Have you ever thought about doing your Irish genealogy in Ireland? If so, then this post is for you! It’s full of research tips on where to begin!
BLOG POST NOTE: Recently I took a trip to Ireland with my fabulous sister-in-law Beth and my niece Dayna. While on the trip I had the privilege of learning about and researching both families’ Irish ancestry. They are both advanced in family history research, and I was enthralled to see family history come alive. Beth and Dayna Jankowski have beautifully written the following post for Food, Folks, and Fun.
Fáilte! So, you’re heading to Ireland and want to do some research into your family history? Whether you are a beginner or advanced in your searching, here are a couple key things we found helpful to us in our search!
Table of Contents
First, Set Realistic Goals and Backup Goals
Goals help narrow your focus into finding the most important information about your ancestor(s). Researching can become very overwhelming. It’s best to know exactly what you are looking for and how to find it.
Depending on how much time you plan on spending in Ireland, set a realistic goal for yourself. For us, we were only going to be in the area of a known family member for 4 days. We set a goal of finding the name of a family member’s mother. Not knowing whether or not we would be successful in our main goal, we prepared several ‘backup’ goals. As it turned out, the result of our original goal was not successful but a backup goal worked out. We were still happy with our research efforts!
Second, Get to know your Irish Family History
Collecting as much information about your ancestors and their homeland as you can is vital to all family history research. Talk to, email, text and even Facebook stalk your relatives before your trip.
When you do speak with your family, it’s best to focus on names and dates (birthdays, marriages, deaths, etc.). Also, knowing what religion they practiced and who their parents and siblings were will greatly improve your chances of finding them on historical records.
EExpert Tip: One of the first questions you’ll be asked when doing your family history in Ireland is what religion your ancestor was. All records are organized into two categories: Catholic and non-Catholic.
Doing family history in Ireland should be an enjoyable experience!
So be sure to ask family members any stories they may have about your ancestors.
Keep the following in mind when talking to relatives about family history:
- Get the dates of major life events (births, deaths, marriages, baptisms, etc).
- Ask questions that will produce an interesting conversation and lead to finding out more information.
- Some examples:
- Did they move away from Ireland?
- If so where, when, and why?
- Where did they live in Ireland and what was their occupation?
- Did they ever tell any stories from their homeland?
- What is a memory you have of (insert relatives name here)?
- Some examples:
These questions will give you the head start you need as you learn more about your family’s Irish roots. It’s also helpful to know some of the histories of Ireland at the time that your family lived there, too. This can help you better understand your ancestors’ lives. A great site to use is Wikipedia when researching those places you’ve just learned about!
Third, Organize your Family History
You probably won’t want to pay the extra luggage fees needed to pack all of your charts, pictures and the family Bible when you head to Ireland!
EExpert Tip: A good rule of thumb is to print off only what you cannot refer to online.
For example, my mother told me of some cemeteries where my family members may be buried. As a result, I made sure that I printed out the names of the cemeteries, their location, and the specific names of family members that are buried there.
Family History and Genealogy Websites:
Online resources are helpful in the beginning stages of research, while on the ground in Ireland while doing family research, and for everything in between. On these sites, you can make and keep references like family trees on them. Here are some sites we recommend.
Recommended Family History Sites:
While we were in Ireland we referred to these resources by using apps on cell phones. Creating a family tree on these websites makes it easy to organize your information. It also helps you see what details you may be missing.
What family history documents should I pack?
I’m a “sticky note” kind of girl whereas my daughter likes everything digital. So we compromised and had a small binder with our goals, some loose leaf paper, and sharpened pencils (and of course I snuck in some of my sticky notes!)
Keep Things Digital!
Try to keep things digital, like pedigree charts and census records. However, if you’re like me and need to see things on paper to understand who belongs to whom, then Ancestry.com offers some great templates to help keep your ancestors straight! You can print one off here. Alternatively, a Google search of “Family History Template” will come up with a ton of different options for you to choose from. We also like this one that came up in a Google search. When you click on the link, we used the one labeled “Family Unit History” as it allowed us to see where we were missing key information. We did find that we needed to create more spaces for ‘Siblings’ and ‘Children’ as we have a lot of Irish families on our tree with over 10 children! #IrishAncestryProblems
Fourth, Doing Family Research in Ireland
You will have a more successful family history research experience if you have already planned where you want to go before you get there. Just winging it may sound adventurous, but will probably be less productive. Depending on how much time you will be spending in Ireland, you have several options to choose from:
Visit Important Sites of Ancestors
If you already know where the church is that your family members were married in, then it may be fun to go and take a picture there. If you’re really lucky you can go in and get a copy of the marriage certificate! We were able to visit St. Mary’s Cathedral in Limerick, Ireland where Jillian’s great, great, great, great grandmother was married. Researching important family history sites like this ahead of time makes for those priceless travel experiences once you’re on the ground in Ireland!
EExpert Tip: If you’re unable to travel to Ireland to do the research for yourself, often times you can email or Facebook different churches in Ireland and they’ll send you a copy or index of the record that you’re looking for!
We found the ‘Pot o’ Gold’ of our trip when were able to meet with my maternal grandfather’s 1st and 2nd cousins in Northern Ireland. We had never met them before but within minutes it felt like we had always known them! They told us wonderful stories about our family members we had known and other stories about family members who were just a name on our charts.
P.R.O.N.I. (Public Record Office of Northern Ireland)
PRONI was a very helpful resource for doing our family history research in Northern Ireland, and they’re located right in Belfast. You will have to fill out a registration form before entering and doing research there. In order to speed up this process, we had our forms filled out and ready to go prior to our trip. PRONI has many WONDERFUL genealogists who were willing to help us on our search through their computer database and old church texts. Here, I spent 4 hours going through microfilm after microfilm after microfilm! I wish we had at least 2 more days in there! Oh well, I guess I’ll just have to come back again someday!
Irish Family History Centre
The Irish Family History Centre is located in Dublin and once again we found the staff to be super helpful! They were able to put us on a path that will hopefully lead us to a specific family member. If you are a beginner to doing your family history, then this would be a good place to start. The Irish Family History Centre is fun, interactive and also has great family history souvenirs! We highly recommend spending the 150 Euros to meet with a genealogist.
They will do a review of all of your evidence and documents, and then come up with a search strategy that is most relevant to achieving your specific goals. The centre says this is best for answering specific questions and in “breaking-down-brick-walls” scenarios.
Irish Genealogy Research Tips
***These are some priceless tips, make sure you don’t skip them!
- Religion, religion, religion! Knowing your family’s religion will help you decide which churches or records to search. Before the year 1845 records were only held in the churches and those records are only available through the church that your ancestor attended. If you were to kiss the Blarney Stone, you may get lucky and find a record at a site like PRONI, but don’t put too much faith in that kiss! We searched churches (via the internet) in the areas where we thought our relative would have attended and had success with only one relative. But, we always received a really nice response from the churches we contacted, even if they didn’t have the record we requested.
- Civil Records began around 1845 – Births, marriages, and deaths, also known as “Civil Records” were only recorded after 1845 and they are available on databases like Ancestry.com, Familsearch.com, and Findmypast.com. Anything before that date will have to be found in church records at specific churches in Ireland.
- RootsIreland.ie – If you don’t mind spending a bit of money on a membership then this is a great website for finding your Irish ancestors.
- Facebook serves as a great resource! Search for “Irish Genealogy” Facebook groups and join any that will have you! These groups are extremely helpful and have many helpful members who are willing to help you with your research. If you know of a location where they are from you can search for Facebook groups pertaining to that location. For example, we were looking in Limerick and found the Limerick Ireland Genealogy Facebook group to be extremely helpful.
- P.R.O.N.I. We loved P.R.O.N.I. but if we were to do it again, we would do it a bit differently. P.R.O.N.I. has a fantastic online database of records that you can buy ‘credits’ and view them from home. You will still have to buy those credits, even if you are at the P.R.O.N.I. building, so it’s best to research this website first and use your time at P.R.O.N.I. to only look at documents you can’t view online. Smarter, not harder! Also, purchase a copy card, when you arrive, as this will allow you to make copies of documents you find on the microfilm – I wish I had known that before I went through a pad of sticky notes trying to write everything down!
- Talk to whoever will listen! The Irish genealogists we met knew their country’s history and were able to help us find our specific family members. A lady we met on the train gave us some history on a family name that we hadn’t even considered as an option before!
Ireland has so much to offer and we learned that doing Irish genealogy in Ireland is the best way to do family history! Not just because it’s an amazing place to visit but because we really felt the magic of the island and felt close to our family roots. We imagined our family walking in the streets where we walked and made up stories about what their lives would have been like.
We loved, loved, loved being in Ireland! Even if you don’t answer all your family history questions, you are in your family’s homeland. Being in Ireland and surrounded by its beauty was a constant reminder of where we came from. Many of our ancestors left their homeland in the 1900s and never returned! Our ancestors came to Canada and the United States with the hope of a better life. While they found that better life, I’m sure they were sad to leave their beautiful home country, as we were sad just leaving after a short visit! Doing Irish genealogy in Ireland helped us grow to love Ireland and our Irish family! Sláinte!