By Bridget M. Sunderlin
Irish genealogy research can be incredibly rewarding, especially if you know which online collections are most likely to help you find your ancestors. Genealogy records from Ireland are more abundant than you can imagine and many repositories offer free access.
It’s satisfying to know that all was not lost that horrific day on 30 June 1922 when the Dublin Public Records Office blew up, destroying precious records dating from the 13th to the 19th centuries. Yes, some vital records were forever lost, such as 19th century census returns, Church of Ireland parish registers and probated wills. But there are a great number of records still waiting for you to find.
Lig an cuardach tús! (Let the search begin!)
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The 10 Most Important Record Collections for Irish Genealogy Research
1. Census Records at the National Archives of Ireland
Ireland generated household returns in 1821, 1831, 1841, 1851, 1901 and 1911. The most powerful of these are the last two due to their completeness. Within these records, you will find entire family sheets with names, ages, occupations, marriage years, and religions. House and Building Returns are just as valuable for the savvy researcher, offering a glimpse into how the ancestor lived on the land. You can refine your search by surname, forename, townland, barony and parish. Don’t forget to search their neighbors for connections.
2. The Gen Guide is Where It’s At for Immigration and Emigration Artifacts
Irish emigration reached its height during the 18th and 19th centuries. This amazing collection is brimming with primary source documents and artifacts that will truly set the scene for your family history story. Search through letters, newspaper articles, passenger lists, and family papers, all using your ancestor’s surname. You never know what you might find.
3. Find Land Transactions at the Registry of Deeds
This ongoing project is a wonderful resource for land records for Irish genealogy, especially those from the 1700s. You can search through the main index, grantor index or townland index. Many of the indexed entries are hyperlinked to lead you to Family Search (familysearch.org) where you will find the original digitized deed. Beware that you will need to use details from the index to aid you in locating the specific document. User guides and examples will help you navigate the indices.
4. Recognize Their Service at Military Archives
This collection, which is a joint initiative between Military Archives and the National Archives, is free of charge and holds close to 2000 witness statements, and over 400 photographs from the Irish revolutionary period between 1913 and 1921. “Searchable Press Clippings” are a gem to read through. Twelve voice recordings will allow you to hear the stories of the very people involved, including 1916 leader, Éamonn Ceannt’s wife Áine, detailing the first meeting of the IRB Military Council.
5. Findmypast is the Place for Legal & Poor Law Records from Ireland
Legal records include a wide range of possibilities. They can include Outrage Reports from 1836 to 1840 or Irish Prison Registers from 1790 to 1924. They may be Poverty Relief Loans, Police Registers, or even Dog License Registers, which practically every farmer submitted. Workhouse and Poor Law books are also included. The best place to access all of them together in one repository is at Findmypast. This subscription site is comprehensive and does include many Irish records that are free of charge. It’s worth a look.
6. Order Northern Ireland Records Through NI Direct
If your ancestor hailed from Northern Ireland, you should use this collection to search and order vital certificates. Northern Ireland is currently part of the UK, which requires you to distinguish where records might be held from varied historical times. You may be able to locate your ancestor’s vital records through the Republic, if they were documented before 1921. Records found here include civil births, marriages, and deaths. When in Belfast, take the time to visit GRONI’s (General Register Office Northern Ireland) Public Search Room. It’s a wonderful place.
7. Religious Records are Abundant on Ancestry
Ancestry has an awesome database of Irish religious records, including baptisms, marriages and deaths. To find them, visit the “Card Catalog” and search using keywords “Irish,” “Ireland,” and “religious.” Examples they offer include: “Ireland, Catholic Parish Registers, 1655-1915,” “Ireland, Select Catholic Marriage Registers, 1775-1942,” “Ireland, Selections of Catholic Parish Marriages and Banns, 1742-1884,” and “Ireland, Select Catholic Death and Burial Registers, 1763-1917.” Many of the original documents are located therein.
8. Get Social with Newspapers for Irish Genealogy
To find all the dirt on your ancestors, you simply have to research newspapers. There you might learn about their voyages, their marriages, their troubles and even their deaths. This resource is run by subscription but is well worth the investment. They hold eight national and over seventy local newspapers from counties all over the island. Available publications include the Dundalk Democrat, The Dublin Journal and the Irish Examiner.
9. The National Library of Ireland is Overflowing with Tax Records
Griffith’s Valuation is a key record collection that should be reviewed continually. It represents the first full-scale property tax assessment in Ireland, which was supervised by Sir Richard Griffith, a Dublin geologist. Extremely thorough, it included every parcel of land and its owners, not only in transcript form but also in detailed maps. It also determined eligibility for residents to be taxed under the Poor Law rates. Knowing the surname, county, barony, union and parish of your ancestor will be most helpful, but is not necessary in your Irish genealogy research.
10. Records of Vital Importance are at IrishGenealogy.ie
Last but never least, this site will help you find every vital record imaginable for your Irish ancestor. You can access civil births, marriages and deaths for all of the counties. Church records are also available here but seem to be limited in scope. Births are covered from 1864 to 1916. Marriages from 1870 to 1941. Deaths from 1878 to 1966 are available. Check back as more marriage and death records are being added. Don’t forget to cross-check using parent names to locate previously unknown siblings.
For more Irish genealogy research help please check out the following help articles on Family History Daily.
- The Absolute Beginner’s Guide to Researching Your Ancestors in England, Wales, Scotland or Ireland
- Could You Qualify for Dual Citizenship in Ireland? The Answer Might Surprise You
- Free Genealogy Sites for Researching Ancestors in England, Scotland, Wales and Ireland
Bridget Sunderlin is a professional genealogist serving clients in and around Maryland with a Master’s in teaching. She has been actively researching her Irish roots for well over 30 years. Throughout her research, she has come to find that her family actually hails from all of the countries within the British Isles. In 2017, she visited some of her ancestral lands, meeting quite a few Irish and Scottish cousins along the way. Ms. Sunderlin believes that the act of researching one’s family history helps us to “be rooted.”
Image: The O’Halloran girls, Bodyke, Co.Clare. Photograph taken ca. 1888-1890. National Library of Ireland on Flickr.
5 thoughts on “The 10 Collections You Need to Know for Irish Genealogy Research”
A couple of corrections, if I may.
The Irish census records for 1901 and 1911 are not just the most complete, they are the only complete extant census records for Ireland. The records for 1821-1851 were all but obliterated; only scraps are left.
It should be emphasised that the church records available on irishgenealogy.ie are primarily Catholic church records, though there are some Church of Ireland records. These are transcripts. Not all records have been transcribed, because the actual records can be extremely difficult to decipher, therefore making transcription an expensive proposition. Kerry is the most complete (up to 1900 only), because the demand for the Kerry records was the greatest in the past. The complete extant Catholic church records up to 1880 are available on registers.nli.ie. These are digitised copies of the actual records still available; however, they are not indexed, so it is necessary to read through the appropriate book for the years being researched.
I am trying to find the last name Curry and don’t know whether it is Scottish or an Irish name. My relative is Sarah Lousie Curry born in 1793 and died in America in 1874.
I am searching ancestors from Valentia Island, Kerry County, Ireland – Kilbeg and Tinnis.
Ancestor William B. Smith (widower)
Children: Lucinda, Richard, William, Joseph Jeffcott, Benjamin and Ellen (also possibly Frances)
William B. Smith took his family to Upper Canada, (Ontario) 1859-1861
I am unable to locate grave records from this island.
Is anyone able to offer suggestions.
I am trying to find my ancestors who I believe went from N Ireland c down i think around 1800. Their names were David Laurie & Mary Ann McDougal or McDowell born in1780s married i think c Fitzpatrick around 1800
is this the same site as Ancestry.com