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Tracing your Irish Ancestors: A Three-step Guide

Tracing your Irish Ancestors: A Three-step Guide

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Derry~Londonderry
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Hopefully this information may be of some help to all those people starting out on their journey to trace their Irish ancestry. It is amazing to think how far Ireland has come in the last decade in terms of making record sources available online! You can now achieve so much online:

Tracing your Irish Ancestors: A Three-step Guide

Background

There are 2,508 parishes in Ireland. You can identify the civil parishes of Ireland, and their associated townlands, at https://www.johngrenham.com/places/civil_index.php by selecting county of interest on the map. To gain insight into the economic and social landscape of 19th century Ireland you can consult A Topographical Dictionary of Ireland, published in 1837, by Samuel Lewis. Arranged in alphabetical order by parishes, towns and villages this book can be viewed online at http://www.libraryireland.com/topog/placeindex.php. An excellent starting point for surname research is the ‘Surname Search’ option at https://www.johngrenham.com/surnames where you can explore the location, frequency and history of Irish surnames.

Research Steps

Step 1 - Search 1901 and 1911 Census Returns

Although census enumerations were carried out every decade from 1821, the earliest surviving complete return for Ireland is that of 1901. The census enumerations of 1901 and 1911, arranged by townland in rural areas and by street in urban areas, can be searched, for free, at www.census.nationalarchives.ie. These returns will list the names, ages and place of birth of all members in a household.

Step 2 – Search for births, marriages and deaths

Civil registration of births, deaths and Roman Catholic marriages in Ireland began on 1st January 1864 while non-Catholic marriages were subject to registration from 1st April 1845. Prior to the commencement of civil registration of births, marriages and deaths in Ireland, family history researchers usually rely on baptismal, marriage and burial registers kept by churches. With civil registration of births and deaths commencing in 1864, and with the patchy survival of church records prior to 1820, gravestone inscriptions can be a vital source for family historians.

Irish Civil Records of births, marriages and deaths can now be searched and viewed at www.irishgenealogy.ie. On searching index, which returns name, event type, year and name of Superintendent Registrar’s District, a pdf of the full register page in which that birth, marriage or death certificate appears can be downloaded by selecting ‘image’. At present, images are available for Births 1864-1918, Marriages 1864-1943 and Deaths 1878-1968. Images of pre-1864 marriages and pre-1878 deaths will follow later.
 
RootsIreland, at www.rootsireland.ie, is a good starting point for searching church registers of baptisms, marriages and burials as this website is the largest online source of Irish church register transcripts. You can either search across all counties or search a particular county. For example, Derry Genealogy, at www.derry.rootsireland.ie, has transcribed and computerised the early baptismal and marriage registers of 97 churches (38 Roman Catholic, 24 Church of Ireland and 35 Presbyterian; the earliest being the registers of St Columb’s Cathedral in Derry city which date from 1642) and gravestone inscriptions from 117 graveyards. 
   
As the search facility on this website is very flexible it means that you should be able to determine if any entries of interest to your family history are held on this database. For example, if you are searching for the baptism/birth of a child you can narrow the search down by year, range of years, names of parents and by parish of baptism/district of birth. Marriage searches can be filtered by year, range of years, name of spouse, names of parents and parish/district of marriage.        

It must be stated, however, that a failure to find relevant birth/marriage entries in this database doesn't mean that the events you are looking for didn't happen in Ireland. It simply means that they are not recorded in the database; for example, they may be recorded in a record source which doesn't survive for the time period of interest or in a source that has not been computerised or, perhaps, in the database of another county.

For example you can search, for free, the church registers for Dublin city, south Cork and Counties Carlow and Kerry at www.irishgenealogy.ie.

Step 3 – Search Census Substitutes

Quite often the only realistic strategy in tracing ancestors beyond church registers (which are the building blocks of family history) is to examine surviving land records and census substitutes, often compiled by civil parish, for any references to a surname or given name of interest. The problem with these sources is that they name heads of household only; hence they provide insufficient information to confirm the nature of linkages between named people in these sources. Census substitutes, however, are very useful in confirming the presence of a family name in a particular townland and/or parish, and in providing some insight into the frequency and distribution of surnames.

You can examine mid-19th century Griffith’s Valuation at www.askaboutireland.ie/griffith-valuation and early-19th century Tithe Books at www.titheapplotmentbooks.nationalarchives.ie. It must be emphasised such sources will confirm the presence of a name and/or surname of interest but they will not confirm if there is a connection between people with the same surname!

Brian Mitchell
Derry Genealogy


Posted Wed 14 Sep 2016 10:51 PM
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Hi Brian! I am trying to become an Irish citizen and need my grandfather's certified birth certificate. His name is James Vincent Quinn born 9/26/1882 in Omagh Tyrone. I can't seem to locate him and I don't know what site to look on and where to get the certified birth certificate. Can you help me? He is not listed in the census done in the early 1900's since he went to a catholic seminary and was not at home when the census was done. Thanks, Gregory Frazer

Posted Fri 28 Oct 2016 6:01 AM
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Derry~Londonderry
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Hi Gregory

A search of the indexes to the County Tyrone database on Roots Ireland (www.rootsireland.ie) reveals 3 civil birth entries of a James Quinn in 1882.

If one of these is your James Vincent Quinn you can apply to the General Register Office of Northern Ireland for their birth certificate. Contact details are:

General Register Office, Oxford House, 49-55 Chichester Street, Belfast, BT1 4HL, Northern Ireland
Telephone: 028 9151 3101
Website: www.nidirect.gov.uk/gro  
Email: gro.nisra@dfpni.gov.uk

With best wishes

Brian

Posted Fri 28 Oct 2016 9:59 AM
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Hi Brian! That worked! I found my grandpa's info so I can apply for his birth certificate. Thanks a million! Also, do you know if Ireland is still accepting applications from grandchildren to become citizens of Ireland. The government website said it was still available, but my daughter said the Irish Embassy in Los Angeles said it was no longer an option. However, I understand that Brexit may have changed that since many Irish born living in England are now applying for Irish citizenship in order to stay in the EU. Thanks for all of your help. Regards, Gregory Frazer 
Posted Fri 28 Oct 2016 2:38 PM
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Derry~Londonderry
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That's great Gregory

Hopefully the enclosed link regarding Irish citizenship will help:
http://www.citizensinformation.ie/en/moving_country/irish_citizenship/

With best wishes

Brian
Posted Fri 28 Oct 2016 6:43 PM
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Hi Brian.....I am trying to find information on my great grandfather Patrick S. Collins born March 21 1852 in Ireland and migrated to the USA (New York State) where he raised a family and passed on Oct 6 1921 (all information is from his death certificate). 

His father was also named Patrick Collins born in Ireland and his mother was Mary King also born in Ireland. (I have no other information on these two)

I also have conflicting USA census documents that say Patrick's wife Anne aka Anna Haley was born in Ireland and/or the USA on Jan 4 1855. Some USA census's have her being from Ireland others have her being born in the USA. I believe she was born in the USA (New York State)

Where do I start searching for information on my great grandfather Patrick S. Collins if I dont know what city/town he was from in Ireland? My DNA results show I am connected to the North Munster Region of Ireland......where Clare/Cork/Kerry/Limerick/Tipperary/Waterford counties are located.

Thanks for any help/feedback?

Vic - (Philadelphia, PA USA)
Posted Wed 20 Feb 2019 2:13 AM
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Derry~Londonderry
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Hi Vic

Prior to 1864 and civil registration of births in Ireland you will have to rely on church registers to confirm birth details of Patrick Collins, son of Patrick Collins and Mary King, born 1852 in Ireland and Anne/a Haley born 1855 possibly in Ireland. Dates of commencement and quality of information in church registers vary from parish to parish and from denomination to denomination. Access to church registers, in the absence of indexes and databases, is generally gained through knowledge of an ancestor's parish address and religious denomination.

There is no national index to Irish church registers. To date, only the county-based genealogy centres have attempted any large scale, systematic indexing of church registers in their localities. Although RootsIreland, at http://www.rootsireland.ie, is the largest online source of Irish church register transcripts, it must be emphasised that a failure to find relevant birth/marriage entries in this database doesn't mean that the events you are looking for didn't happen in Ireland. It simply means that they are not recorded in the database; for example, they may be recorded in a record source which doesn't survive for the time period of interest or in a source that has not been computerised.

It is fair to say that to visit the ancestral homeland in Ireland and/or select record sources to search you really need to know the parish they came from. The Province of Munster, which consists of counties of Clare, Cork, Kerry, Limerick, Tipperary and Waterford, was subdivided into 786 parishes!

If you are unable to identify relevant information in the RootsIreland database, http://www.rootsireland.ie, (or any of the ‘big’ Irish databases such as http://www.irishgenealogy.ie and http://www.findmypast.ie) or, indeed, in other sources then, unfortunately, you hold no specific clues to guide you as to where in Ireland you should concentrate your research. If you cannot find your ancestor in any of the significant Irish databases then you will have to conduct your own research through archives. It must be said, however, that this is only a realistic option if you know the county and parish your ancestor lived in Ireland.

If you hold no clues as to where in Ireland your ancestor came from you could perhaps consider doing further research through record sources in the US (such as marriage records, census returns, death notices) and with family contacts to see if you can identify any clues as to the county and parish of origin of your Irish ancestors.

Posted Wed 20 Feb 2019 10:52 AM
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Brian..ok thanks-
Posted Sun 24 Feb 2019 12:28 AM
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Hello! I am trying to explore my family tree a little more and have come to a dead end with two people from Ireland and Scotland born in the mid 1800's. I went to several of the websites that were recommend and have come up with nothing. I am able to find records of these people when they later moved to America. I am great at looking up records of those who have been in the US, but I am not getting anywhere with my Irish and Scottish ancestry. Any advice would be much appreciated.
Thank you.
-Mollie
Posted Thu 21 Mar 2019 10:01 PM
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Hi Mollie,

We would love to see what we can do to help you out with your Irish roots! Can you tell us a little bit more about what you have found so far? 

Do you happen to know when your ancestors were born, where on the island they lived, or where in Ireland they left for the United States from? 

Anything else you know, from family stories to other documents, please feel free to share those things as well. :)

Warm regards,

Melin
Posted Thu 21 Mar 2019 10:06 PM
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