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Irish Research

by Lyman D. Platt, Ph.D.
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Researching Around Ireland's Destroyed Records
Learn about what records are available in Ireland and why it is so important to begin your Irish genealogical research in an immigrant's country of immigration.

Demographers and others who have studied the issue estimate that there are over 50,000,000 living Americans who descend in one or more of their lines from ancestors of Irish origin. This makes understanding Irish research and sources critical for many who are pursuing their genealogy today. Because this article has limited space, I won't attempt to outline all that could be said about Irish records and how to use them. Instead, I will concentrate on indicating where you can find more information, and also give a few tips about how to start your research.

Guides of Note

In the past few years a number of excellent guides to Irish research have been published, most of which are available through Genealogical Publishing Company in Baltimore. Three of the more noteworthy include the following:
  • Irish and Scotch-Irish Ancestral Research (Evanston, Illinois: Margaret Dickson Falley, 1961-1962).
    This two-volume set by Margaret Dickson Falley is one of the better, older works.

  • Irish Records: Sources for Family & Local History (Salt Lake City, Utah: Ancestry Publishing, 1988).
    The author of this book is James G. Ryan.

  • Tracing Your Irish Ancestors: The Complete Guide (Dublin: Gill and Macmillan, 1992).
    This more recent work is by John Grenham.

Several good bibliographies for guides to research and genealogical records in Ireland also exist.

  • "Irish Genealogy in the 1990s," Alabama Genealogical Society Magazine 25 (1993).
    In this article, Bonnie M. Fountain gives an excellent summary of useful titles and periodicals that existed up to that year.

  • Research Outline: Ireland
    The Family History Library in Salt Lake City, Utah, has published this guide, which is available at most of its Family History Centers around the country and in appropriate foreign Family History Centers. This 48-page booklet has a list of published sources for various record types, as well as a list of general publications.

  • Resource Guide: The Ireland Householders Index
    This publication, also by the Family History Library, shows you step-by-step how to use these records of persons who paid taxes to the Church of Ireland or the government of Ireland. These records are for 1820-1864. The index is also called Index of Surnames of Householders in Griffith's Primary Valuation and Tithe Applotment Books. It is a fourteen volume index, available on microfilm roll numbers 919001-919007. The index is also available with a subscription to International and Passenger Records.

Also of interest is the Family History and Genealogy guide published by The National Archives of Ireland. It is available through a number of Web sites, or directly. Moreover, the Irish Family History Foundation provides some excellent materials. The Irish Family History Foundation is the coordinating body for a network of government approved genealogical research centers in the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland which have computerized tens of millions of Irish ancestral records of different types. Their Web site contains detailed descriptions and ordering information.

Record Destruction in Ireland

Many people know that there has been some record destruction in Ireland, but are unaware of the specifics. An overview of this disaster might help you determine what is or is not available. The best description of this destruction is from Bonnie M. Fountain's article, mentioned above:
"Sadly, any publication on Irish genealogy since 1922 has of necessity begun with a statement about the destruction of the valuable records in the fire in the Public Registry Office in the Four Courts in Dublin in that year. Included were the originals of most of the wills, many church records (most Church of Ireland, none Catholic), and Marriage License Bonds and Grants. The census situation is equally dismal, since most of the censuses were pulped during World War I or later. Lost are the censuses for 1813, 1821 (records of a few parishes in five counties exist), 1831 (a few parishes in one county exist [Londonderry: found on CD]), 1841 (one parish, one county exists [also on CD 197 for County Cavan]), 1851 (some parishes in two counties exist), and 1861, 1871, 1881, and 1891. The result of these losses is that Irish genealogy has a not totally deserved reputation for being hopeless!"

The Best Way to Start Your Irish Research

Because of this record destruction, it is very important to begin your Irish genealogical research in the country of immigration, such as the United States, Canada, or Australia. Family traditions, combined with birth records, marriage records, death records, obituaries, cemetery records, wills, Bibles, census records, and immigration and naturalization records are of vital importance. You should attempt to learn the complete names of all of your ancestors who immigrated, their dates of birth and marriage in Ireland, their towns or townlands, parishes and counties of residence, religion, occupation, dates of emigration and so forth. Only after making a complete search of available records in the U.S. should you consider research in Irish records. With this information gleaned from sources in the United States, whatever still exists in Ireland will be much easier to find. Although many of the sources in the United States tend to be more modern, they can still contain vital information for periods much earlier than one would suppose.

As an example, James Barclay died October 31, 1914 at the age of eighty years of age and was buried in the Cemetery of the Holy Cross in Flatbush, Brooklyn, New York. His place of birth is given on his tombstone as Kildoagh, Templeport, County Cavan, Ireland. The year of his birth, based on his age is calculated as 1834. He was undoubtedly Catholic, based on where he was buried; therefore, a search of Catholic parish records, which are generally still available, may uncover his lineage in County Cavan. One entry of this family at that time period could place the genealogy back into the 1700s.

Any pedigree tracing into the 1700s is bound to tie in with other records of the fairly small population of that time period. There was a much more structured society, with generations of family members living in one place. Surnames tended to be localized. People knew where they belonged. There are many records of this general information on surnames. With any luck, the pedigree is then extended into the 1600s and even earlier, into the preserved genealogies of antiquity. The Irish have some of the best preserved ancient genealogies of any people on earth.

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