Top tips for Irish genealogy research

During our 2020 Identity Quest Craig Foster presented “Irish Genealogy: Getting Started.” Before his presentation we had an edifying conversation about my own Irish ancestry. My paternal grandmother came from Ireland. Foster told me new things about her last name, Flynn, and the county of Cork where she lived. He confirmed I would even be eligible for Irish citizenship.

Let’s take a look at the highlights of his presentation that can be useful in your family research. If you want the full information, you’ll find Foster’s recorded presentation and handouts under Session 2 of the presentations page.

Irish genealogy research tips

Foster’s presentation included some surprising tips to help with researching Irish ancestry. This included the breakdown of the jurisdiction even down to the house. The Irish would name their farms and their houses. Surnames that begin in “Mac” and “Mc” mean “son of.” Over time many surnames dropped the “a” in “Mac.” “O’ ” at the beginning of a surname means “descendant of.”

Irish genealogical research is difficult because of unknown localities and lost and destroyed records. After Ireland’s bloody revolution against the British to gain their independence, they entered into an equally bloody civil war in 1922. Ireland’s central record center and archive was partially destroyed during the civil war. This is a stumbling block for any Irish research since only the 1901 and 1911 census records survived in entirety. Foster said, “What the English didn’t do to the Irish, the Irish did to themselves.”

Read on for some practical research tips from Foster.

Levels of jurisdictions

Saint Kevin’s monastery in Glendalough, County Wicklow, Northern Ireland

With Irish genealogical research you should work from the largest to the smallest jurisdictions. Here are the multiple jurisdictions of Ireland from largest to smallest:

  • Country – Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland
  • Four provinces – Connacht, Leinster, Munster and Ulster
  • The 26 counties in Ireland are further broken down into baronies, civil parishes and townlands.
  • One other “jurisdiction” that might show up in some records is the name of the farm or house.

Registries and other information resources

The Church of Ireland/civil registration parishes are different from the Catholic parishes. Keep this in mind if you have Catholic ancestors. Here are links and tips for searching registries:

  • Colorful buildings and old boats with cathedral in background in the harbor of Cobh, County Cork, Ireland

    Cobh harbor, County Cork, Ireland

    Access Roman Catholic records through RootsIreland.

  • Search civil registries on FamilySearch and under “civil records.”
  • Foster said you should never trust the birth date in civil registries as baptism dates may predate the birth date.
  • About 15 percent of events, particularly births were not registered in early years. In 1864 it became  mandatory to register all births, marriages and deaths in Ireland.
  • Overall records were not well kept and on average begin about 1820.
  • The National Library of Ireland and are great resources for family research.
  • The Public Records Office of Northern Ireland is the official archive of Northern Ireland.
  • Griffith’s Valuation was carried out between 1848 and 1864 to determine liability to pay the Poor rate (for the support of the poor and destitute within each Poor Law Union). This online resource provides detailed information on where people lived in mid-19th century Ireland and the property they possessed. Foster said this is absolutely critical to Irish family history research due to a lack of census records in this time period.
  • The National Archives of Ireland and FamilySearch have indexes and images for census substitutes. John Grenham is another useful resource.

View complete list

Identity Quest 2022

We are working on the details for Identity Quest 2022. Mark your calendar to attend this amazing free conference on Nov 12 and 13, 2022! Currently we are planning for this to be an in-person and virtual event. check the Identity Quest website for updates.

I have worked in the library's Public Services Department for almost 16 years, a time of much learning and growth. In my spare time, I am an enthusiastic traveler, reader and writer.