During the month of March, everyone seems to be Irish. It appears to be a good reason to go out and party. And you might think “there are more people partying than there could possibly be Irish.” In truth, one in every four Americans can trace a part of their ancestry to Ireland. That is incredible when you take into consideration all of the nationalities that are represented in the “melting pot” that is America.
Finding records for Irish ancestors can be tricky. Before beginning to research in Irish records, there are two things that you absolutely must know: 1) the religion of that immigrant, and 2) the county where he lived.
Knowing the religion of an ancestor is vital to researching in Ireland. There are no civil vital records in Ireland until 1864, but Church records start much earlier. The major religions are Catholic and Anglican with other minor denominations such as Presbyterian, Congregationalist and Quaker. Examining American records such as marriage, death, obituaries, and cemetery records can give clues about a person’s religion. Was he/she married by a priest or a minister? Is the person buried in a cemetery that has church affiliation? Was there a religious service for the funeral? All these clues can be found in inf
ormation that you may have already gathered about the immigrant ancestor and his/her children. The county of origin is the second piece of information that is necessary. Knowing a town or village name is an extra bonus. As in any genealogy research, a specific place is an essential element when looking for records. Town and village names are often the same in different Irish counties just as there are many towns with the same name in many states in the United States.
Irish counties are divided into Civil Divisions and Ecclesiastical Divisions. Civil Divisions are made up of Townland (smallest Civil Division); Civil Parish (made up of many Townlands); Barony (group of Civil Parishes); County (group of Barony’s); and Province (group of Counties). Ecclesiastical Divisions are made up of Parishes and a Diocese. In many cases, the Church of Ireland parishes are consistent with the Civil Parish. The Catholic parishes are not the same as the Civil Parish. A Diocese is made up of many Parishes. It is important that you know both the Civil and Ecclesiastical Divisions and there are numerous guides available to help.
If you cannot find any clues in the records of your ancestor, focus your search on their siblings. The information such as religion and county of birth will probably be the same, because they had the same parents.
In general, Irish immigrants lived in Irish neighborhoods after they immigrated to America. If your research was unsuccessful finding the information for the immigrant, his siblings and children, try neighbors. As with most ethnic groups, neighbors were often family and friends from the “Old Country.”
The Family History Library has a large collection of Irish records on microfilm which can be ordered from a Family History Center. Also, the Denver Public Library has most of the research finding aids to assist in determining the Civil and Ecclesiastical Divisions.
May the luck of the Irish be with you.