We all feel a bit Irish in March. Who can resist the parades, shamrock hats, and green beer of St. Patrick’s Day celebrations in the midst of our cold, gray weather? And, for those with actual Irish roots (10 percent of the US population!) it’s also the perfect time to start your family research, during Irish History month.
Irish genealogy isn’t easy. In June of 1922, the Dublin court house had been under bombardment for two days during the Irish Civil War. Stored in the record room was ammunition used by the defenders. The combination was fatal to Ireland’s historic records resulting in the destruction of more than 1,000 years of state and religious archives. Losing so many records can make Irish research seem impossible, but all is not lost if you know where to look.
Map your surnames. Begin by visiting esri.com/en-us/maps-we-love/gallery/irish-surnames, which offers Irish maps that pinpoint the areas where the highest concentration of your surname resided. A county name is good, but if you can discover the name of the townland—the equivalent of a neighborhood in the US—even better. Focusing on records from these areas can help you make the most out of your research time.
Be aware of name variants. Your Irish ancestor may have dropped an O’, Mc, or Mac surname prefix, so when you’re searching records, look for the surname both with and without the prefix. Also check for alternate spellings in an Irish surname dictionary. McGarr in America could be McGirr in Irish records. The surname MacGanly could also be Gantley. A great reference book to help you sort out Irish surnames is Robert E. Matheson’s Special Report on Surnames in Ireland, free on Archive.org.
With surname and location in hand, you’re ready to start the hunt! Because visiting repositories and libraries can be challenging with the restrictions we’re facing, I’ve included helpful websites you can check out safely from home. (Coffee and bunny slippers optional but encouraged.)
Census.nationalarchives.ie The National Archive of Ireland’s census websiteincludes household records for the 1901 and 1911 censuses. The images show names, relationships, religious affiliations, occupations, and even your ancestor’s signature, which is an added treasure.
Irish Genealogy. Irishgenealogy.ie/en is a free database holding nearly 3 million transcriptions of pre-20th century church records of baptisms, marriages, and burials for selected Church of Ireland and Roman Catholic parishes. You’ll find the records are focused in counties Kerry, Cork, and Carlow, as well as the city of Dublin.
Roots Ireland. RootsIreland.ie is best known for its church records of mixed denominations and offers more than 20 million record transcriptions from 34 county genealogy centers in Ireland. A subscription is required, but 24 hour and 1-month options are available.
Findmypast.com. A subscription-based site that contains the largest collection of Irish records online, about 140 million. The “Ultimate” subscription includes more than 200 Irish newspapers dating back to the 1700s. If you’ve ever researched your family in the newspaper, you know it’s bound to add color to your tree!
Ancestry.com. The “World” subscription at Ancestry includes an Ireland-specific collection of about 40 million records. Although smaller than Findmypast.com, it includes less widely available resources such as the Famine Relief Commission papers. A recent addition is an indexed collection of Roman Catholic parish registers from 73 Irish parishes dating back to 1763.
There’s so many wonderful resources to help build your family tree. Don’t lose faith, have patience and “May the luck of the Irish smile on you!”
Carol DiPirro-Stipkovits is a National Genealogical Society member, Association of Professional Genealogists member as well as a guest lecturer and freelance writer. She is a Board Member and President of the Niagara County Genealogical Society. Send questions or comments to her at email@example.com