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Starting Your Irish Research

 

Aim to learn these key things about your Irish immigrant ancestors:

Define who you are looking for. Having just a name is not enough. Finding people you have never met or know little about in a crowd by name only is very difficult. You need to have a more complete description. It’s the same when looking for your great grandmother in Irish records. You need to assemble as complete a picture as possible. 

Where should you look for information to fully describe your ancestors?

 

  • Look where you know they spent the last years of their lives. Look in the country they moved to from Ireland – where they raised their family and where they died. Start in your home country and go back from place to place retracing your family’s footsteps as to locations where you should seek out records.
  • Do not start in Ireland – Do not skip generations. 

What makes up a picture of your ancestors:

  • Name and name-variations
  • Age
  • Physical description
  • Occupation
  • Religion
  • Likely parents’ names
  • Spouse’s name
  • Likely associates
  • Other family members
  • Educational level
  • Social / economic status
  • Likely age of parents 
     

Where did they come from in Ireland?

  • This is the key and often hardest question to answer regarding Irish genealogy. In fact, finding out where in the home country an immigrant came from is the central and essential question to tracing any immigrant line back in the mother country.
  • Where should you look to find the answer? Start looking where they ended their lives and move backwards to where they left the ship. The clue is more likely to be in the new adopted homeland. While there may be many clues, some of the more obvious places to look and things to consider are
    • Obituary, and possibly even a tombstone
    • Church records that may record where they were baptized or married, any record that asks for their birthplace or home prior to immigration. Some times the answer will be given as simply Ireland but other times the county, parish, or even townland may be given.
    • Look for clues amongst the records pertaining to anyone who may have emigrated with them including siblings or neighbors or friends from Ireland.
    • Look at any organizations they may have belonged to. They may point to a particular county or place in Ireland.
    • Of course look at family papers such as a bible, diary or letters. Family lore should not be neglected as a source either. 
       

When did they leave Ireland?

Knowing this is important for several reasons:

  • It helps establish their age when they emigrated. If they were very young, they may have been with their parents or other siblings. If older they may have already been married and traveling with spouse and perhaps even children born in Ireland.
  • The year of emigration should be correlated with Irish history to get an idea of what was going on at the time. On a macro scale, different groups migrated at different times. Knowing then your ancestor left Ireland may point to which group they belonged to.
  • If there is a significant gap in years between when they left Ireland and when they arrived in the country of their final destination, this may be a clue that they spent time along the way in some other country. Knowing where and when can lead to finding records about them in that country.
  • Knowing when they arrived in their new homeland and correlating that with the history of that place can help you understand a bit of what their life may have been like when they first arrived. 
     

How did they get to the U.S. or wherever was their final destination?

  • One of the main advantages to knowing the ship and date and port of arrival is that you can then look for the passenger list. This can provide clues as to whether they traveled with family members or neighbors or friends. Note the name of fellow ship passengers and see if those same names appear again as neighbors on the census or in church records or even as future in-laws. The, if you cannot find what you seek in your ancestor’s records you may be able to find it in the records of their siblings or associates.
  • As mentioned above, knowing your ancestor spent time in another country on his or her way to their final destination, points to another place to look for information about them.