- Start by researching the most recent generation of your family.
- Gather as much information as you can about an ancestor beginning with their death and working back in time.
- Record the source (not just the website) of each piece of information you find out as you go.
- Expect surnames to be spelt in various ways throughout the years.
- Expect stated ages to be inconsistent.
Who you are looking for?
Trying to locate an ancestor in the millions of Irish records online can be daunting. A name or surname is not enough. You need to compile as much information as you can before you start searching records.
It may be easier to focus on one or two individuals initially as you gain experience in your research.
You should start your research where you know the ancestor spent the last years of their lives and try to find answers to the following questions:
- Where did they raise their family?
- Can you find them in census records?
- Are there other Irish families living in the same town/neighbourhood?
- Where and when they did they die?
- When and with whom did they emigrate?
- Did they marry in Ireland or elsewhere?
- Did they have children born in Ireland or elsewhere?
Your aim is to learn:
- Names and any variations
- Approximate year of birth
- Religious denomination
- Parents’ names and approximate years of their birth or marriage
- Spouse’s name and approximate year of birth
- Other family members
Where did they come from in Ireland?
This is often the hardest question to answer when researching an Irish ancestor.
You may find a townland, village, town, or county of birth by looking at passenger lists, naturalisation records, census returns, marriage records, death records, obituaries or gravestones. Sometimes the place of origin will be recorded simply as Ireland.
There may also be clues in records of those who may have emigrated with them including siblings, relatives or neighbours from Ireland. Look at any organizations they may have belonged to, and look at family papers such as a bible, diary or letters. Family lore can also be important.
For example, a search for John O’Brien in Ireland circa 1850 would give over 900 matches on our database at this time. However, if you can also search with a county of origin, one of both parents’ first names and possibly a mother’s surname, it will considerably reduce the matches located.
When did they leave Ireland?
Try to establish when they emigrated as it may help to establish their age. If they were young they may have been with their parents or other siblings. If older they may have been married and travelling with a spouse, and perhaps children who were born in Ireland.
The year of emigration can be checked with particular events in Irish history as different groups migrated at different times from particular locations. If you can learn when your ancestor left Ireland it may point to a particular location in Ireland.
How did they get to their final destination?
If you can establish the ship, date and port of arrival you can look for the passenger list for a particular voyage that could provide information about whether they travelled with family members, neighbours or friends.
How to find ancestors who stayed in Ireland
You will need to follow the same steps, working back generation by generation, and use gravestones, memorial cards, and family memories.