Until recently, Irish family history research was considered problematic. But in recent years, individuals can do the bulk of their research online with many digitized records available from private and public entities.
Getting Started with Irish Family History Online
The first step to Irish research is to document all the information you know about your ancestors and check with older family members who are still living to get as much detail as possible from them. Finding the maiden names of the females in your family will save you hours of research.
Next, do as much Irish family history research online as you can. If you decide to visit Ireland, bring a copy of your research with you to aid in requesting certificates or documents.
1st Wave of Irish Emigration- 1708
There were two large waves of emigration from Ireland to North America. The first group was mainly Presbyterians being persecuted by the Anglican Church. James McGregor, the founding father of Presbyterianism in America, enabled five shiploads of people to travel to America in 1708. Their entry port in the States was Boston, Massachusetts. From Boston, they traveled to other states and Canada. Many of this first wave of immigrants had leases on land in Ulster located in Northern Ireland, which they could sell to buy their passage and start a new life.
Finding Irish Family History Records in Ulster, Northern Ireland
The six counties of Northern Ireland are in Ulster. Ulster also includes three of the counties in the Republic of Ireland- Donegal, Cavan, and Monaghan.
The Public Records Office of Northern Ireland (PRONI) is the official Archives for Northern Ireland (NI) www.nidirect.gov.uk. PRONI has documents online going back to the 1600s, including Freeholder’s Records, Londonderry Corporation Records, Historical maps, Street Directories, Valuation Revision Books (part of Griffith Valuation), Will Calendars, and Ulster Covenant Records.
For those visiting PRONI in person and wishing to see a document, you must do the initial search online before you travel. The e-catalog is a fully searchable database containing over one million catalog entries. You can search this directory using text, date, or reference number. All documents have a unique reference number needed to order the document to be viewed at PRONI. You must make a reservation to view your document. It is recommended to do this research before you travel.
2nd Wave of Irish Emigration- 1845-1849
The second large group to emigrate were mainly Roman Catholics escaping the famine between 1845-1849. Most traveled to England from Cork, Dublin, Belfast, and Derry and then boarded ships sailing from Liverpool and Glasgow to North America. Unfortunately, the authorities did not keep accurate ship records of those emigrants.
Ancestry (www.ancestry.com) has excellent detailed records of Irish people who emigrated to the USA by ship. Irish people who entered the States through New Bedford, Boston, New York, Baltimore, Philadelphia, Mobile, and New Orleans were interviewed when they arrived, and their details were documented. Information gathered from arriving emigrants included name, who they were traveling with (parents, brother, sister), age, occupation, and in some cases, the location they came from in Ireland.
US Naturalization Records for Irish Immigrants
US Naturalization records will tell you where your ancestor arrived in America, their first American address, and in some cases, a birth address in Ireland.
Men generally took out the Naturalization papers, and a wife would be automatically included, with no information. It is always worth seeing if the wife also took out Naturalization papers, as women tended to give more details about their ancestry. These records can be found both on Ancestry.com and www.findmypast.com. It is worth looking at the originals in the local courthouse as you can usually find more information in the original record.
Castle Garden Immigration Entry Point
Castle Garden in New York served as a US immigration entry point from 1820-1891. Eight million people, including Irish immigrants, arrived in Castle Garden from Europe. Records of these immigrants can be found in the Familysearch.org records.
Ellis Island Records for Irish Ancestors
Ellis Island was a major entry point for emigrants after Castle Garden shut down in 1891. This entry port accepted passengers from 1891-1924. Records of these immigrants can be found in the FamilySearch records.
National Library of Ireland
When searching for records in Ireland itself, first look at The National Library of Ireland (NLI) www.nli.ie website, which has microfilmed copies of the Roman Catholic records online. The starting dates vary widely from county to county, but many commence around 1820. The records are not indexed, so you cannot do a name search.
Ancestry and Findmypast Indexes
Ancestry and Findmypast have produced indexes where you can do a name search. Ancestry has also transcribed the Roman Catholic Parish records for County Meath.
Roots Ireland for Irish Family History Research
Roots Ireland holds some records pre-1820. It also has records of some registers not in the NLI. You can search 5 years on either side of the chosen event.
Irish Government Genealogy Records
The Irish Government funds another Genealogical site. On this website there is a Church record section that covers Dublin, The Diocese of Cork, Ross, Kerry, and Carlow for all faiths. Unfortunately, some of the Cork City parish records – St Mary’s, St Anne’s, St Patrick’s, and Blackrock – are not included, as they are still in local custody, so you will need to contact the relevant parish secretary.
This website also includes the civil records for non-Catholic marriages starting in 1845. Civil Registration commenced in 1864 and included births from 1864 to 1920, Marriages from 1845 to 1945, and deaths from 1871 to 1970. Deaths between 1864 and 1870 are currently being compiled.
You can order and pay for Birth, Marriage, and Death certificates on www.certificates.ie, and they will email them back to you.
Northern Ireland Genealogy Office
The official site of the Northern Ireland Genealogy Office www.nidirect.gov.uk contains records starting in 1920. PRONI has microfilmed all the Church Denominations Records for all nine counties of Ulster. In many cases, Presbyterian and Methodist Records for the Republic of Ireland are also held at PRONI.
The Representative Church Body
The Representative Church Body is the official archives for the Church of Ireland (Anglican). A full list of records that survived the burning of the Public Records Office in 1922 can be found at www.ireland.anglican.org. The website also contains an updated list (as of September 2021) of all the births, marriages, and burials for the 26 counties in Ireland.
Ireland Census Records to Help With Irish Family History
The Census of 1901 and 1911 are online at www.census.nationalarchives.ie. Fragments of earlier Census records have survived and are on the same website.
Property Surveys to Find Irish Ancestors
Due to the lack of 19th-century property records, we depend on the two property surveys, Griffith Valuation 1847-1864 and Tithe Applotment Books 1823-1838 to provide property ownership information.
Griffith Valuation can be found at Ask About Ireland and on Ancestry.com.
The Tithe Applotment Books are on the National Archives website www.nationalarchives.ie.
General Alphabetical Index to The Townlands and Towns, Parishes and Baronies of Ireland
The book “General Alphabetical Index to The Townlands and Towns, Parishes and Baronies of Ireland,” based on the Census of Ireland for the year 1851 may help if you know the name of an area your ancestors were from but don’t know which county.
Legacy Tree Blog
Legacy Tree also has a collection of blog articles that can help you learn about Irish genealogy research and how to find your family in Ireland.
Finding your ancestors in Ireland is possible. Often even with the resources listed above, you will need the assistance of a professional genealogist to put the pieces together for you. If you need an expert to assist with your Irish research project, please reach out to Legacy Tree Genealogists for a free quote.
Rosaleen Murphy says
You state above re Irish Genealogy.ie: “Unfortunately, some of the Cork City parish records – St Mary’s, St Anne’s, St Patrick’s, and Blackrock – are not included , as they are still in local custody, so you will need to contact the relevant parish secretary. ” This is true as far as it goes, but the scanned records for the Roman Catholic parishes of St Mary’s, St Patrick’s and Blackrock are available on the National Library of Ireland site, and indexed on Ancestry. St Anne’s parish is Church of Ireland, so is not available on the NLI site.
Jessica - Legacy Tree Genealogists President says
Hi, Rosaleen! Thanks for your comment! We appreciate the update since what’s been indexed or added to collections is a constantly moving target. In fact, both FindMyPast and Ancestry now have indexes for the Roman Catholic parishes of St. Mary’s, St. Patrick’s, and Blackrock.
Joan Moulton says
Looking for and cannot find any info on Robert Hugh and wife-Elisabeth Montgomery-Antrim, Ireland. They came to Canada in 1818 with 2 little girls and in 1940s came to US. All I have is info passed to me from family. Any help is appreciated so much!
Jessica - Legacy Tree Genealogists President says
Hello Joan! Thank you for reaching out with such an interesting question. If you’re interested in what it might look like to work with one of our expert genealogists, you can fill out a form here to get in touch. Thanks so much!