St. Patrick's Day is coming up this month and you may be thinking about researching your Irish ancestors. Many of us have a "touch of the Irish." In fact, about 25 percent of people living in the United States today have at least one Irish ancestor.
I am 50 percent Irish. My Grandma Potter immigrated in 1892 and my Garbally grandparents immigrated in 1865. For years I avoided researching my Irish roots because I was told that Irish research was next to impossible because all the records were lost in a fire. While it is true that many records were lost in 1922 during the Irish Civil War at the Public Records Office in Dublin, there are still many records that are available for Irish research.
The first step in Irish research is to identify your immigrant ancestor. But a name is not enough. You must have the answers to at least some of the following questions: Year of arrival in America; Religion; County where he came from in Ireland; social status. The questions are important because research strategies will differ depending on these factors.
To get answers for these questions, learn everything possible from records on this side of the pond (Atlantic Ocean that is). Check and see if your ancestor had a death record, obituary, passenger list, naturalization, cemetery record, church records, military record, will, probate or an entry in a local or county history. Continue by researching the immigrant's children and siblings. Information obtained from these records will likely answer at least some of the questions.
Once these records are used to put together a sketch of the immigrant ancestor, it is time to start researching Irish records.
Irish civil registration started in 1864. This includes birth, marriage, and death records with some non-Catholic marriage records available for years as early as 1845. The indexes and records can be found in Ireland at the General Registry Office (GRO) and some are on microfilm at the Family History Library (FHL).
The two major religions in Ireland are Catholic and Church of Ireland. Catholic records start in the early 1800s, although some earlier records have survived. Baptismal and marriage records are usually available and burial records occasionally still exist. The records are usually in the form of a register and are located at the local parish. They have been microfilmed and the microfilms are available at the National Library in Dublin.
The Church of Ireland records go back to the 1600s but many of them were destroyed in the 1922 fire at the Public Records Office. The records that survived were microfilmed and are available at the National Archives, Dublin and Representative Church Body Library, Dublin [information updated]. Some of these are available at the FHL.
Presbyterian, Quaker, Methodist, Baptist, and Congregationalist are additional religions found in Ireland. One of the Irish research guides at the end of this article will help in locating these records.
Ireland began taking a census in 1821, but most of the records were lost in the 1922 fire. Check the guides at the end of this article for a list of census records that survived. However, the 1901 and 1911 records were not destroyed and have been microfilmed. The FHL has the complete collection. Both are available online at The National Archives of Ireland http://www.census.nationalarchives.ie/search. [information updated].
Land Valuation Records
Land valuation records were used to determine the amount of tax due on land and structures. Even if your ancestor was a tenant farmer and not a land owner, they will still be listed in these records. Most of the valuation records list the owner and the head of the household (tenant, in many cases) occupying the land.
The valuation records cover three time periods, Tithe Applotment Books 1824-1840; Griffith's Primary Valuation 1848-1864; and Revision Lists 1864-present.
Irish Origins (www.irishorigins.com) and Ask about Ireland (www.askaboutireland.ie/griffith-valuation/index.xml) are two good places to start your land research and the FHL has many of the records on microfilm.
Resources Available from Home
The FHL has a large collection of Irish microfilm and the International Genealogical Index (IGI) database which has many indexed Irish records.
Check the online catalog for specific places and time periods.
There are county Heritage Centres in Ireland that have indexes and will do research for a fee. The resources at each Centre are different so use the individual Websites for additional information about their resources.
The records I've mentioned will get you started on researching your Irish ancestors. For additional guidance I would recommend the books Tracing Your Irish Ancestors, 3rd edition by John Grenham and Irish Records Sources for Family and Local History, revised edition by James G. Ryan.
"May the luck of the Irish shine bright on your way"–Irish Blessing