ve looked at the census and hopefully found some ancestors. Using the birth dates as a starting point, you can start searching on various sites.
Familysearch.org was the first to digitise the indexes to bmds. Findmypast.ie and Ancestry.co.uk have subsequently bought their database and have EXACTLY THE SAME information on their sites, but slightly enhanced so it shows you who a person married, etc.
Irishgenealogy.ie (State-run) has a different version of this same database online, also enhanced to have mothers’ maiden names from about 1900 onwards on births (plus exact dates) and for most of the 20th century marriages you get exact dates plus both parties. However, this database is subject to limits, so you only get births older than 100 years, marriages older than 75 years and deaths over 50 years. Crucially though, you can access the register pages for all births pre-1915, marriages between 1880-1940 and deaths 1891-1965. This means you don't have to pay for certificates for these records. There are some errors and omissions but it will save you a fortune.
Dates covered on FMP/Ancestry/Familysearch for indexes:
Non-Catholic marriages 1845 - 1958
All other religions marriages: 1864 - 1958
Deaths 1864-1958 (1965 for irishgenealogy.ie)
1922 onwards is the Free State/Republic of Ireland counties only.
What will theses indexes yield and what should you do with them?
When you’ve found an index that you think is your ancestor, you will have the following information.
Year of birth – will be correct as registered on a birth but beware that on a death cert it is only extrapolated from a year of death from information.
After 1878, the year’s worth of births, deaths or marriages were registered and broken down by quarter (March, June, September, December). Prior to then, there’s no quarters.
So a sample record might look like this:
Registration district: Oughterard (Galway)
Year & Quarter: Jan-Mar 1885
Estimated birth year: 1813
Age on death: 72
Film number: this is only relevant if you are using a Family History Centre in the LDS church
Or in short hand: John Joyce, Oughterard Q1 1885 4/299
Important things to note:
It is best to put the registration district in the place box, rather than a specific location. The indexes are sorted by registration districts and these overlap counties. EG: Rathdown covers both south Dublin and north Wicklow. If you don't know what registration districts cover your area, ask us! If you are not finding someone on the familysearch.org index, drill down to the district divisions for each registration district, which you can find on Claire Santry’s excellent website: http://www.irish-genealogy-toolkit.com/Ireland-civil-registration.html
If you don’t know where your person came from, you can just put in Ireland and it will give you the whole country’s returns for that name.
I always put in a range of years. You’ll find that this system is not perfect. Even if you select Dublin, it will still give returns outside Dublin but we work with what we get, and this is free.
Marriages are the easiest to find because the bride and groom will appear separately and their registration district, year and quarter, volume and page will match exactly. Though it is theoretically possible that 2 marriages on a page would feature 2 people with the same name, the chance is very small. The site doesn’t yet have the ability to cross reference names so you do need to search both names individually. If you only have one name, you’ll just need to narrow down as much as possible and then try ordering the various certs.
Birth indexes post 1922 (i.e. Free State) include the mother’s maiden name so if you know that, you’ll find the correct reference much quicker.
I suggest looking for a birth, a death and a marriage that you definitely know the date of and the relevant people’s names so that you can see how it works.
So this site only gives you a reference and you need a cert to increase your knowledge. There’s 2 ways to do it.
The GRO website is somewhat antiquated and does not yet include online ordering but you can download the forms for ordering a birth, death and marriage cert.
This form can be posted with a Euro cheque (drawn only on Irish banks) or you can put in your credit card details. It can also be faxed. I have used the fax and cc details safely several times but I realise that lots of people will not be happy with that. There are several types of cert but the relevant one for research is the cheapest €4 option. It’s a full photocopy of the registry entry. They will email or post the certs back to you.
The other way to get the cert is to go into the Research room in Werburgh St, Dublin which is a branch of the GRO. It is an expensive place so it’s best to have your references already. They have forms you can fill out with the same details as above. At a cost of €4 per cert and a limit of 5 certs a day, you can have your cert in about 10 minutes. It’s very frustrating to be limited to 5 so if you can co-opt friends to order some for you at the same time. You can order more than five, and they’ll post them out at no extra charge, but you can be waiting a few days.
Birth certs will have: DOB, place of birth, name of child, gender, father’s name, occupation and address, mother’s name including maiden name, signature, qualification (i.e. present at birth) and address of informant. Mother’s occupation was not added until the 1960s.
Death certs will have: DOD, place of death, name of person, gender, marital status, age last birthday, profession, cause of death, qualification (i.e. present at death) and address of informant.
Marriage certs will have: date and place of marriage, name of both parties, ages (though this often says “full” which meant 21 or over), professions, addresses of both parties prior to marriage, fathers’ names and occupations. If the father’s name is left blank, it probably means he is dead or that the person was illegitimate.
For Northern Ireland, GRONI has a digitised online ordering system, so you can have instant access to those records. It’s worth noting that they have the 6 counties back to the inception of the records, not just from 1921. http://www.nidirect.gov.uk/index/information-and-services/leisure-home-and-community/family-history-heritage-and-museums/research-family-history-at-the-general-register-office-ni-groni.htm
Above you’ll find 2 links. The first is a free site with church records from various counties, and Dublin city. A lot of these records have a digital image of the original register. Note as well that Irish Genealogy now contains a superior in some respects index of the births deaths and marriages. It is date limited (births over 100 years, marriages over 75 and deaths over 50) but the marriages show both parties in the index plus the exact date of marriage, and deaths go up to 1964 instead of 1958 on the other sites. This site will also add each new year the relevant records for bmds that are now released under the time limits, so at some stage in 2016, we will get 1915 births.
The second is a subscription site. The minimum cost is €25 per month but it does have a lot of records for almost every county in Ireland (and NI). What you’ll see is a transcription, which is of course open to errors, done by volunteers in the various local history and family history societies around the country.
If you want to search Catholic parish registers for free, then you want the National Library.
The NLI has microfilm copies of most Catholic church parish registers up to 1870 or 1900 in some cases, which have now been digitised.. Parish registers are important because they pre-date the civil registrations of births and marriages, sometimes by 100 years. Their website has a list of which ones and relevant dates, by diocese and gives the corresponding microfilm number. They are not transcribed but you can navigate to a particular month/year within each parish. However, both Ancestry & FMP have the same imperfect digitised database of these records.
The NL has a genealogy advisory service who have their own room up the main stairs to the left. They can help you get started but if you know what parish and what microfilm number, you can just get started on your own. Where the NLI is excellent is with computers. They have banks of computers where you can access Findmypast/Ancestry online for free. They also have links to the LDS civil register indexes amongst other useful databases.
A word of warning about parish registers. They vary greatly in content and handwriting and quality. Dublin parishes were the richest and if you’re lucky, you’ll get a register done on pre-printed books with details like mother’s maiden name and address of parents.
Did I mention the headings are in Latin at lot of the time?
And there’s a lot of abbreviations. Take a few mins on the internet before you go to make a list of the following words in Latin to help once there: son, daughter, mother, father, baptism, date. Or just wing it, you’d be surprised how easy it is to work out the meanings. We’ve got a separate thread running for Latin names.
Basically, you’ll definitely get on a baptism: date of baptism, child’s name, sex, parents names (may just be John & Mary Murphy, but often mother’s maiden name), godparents (listed as “sp” for sponsor) and maybe an address and the birthdate too.
For marriages, they can often be more helpful than the civil cert because you usually get the bride and groom’s mothers’ names, which didn’t appear on civil certs until the 1960s. It’s often the only place you’ll be able to find a mother’s maiden name.
Burial registers are far sparser and less helpful. Death certs are much more useful.
Sometimes you get little notes in the margin that the priest has added in. Examples I’ve seen included a note beside a baptism of when the child married and who she married. I’ve heard of even better ones like “father is really Mr X”.
CoI parish registers
These are more tricky. Only 2/5s of them survived the 1922 explosion in the Four Courts where they were kept. The National Archives has a list on their website of what they have, all stored on microfilm. Other registers survive in the Representative Church Body library in Braemor Park as well as local custody in the original parishes. Refer to their website for further details. All the CoI records for Dublin are on www.irishgenealogy.ie
Other religions will have their own specialised links. In particular, the Quakers keep very good records.
The small Jewish community in Ireland, mainly in Dublin, has a great site with a database that will also be able to help.
GV is a land valuation that was done in the late 1840s - early 1860s in Ireland. It goes right down the social scale and you have a good chance here of finding an ancestor if they were a lessor or land owner. It has been estimated that approximately 70% of heads of household are on it. Today we mostly use it as a census substitute. The bad news is that it’ll only tell you the lessor and not their wives or children but it does allow you to pinpoint where they lived, and in the case of farming ancestors, show you exactly on a map where and what size their land holding was.
There’s a free version of it on www.askaboutireland.com and another copy of it on Findmypast and Ancestry, with free access to it in the National Library. Be aware that place names are repeated so be sure you’re looking in the right county.
I hope these posts will help you on the way to find your Irish ancestry. Please do ask on a new thread if you need more specific help.
A couple of other useful sites:
Genealogy.nationalarchives.ie – the dedicated part of their website with Will calendars, tithe applotment books, census and soldiers’ wills.
http://www.irishgenealogynews.com/ Claire Santry’s Irish Genealogy news blog – the best source of news, events, etc in Irish Genealogy. If Claire doesn’t have it, it’s not worth knowing.
http://www.irishnewsarchive.com/ are online searchable newspaper archives quite reasonably priced. They don’t have the Irish Times, but they have their own subscription archive on their main site.
The Commonwealth War Graves Commission http://www.cwgc.org/
To find those who died in military service during WWI/WWII. Ancestry also has military records.
http://www.swilson.info/ - really useful website of boards user ShaneW who has a myriad of genealogical links and info.
http://www.townlandoforigin.com/ - blog of expat genealogist Joe Buggy, also one of our users! Excellent resource for Irish-American resources.
http://http://www.johngrenham.com/blog/ - genealogist John Grenham’s weekly blog & some databases, good for surname variants.