Celtic Genealogy Tips for Ireland

Ireland’s history of large-scale emigration means there are people of Irish descent all over the world, particularly in the USA, Canada, the UK and Australia. Many of us have ancestors who escaped the famine in the 1840s and courageously built new lives in far-flung places. We take global travel so much for granted now, but when they left, they faced weeks at sea. They were lucky if they had so much as seen a photo of their destination before they left, and many knew no one at all in their new home.


Letters sent by post were their only way of communicating with their families back in Ireland. Their stories are amazing, but it is not always simple to dig up those Irish roots. Two key things make tracing your Irish ancestry complicated. First, most Irish names have two versions – an Irish language one and an English one. You might have paperwork from the USA, for example, about your ancestor Will Sullivan. But that same person’s records in Ireland might refer to him as Uilliam O’Suileabhain.


Second, a huge number of birth, death and marriage records were lost in Ireland’s fight for independence. In June 1922, an explosion caused a massive fire at the Four Courts in Dublin, where these and other records including British land grants were held, destroying them. Prior to 1821, census details were not kept. (An effort has been underway to recreate these lost records using information from other sources.)



Where to Find Irish Genealogy Records Online

The most fun way to research your Irish roots is to come to Ireland, but you can also find a lot of information online now. It’s a great place to start, and doing as much as you can online means that if you do make it to the old country, you have more time for sightseeing because you’ll spend less time in records offices.


A great place to start is the Irish government’s Irish genealogy site Irishgenealogy.ie. You get an overview of what types of records are available as well as actually access some records. In addition to official government records, the site includes church records. Church records have been an invaluable source of information to fill some of blanks left by the fire in the Four Courts. In some instances, church records can be more comprehensive than official ones. Catholic parish records can include baptisms, marriages and funerals. Baptism records, for example, include the godparents’ names as well as the parents’ names and address. The site also links to civil records. Both civil and church records usually include occupations.


Ireland’s census records are also online for the years 1901 and 1911. These are a goldmine of information, but they can be confusing too. It helps to gather any information you already have about where people lived and what they did for a living as well as all the family names you know. If you are looking for Mary O’Brien or John Kelly, for example, you will find crowds of people with those names. It won’t be easier to know which one is your relative. More recent records are not online for public viewing, but you can order them online from the Health Service Executive.


Tracing your Irish ancestry can be time-consuming but also fascinating. As you discover more details, you might uncover an intriguing story about your own family.

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