There is not just one way to trace Irish ancestry. As with any research, it is a kind of detective work and the more useful information, the better. There are many means of gathering the information that will tell you about your Irish forbears. In the past, someone seeking information on their ancestry would spend a lot of time in libraries and various registries and record offices looking at books, archived birth and death registers, microfilm, census information, and legal documents.
In our modern age, the internet has made the ancestry tracing process a lot easier. But either way, the basic approach to tracing Irish ancestry or any ancestry remains the same – it is simply to gather information from a variety of sources and assemble it as coherently as possible. This article will point you in the right direction.
Begin with what you already know
Write down your family name and any related names of grandparents, aunts, and uncles, cousins, and so on. Begin to construct a family tree. You can draw or type this out to show the branchings of your immediate and extended family. You can also interview existing grandparents and other family members and get a lot of information that way. Ask them to show you pictures, letters, or other documents – these may also contain valuable information, some of it that people have forgotten over the years.
Proceed further back in time
Once you have all the information you can get from family members put together in some kind of readable form, you can begin to set up a progression back in time. You’ll already have started this with your family tree. Now begin to take it further back, documenting as many branches as you can. This will involve research and access to outside sources to fill in the picture and extend it back earlier and earlier. These are shown in some general categories below. But realize that there are potentially even more information sources and websites than the ones listed here. Any and all reliable information can help. But these sites will get you far, maybe even as far as you need to go.
Check General Information Websites
Some people might say to start your Irish ancestry research at the local library, but in fact the internet is a better choice as a starting point because there is a lot of quick information available right away. This may lead you to written histories or other information at the library, but it is best to start with the web to get going.
The House of Names
This web site allows you to enter any surname (last name) and get a brief description of the name’s derivation. This is good for getting an overall sense of where your ancestors in the larger sense (anybody that shares your family name) originated.
Look for other similar websites that give general overviews of this type if you wish.
Check Records Websites
This is the larger category. It’s the digital age, and what was once only locked away in dusty file cabinets in foreign countries is now often available online. The following sites are source material sites. They are, or have, databases of actual records of various sorts that were made of specific people. This is the kind of focused information you are looking for.
Ellis Island Website
Lists U.S. immigrants from 1890 to 1924. Do a search on your name or related family names.
Irish Family History Foundation Website
Large searchable database of genealogical information, parish records, and so on. This foundation appears to be some kind of coordinating body for a number of different genealogical research organizations in Ireland, so it is comprehensive.
General Register Office of Ireland
General Register Office of Northern Ireland
Public Records Office of Northern Ireland
National Archives of Ireland
Irish Census Records
All of these above sites can provide you with a wealth of records information. They generally have searchable databases and many other perks to help you in your genealogical research.
Consider genealogy services
There are services that will do genealogical research for a fee. So if you feel that you are running into dead ends you can’t resolve by yourself, or just don’t have the time to do extensive research, consider using these services. Here are a couple, but a simple internet search will likely uncover more:
Libraries – Written Histories
You may get lucky and find actual written histories, often in book form, about your family. Libraries can help you here. If in the research process you find such a book, go to your local library and request they order it for you.
Travel to Ireland
Doing genealogy research is a great reason to take a cool trip. So if you’d rather really get close to the research into your forbears, consider hopping on a plane to Ireland and looking around. You can visit locations that came up in your research and go to records offices to view paper or microfilm documents. You can even talk to locals at the pub over a pint and may find extended family you never knew about.
By the time you’ve finished with all this research, your progression back in time be quite extensive. You’ll probably also have made some friends and met some extended family for the first time along the way. Consider assembling all the genealogical information in a good looking tome or printout, and even adding pictures if you like. These could also make great presents to members of your family for Christmas or birthdays.