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Twigs & Trees with Rhonda: Researching Family in Ireland - What's Needed
by Rhonda R. McClure

August 03, 2000
See Rhonda's Previous Columns

Many of us have discovered a connection back to Ireland, some of us in the 1800s and others of us much earlier than that. Like many countries, there are certain necessary pieces of information that you must have in order to begin to take the research back further into Ireland.

For most Irish research it is necessary to have information about the parish that the family was from. This is usually even more distinct than the town and equally difficult to find at times.

Irish research can be very rewarding but does require perseverance.

Civil Registration

The good news is that if your ancestor was one of those who was born in the late 1800s, then it is possible that you may be able to find them in the civil registration records. Ireland began the registration of non-Catholic marriages in 1845. It would be another nineteen years before all births, marriages and deaths would be recorded.

The good news for those with ancestors in this time period is that there are indexes available on microfilm for the births, marriages and deaths up through 1958 for Ireland and Northern Ireland. They also have some of the certificates on microfilm for selected time periods. For those researching a birth from 1864 through March 1881 (both Ireland and Northern Ireland) or from 1930 to 1935 (Republic of Ireland) or 1922 through 1959 (Northern Ireland) then the certificates are available on microfilm.

Finding the Parish

For those researching ancestors born prior to the start of civil registration, you will need to work with church records. Church records are available on the parish level. Therefore in order to work with them, you must first determine the parish in which your ancestors lived, married, gave birth, and died.

Many of us trying to narrow ancestors down in the United States turn to census records. While censuses were taken in Ireland, very few of them exist today. Any surviving transcripts have been microfilmed and are available through the Family History Library.

Research Aids

If you don't know the parish your ancestor was from, and he did immigrate, you will want to be sure that you have exhausted all available records in the new country. Very often the clues you need will be found in those records generated once the ancestor has immigrated. It is tempting to want to immediately head back to the old country, but this is not the way to do genealogy. You need to work from the known to the unknown, that means that you need to gather the records for the events you know about so that you can learn additional information to help you with what you don't know.

There are some excellent books that can be of help in researching your Irish ancestry:

  • Begley, Donal F. Irish Genealogy: A Record Finder. (Dublin: Heraldic Arts, 1981).
  • Grenham, John. Tracing Your Irish Ancestors: The Complete Guide. (Dublin: Gill & Macmillan Ltd., 1992).
  • McCarthy, Tony. The Irish Roots Guide. (Dublin: Lilliput Press Ltd., 1991).

In Conclusion

In addition to the above mentioned books, there are also some other online articles here at that will give you additional information.

See Rhonda's Previous Columns

Rhonda R. McClure is a professional genealogist specializing in celebrity trees and computerized genealogy. She has been involved in online genealogy for fifteen years. She is the author of the award-winning The Complete Idiot's Guide to Online Genealogy, now in its second edition. She is the author of four how-to guides on Family Tree Maker. In late 2001, she wrote The Genealogist's Computer Companion. She is a contributing editor to Biography Magazine with her "Celebrity Roots" column and a contributing writer to The History Channel Magazine. Her latest book is Finding Your Famous and Infamous Ancestors. She may be contacted at

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