Unfortunately this page was created in 2000 and is sadly dated as of 2008. It needs an update which it will get as time permits. You may still find the material of use however.
The difficulty of locating ancestors in Ireland should not be underestimated. Tracing people in the 1800s is feasible but the 1700s are extremely difficult and then only if your ancestors leased or owned land or major property. This being said it is possible to find your family - we did by a combination of perseverance and a great deal of luck.
The situation will change over time as more records are entered into databases ultimately permitting natural language searches of the form:
"My ancestor was Michael, he came from the South of Ireland in the early 1800s and his Wife's name was Anastasia. They had a Bible from the Church of Ireland and had a horse and cart".
This search information suggests they had property or land, can guide you to a more limited set of church records and the wife's relatively unusual name can be used to narrow searches etc.
We are however a long way from fully automatic searches. Many documents held by a large number of organisations usually on paper or cloth are buried in the basements of buildings. This situation is changing rapidly with a collective effort to get records online where they can be searched much more rapidly. Online records should be treated with great caution unless the path to the primary source document is available. Transcription errors are common.
In this short document we will restrict ourselves to records orginating in Ireland. The absolute minimum you need to attempt to locate an ancestor in Ireland is:
Ideally you should also know the:
With this starting information it is essential that you do as much research as possible before travelling to Ireland unless of course you plan to retire there.
We, like others, have heard the anecdotal story of somebody dropping by the Genealogical Society in Dublin and saying:
"My ancestor Michael came from somewhere in Ireland. I am in Dublin for an hour or so - can you help me?"
They were not successful.
For a second opinion on how to proceed see the The National Archives of Ireland: Getting Started .
If you do not know the Parish or Townland then we suggest you start with:
These are readily available outside Ireland and may assist you to locate people with the name you are seeking and their possible townland or parish.
You can then proceed to make enquiries with an appropriate ... to locate potential matches in the Parish Registers.
Your are strongly advised to obtain a good family tree program. Paper records will quickly become very difficult to manage. You should systematically annotate paper copies of documents so you can find them. We still have some way to go in sorting out our backlog of papers because we did not adopt some sensible scheme from the outset. For Macintosh we have used Reunion. There is a large range of programs available for PCs.
Speculation is often necessary to make progress on your research. Speculation is OK but it must ultimately be backed up by references to primary documentation such as parish registers or birth certificates. Information obtained from the research of others, while welcome and essential, should be treated cautiously. You should of course always carefully note the source of the information as you add it to your records so your research may be trusted. Do not leave documentation until later in your enthusiasm to make progress.
Mispellings, phonetic spellings, disinterested clerks etc etc. Cross checking. Careful of your cross check does not originate from the same (incorrect) document.
In many records County is used interchangeably with a major Town e.g. Tipperary could be County Tipperary or the Town of Tipperary.
The Townland Database site is very useful. Searches can be made where one or a few of townland, county, barony, civil parish, poor law union or province are known.
The key documents for family history research are:
Other documents which may be useful are:
The Primary Valuation was carried out between 1847 and 1864. There is a printed valuation book for each barony or poor law union, showing the names of occupiers of land and buildings, the names of persons from whom these were leased, and the amount and value of the property held.
A transcription containing partial Griffiths entries for Egan, MacEgan and Eighan has been produced by the Association. This partial transcription does not contain details of houses or land although this information is available in the full Griffiths document. There is now an Online Griffiths Valuation database.
We have performed some analysis of the use of give names and the distribution of Egans by Irish County.
The Tithe Applotment books were compiled between 1823 and 1837 in order to determine the amount which occupiers of agricultural holdings should pay in tithes to the Church of Ireland (the main Protestant church, and the church established by the state until its dis-establishment in 1871). There is a manuscript book for almost every parish, giving the names of occupiers, the amount of land held, and the sums to be paid in tithes.
The books for Northern Ireland are in The Public Record Office of Northern Ireland, Belfast. The National Archives of Ireland also holds copies.
In ??? all parish registers and ??? were moved to Dublin. Fortunately the Parish Priests had sufficient good sense to either not respond, or to send copies of the Registers. Much however was still lost
All births, marriages and deaths occurring since 1864 (and Church of Ireland marriages occurring since 1 April 1845) should be on record in the General Register Office, 8-11 Lombard Street East, Dublin 2.
For the period before 1864, parish registers provide the only record of most births, marriages and deaths. Catholic parish registers are normally still held by the parish priest, but there are microfilms of most of them for the period up to 1880 in The National Library of Ireland.
On rare occasions you may be able to view the actual registers from the 1800's which in some cases are still held by the Parish Church. You must always make arrangements with the parish priest first. It is extremely rare for a priest to undertake searches on your behalf and even more rare for them to copy sections of the register!
These records are microfilms of the registers and contain information on births/christenings, marriages and deaths. The records are almost invariably hand written and in many cases difficult to read. Records around the time of the Famine often have marginal notes which bring home the tragedies of the time. Often records were written up several at a time, usually from memory, after the priest had returned from travelling the parish. Dates are therefore not always precise and occasionally events may have been missed altogether depending on the priorities priests assigned to record keeping. Some registers require the specific approval of the Church before they may be accessed. Not unreasonably the Church has an interest in supporting family history initiatives in their parishes leading to a restriction on free access in some cases. The written permission of the parish priest must be obtained before these microfilms can be seen.
A copy of the National Library's list of the registers is held by The National Archives of Ireland.
Church of Ireland parish registers for the period up to 1870 are public records. Registers are available for about one-third of the parishes. Most are still held by the local clergy, although some are in the National Archives and others are in the Representative Church Body Library, Braemor Park, Dublin 14, as well as the Public Record Office of Northern Ireland in Belfast. There are microfilms or other copies in the National Archives of some of the registers held by the clergy. A list of all surviving registers is available in the National Archives. The names and addresses of the clergy are given in the Church of Ireland Directory. A list and a card index of registers in the National Archives can also be consulted.
Records of marriage licences provide information concerning some Church of Ireland marriages before 1845. Persons wishing toobtain a licence to marry without having banns called were required to enter into a bond with the bishop of the diocese. The licences and bonds do not survive, but the indexes to the bonds lodged in each Diocesan Court and the Prerogative Court are available in the National Archives. Some of the indexes have been published. Betham's abstracts to Prerogative and Dublin Diocesan marriage licences give further details (see Wills and Administrations under Relevant Collections). Some other records of marriage licences are indexed in the testamentary card index.
A census of the Irish population was taken every 10 years from 1821 until 1911. Most of these were destroyed but some remain.
No manuscript returns survive for 1861, 1871, 1881 and 1891. There are some returns for 1821, 1831, 1841 and 1851 covering parts of Counties Antrim, Cavan, Fermanagh, Galway, King's Co. (Offaly), Londonderry (Derry), and Meath, and there is a list of heads of household named in the returns of 1851 for Dublin City (see list of 19th century census returns). There are also census search forms for each county giving the results of searches made in the returns of 1841 and 1851 for pension purposes, and some other copies made from the returns of 1821 - 51.
The key genealogical repositories are:
There are now a large number of family history centres across Ireland. There has been a major effort by these centres and others to enter registers into computer databases. This work has also been used to provide computer skills training for the unemployed and others particularly in the rural areas of Ireland. Centres will undertake a range of searches. These searches should always be re-confirmed as often they contain elements of speculation. Their fees are usually modest. In most cases you are able to visit the centres and to access their records, again a modest fee often applies.
The following records are held by many town libraries and family history centres:
The Church of Latter Day Saints Family History Centres which are located in many major cities have a wealth of information. This was obtained by a substantial ongoing effort to collect and catalogue genealogical information. In some cases they have the only copies of records that have been lost or damaged beyond use.
You will perhaps of received guidance that people routinely travelled over very small distances usually a couple of miles/kilometres and so you should confine your search to a small area around where you find your first ancestor.
In fact not all of our ancesters were restricted to travel on foot. Even if they did much longer distances were walked than many of us would walk today. As an example the Law School at Bally MacEgan, Redwood Castle and Lorrha Cathedral are several miles/kilometres apart. Travel on foot between these land other locations would have been routine.
If your family was even moderately well off, leased or in rare occasions owned property it is likely they had horses and could move over much larger distances. Parts of the family may be scattered over tens of miles/kilometres.Greg & Sue Egan 2008