Legacy Tree Genealogists works with researchers from across the globe to access records for our clients. We asked one of our researchers located in Cork, Ireland to share an overview of overlooked Irish genealogy resources that you may be missing.
Irish genealogy research has a reputation for being difficult, due to the substantial loss of material in the 1922 Public Records Office fire. Fortunately, in recent years this has changed, with many online resources becoming available. When people look to start on their Irish family history they often head straight for the larger national repositories, such as the National Archives or the National Library of Ireland.
What many people overlook when researching their family history is the treasure trove that is local repositories and the records they contain. For example, these include street directories, cemetery registers, maps, school rolls, workhouse records and even personal family archives.
Locating Local Sources
Throughout Ireland there is a network of local libraries and archives. The majority of Irish counties on both sides of the border have their own dedicated county library and archive which are run by local councils (the exception being Leitrim and Roscommon which are combined). Larger cities such as Cork and Dublin have more than one library and archives. For example, Cork has a city library, a county library and a separate City and County Archives. Each of these libraries and archives has a local studies section which will contain unique information for that particular county. When researching ancestors in a specific county in Ireland, it is worth checking to see if the county library has any online resources which may be of help in your search. The head library for each county or city will typically have a local studies section. There you will likely find books on local history, old newspapers, reference works and journals published by local historical societies etc.
Local Irish Genealogy Resources:
1) Trade Directories
One of the most popular local sources are trade directories. Trade directories were the telephone directories of their day, issued an annual (or less regular) basis. These directories list businesses and their owners within a specific village, town or even county. As time went on, the information contained became more detailed, with adverts for individual businesses, images, and descriptions of various trades. Street and trade directories of the principal cities and towns in Ireland are invaluable sources of information for researching family history. For example, if an ancestor is listed as working in a certain profession in a census or civil record, you can use trade directories to locate their place of work and possibly learn more about it. In Cork, these trade directories are held by the local studies section in Cork City Library.
For Cork city and county, these directories date from the late 1780s to the mid-1940s. The earlier directories primarily contained listings for the wealthier businesses but gradually
became more inclusive as time went on. The later directories also included a postal directory. The range of information they contain is incredibly detailed, including names of the heads of households on very many of the city streets, information on businesses, public institutions, and educational and medical establishments.
2) Cemetery Registers
Another useful source contained in local libraries and archives are cemetery registers. While there is an abundance of online sites containing information on Irish burials, these sites are often relying on published obituaries or surviving gravestones. In addition to the usual details, the registers contained locally sometimes record the occupation and place of birth of the deceased. Cork City and County Archives for example, contains burial registers for Cobh/Queenstown. Cobh is well known as the departure point for many emigrants leaving Ireland to start a new life in America. There are also registers for cemeteries which are no longer in use.
3) Workhouse Records
The workhouse looms large in Irish history, particularly in relation to the Great Famine and its immediate aftermath. Many workhouses continued to function up until the early 20th century. There were 163 workhouses in total throughout Ireland. Along with being a place of last resort for those who had become destitute, workhouses were also a place for assisted emigration. Young girls in particular were provided with opportunities to emigrate to Australia and Canada. Any surviving workhouse registers are kept locally. Unfortunately, not all records for every workhouse survive. For Cork, minute books (recording the proceedings of meetings), are the largest series of poor law archives that have survived; workhouse registers, financial accounts and correspondence and several other series also survive for some areas. To discover which poor law union your Irish ancestors may have resided in, you can check the map of Irish poor law unions here http://www.workhouses.org.uk/Ireland/
4) Landed Estate Records
Landed estate records are also a valuable source for tracing your Irish ancestors. Most of the population of Ireland were rural based and worked as tenant farmers on estates. While we have surviving land records such as the Tithe Applotment Books and Valuation Books, they don’t always provide a detailed breakdown on the workings of individual estates. Like workhouse records, many of the records from landed estates are kept locally. In Cork they are the responsibility of Cork City and County Archives. A useful database of landed estates for the provinces of Munster and Leinster are available on the Landed Estates Database compiled by NUI Galway: http://landedestates.nuigalway.ie/
5) School Records
Local archives also contain records for Irish national schools. These mainly contain registers and roll books concerning the registration and the daily attendance of pupils; along with smaller amounts of other records such as daily attendance statistical report books and inspectors’ books. If the school was under the patronage of a religious order, then the records may be held with their own central archive. In Cork, many schools were under the patronage of the Sisters of the Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary. The records for these schools and many of their other schools throughout the country are held in the archives at Nano Nagle Place in Cork City.
6) Historic Photographs
Historic photographs are also an important tool when researching our family history and Ireland has no shortage of great photographic collections. Some are held at a national level, such as the Lawrence Collection, which is held by the National Library of Ireland. But if you are trying to find photos of the town or village your ancestors came from, then checking local repositories is essential.
7) Using Local Sources
The collections in local archives and libraries offers a rich research resource for the family historian who wishes to learn more about the shape and development of their ancestral communities and the authorities who served them. If you are planning to use them in your research, then there are a number of issues to be aware of.
Many local libraries and archives are quite small. An appointment will likely be necessary when conducting research. It is also important to be aware of limited opening hours (closing at lunchtime for example or only opening on weekdays). In the aftermath of the current pandemic crisis these opening hours may be even more limited than usual and there will likely be other restrictions in place.
Due to the data protection and privacy legislation which governs archives, there may be certain restrictions in place on viewing records less than a century old. Special permissions are sometimes granted by consulting the archivist.
Not all county libraries and archives have an abundance of online resources to assist with researching from home. Some might not even have a searchable online catalogue. Be aware that whatever is online will only be a sample of their total holdings. If you cannot find what you are looking for online, it is advisable to make contact with them personally for information on their holdings. Local genealogy guides and websites maintained by local researchers may also be a helpful guide.
Local archives and libraries are an essential source for family history research. If you are planning a trip to Ireland to research your ancestry, then they should be high on your list of places to visit. Aside from these public run archives and libraries, there are also other special archives run by Irish religious orders or specific businesses, such as breweries. The Archives and Records Association of Ireland has a useful listing of local and specialist archives throughout Ireland and Northern Ireland: https://araireland.ie/archives-directory. They might just help you get through some of those stubborn brick walls.
At Legacy Tree Genealogists, we love to help tell your family’s story. Whether your family still resides in Ireland, or if your ancestors emigrated as so many others did, our experts are ready to help you learn more about your Irish heritage. Contact us for a free quote.