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Irish Genealogy 101

Tracing Irish Immigrants Back to Ireland


If your ancestor's specific place of origin in Ireland is unknown, then it is usually best to begin your search in the country where the Irish immigrant family settled. Just knowing that your ancestors came from Ireland is not enough - you usually must identify the specific parish or townland from which they came. This is primarily due to the destruction of the Record Tower in Dublin Castle in the early 18th century and the disastrous 1922 fire in the Ireland Public Record Office, which obliterated important genealogical records, including census returns (1821-1851), pre-1858 original wills, and many Church of Ireland parish records. Successful research for Irish ancestors, therefore, depends in large part on access to parish and townland records.

If your Irish ancestors have lived in those countries with large Irish communities, namely the United States, Canada, Great Britain, Australia, and New Zealand,the following sources may contain this information:

It is important to keep in mind that the chance that any of these records will pinpoint your ancestor's specific townland in Ireland will differ based on location (state, country, etc.) and time period. The key is persistence. Most records may just give "Ireland" as the place of origin, but if you keep looking you may finally locate one that mentions at least a county, if not a parish.

I've Checked These Records and Still Can't Find Anything

If you can't find any mention of a hometown for your immediate ancestor, then cast a wider net and look for siblings, cousins, friends, and neighbors. The Irish tended to immigrate in groups and cluster by village in the country of immigration. Investigate the records of all known family members. If need be, then expand the search to other associates — the Irish family living next door, the man appearing as witness to deeds and other transactions, etc.

What if I Can Only Find the County?

For the sake of genealogical research, the goal is to get down to the specifictownland in Ireland, but there are many useful levels of organization above that one including parishes, baronies, poor law unions, dioceses, probate districts, and counties. These subdivisions were all used at some point in Ireland's history and there are specific records that were compiled by each geographical division. If you find a listing for your ancestor which mentions one of these specific administrative divisions, then you can either try searching the records specific to that division for your ancestor (this is really only practical when the name is an unusual one), or begin working with surname distribution studies to narrow down the field of research. If the time period is appropriate, the 1901 and 1911 Ireland census may also help you narrow the possibilities if all you can find is the country or county.

I Have a Town Name But Can't Find it in Ireland

If you know the name of a town that your ancestors came from but cannot find it on a map, the IreAtlas Townland Database can help locate it! Search for a particular Irish place name, or enter a townland or county to generate a list all of the civil parishes, poor law unions, and townlands in a particular area.

Next > Find Them in Irish Records

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