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Irish Genealogy 101

A Guide to Researching Irish Ancestry


Irish genealogical research has long been plagued by myths and stereotypes: the records were all burned, my ancestors dropped the 'O' on the boat, it's almost impossible to trace immigrant ancestors back to Ireland... Many would-be genealogists assume before they even start that they have no chance of finding their Irish ancestors. Nothing could be further from the truth, however. While Irish genealogy does have a few challenges, a recent explosion of interest in Irish genealogy has led to dozens of how-to guides published in print and on the Internet, improved access to records and a plethora of researchers willing to help each other in the quest for knowledge. It is now easier than ever to learn about your Irish roots.

Where Do I Start?

Just like with any family history project, begin with yourself. Make sure that you know everything you can find out from family members. Look at home sources for clues in certificates, family Bibles, obituary notices, diaries and similar sources. Tombstones are another good place to start for names, dates and places. Organize the information you find and record it on Family Group Sheets or with a genealogy software program.

Important Questions to Ask About Your Irish Ancestors

  • Which parish or townland did they come from?
  • Approximately when did they live there?
  • What religion were my Irish ancestors? If Protestant, then what denomination?
  • If my ancestors emigrated from Ireland, when did they do so?
  • Were there any family members who remained behind in Ireland?
  • What was my family's social status in Ireland?

As you ask these questions of family members, friends and relatives, please keep in mind that family stories and traditions may not always be correct. It is fairly common, for example, for a tombstone or family record to confuse the port of departure with the place of origin. Don't let that keep you from writing down everything you are told as clues - just remember that clues are all they are until they can be verified through other sources.

Next > Tracing 'Em Back to Ireland

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