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Tracing Your Irish Ancestry - Information, Tips and Resources

Updated on October 17, 2017
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Eugene writes a variety of articles on the HubPages Network of sites, covering topics such as gardening, DIY, photography, and electronics.


Who Do You Think You Are? -Tracing Your Family History on the Web

Ireland currently has a population of about 4.5 million and around 36 million Americans claim Irish ancestry. During the years of the Great Famine which was at its worst in 1847 and caused by failure of the potato crop due to blight, 1 million people died. A further 2 million emigrated during the following decade, mostly to Britain and the continent of North America, but also to Argentina. Large scale emigration continued well into the 20th century. Transportation to penal colonies in Australia was also a standard punishment, even for relatively minor crimes, and large numbers of convicts were sent there from the late 18th century onwards. With the advent of the Internet, scanning of paper records and computer storage, it is now easier to research details of our ancestors.

Counties and provinces of Ireland - Border between Northern Ireland and Republic of Ireland indicated by red line
Counties and provinces of Ireland - Border between Northern Ireland and Republic of Ireland indicated by red line | Source
Ireland is a country in Europe, west of Britain
Ireland is a country in Europe, west of Britain | Source
84,421 km2 (32,595 sq mi)
6.6 million
Republic of Ireland:
4.75 million
Northern Ireland 1.85 million
Republic of Ireland 4.75 million
Capital city:
System of government:
Parliamentary democracy with a ceremonial/non-executive president. A separate head of government leads the executive
Irish Free State was founded in 1922 and remained part of British Commonwealth
Ireland became a republic in 1949
The country is split up into provinces: Ulster, Munster, Leinster and Connaght
There are 32 counties (geographical and administrative regions) in Ireland. The province of Ulster in the north of the country consists of 9 counties. Six of these counties are part of the United Kingdom

Tracing Your Irish Roots Online

Many records have now been scanned and made available in online databases. Access to some of these databases is free and scanned images of original records can be downloaded.

The following information is available:

  • 1901 and 1911 census
  • Church Records
  • Civil Records
  • Grave Inscriptions

1901 and 1911 Censuses

These records have been scanned and indexed in the past few years. Access to the National Archives website is free and census return forms may be downloaded free of charge also. Names, ages etc have been indexed so searching and sorting is easy. Some census records pre 1900 were destroyed by the IRA during the Irish Civil War in 1922 when the besieged Four Courts building was set alight. Others were pulped by the government during WWI to provide a source of raw materials for making paper. Orders were even given to deliberately destroy some records. What a bunch of idiots these people were to destroy such valuable information and part of our heritage! Some pre 1900 census fragments do remain however and these have been made available in early 2014.

The censuses are available here:

The National Archives of Ireland

When searching, it is important to remember that spellings of names may vary somewhat and the name you are searching for may be spelled slightly different in the census to what you think it should be. Therefore try not to narrow down a search too much initially. If you know the townland or town where your ancestor was born, the county, and approximate age, you can leave out the name, perform a search and sort the results by age. Usually when I search the records, I select a county and surname while leaving out the first name, and this produces several thousand results. Then I narrow down the list by either sorting the results by first name or age. Basically you need to be patient and try different options while searching.

Church Records

Church records including births, marriages and deaths extend back to the early 19th or late 18th century. Usually Church of Ireland records go back further. The Anglican Church of Ireland (protestant) was the official established church in Ireland until it lost this status following an act passed in 1869. Many of these records are available in the National Library of Ireland on microfiche, and the Irish Family History Foundation, a not-for-profit organization have made these records available online and these can be downloaded for a fee. You can access these databases here:

Update, summer 2015 Roman Catholic church records have now been made available free of charge on the National Library of Ireland website here:

Civil Records

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints runs a website called A free search of the civil records index is possible on this site and information is available showing years of birth, death, marriage and sometimes names of parents. It is possible to view prison and court records on a subscription or pay per view basis.
Civil records in Ireland extend back to 1864, however a record of death often indicates the pre-1864 birth year.

Another site which provides similar records is

Databases of Grave Inscriptions

A database of tombstone images and inscriptions for the three largest cemeteries in Dublin is available here:

Other cemeteries have been recorded here:

....and here

Non Online Records

  • Civil Records of Births, Marriages and Deaths from 1st January 1864 at the General Register Office
  • If you are not computer/Internet savy, you can search Church records on microfiche at The National Library of Ireland You can do all the searching yourself, or seek free assistance from the genealogical staff on duty.

Other Useful Links


In Flanders Fields A database of Ireland's 49,000 casualties from WW1

Military archives Military services pension records (1916 - 1923)

Tithe Applotment Books Tithes were taxes on agricultural produce which tenants had to pay to the Church of Ireland

The National Library of Ireland now has scans of church records available. According to the NLI, unlike online census records , these scans wont be indexed or searchable for the moment due to lack of staffing resources

Traveling to Ireland is the official website of Fáilte Ireland, the National Tourism Development Authority. It has lots of information about events, what to see and do, and information on travel in Ireland.

© 2012 Eugene Brennan


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    • eugbug profile image

      Eugene Brennan 4 years ago from Ireland

      Hi John, thanks for stopping by!

      Genealogy can be fun, but trawling through records can be painstaking. The people who filled in records with non-legible handwriting weren't very considerate of those of us trying to trace our ancestors!

    • John MacNab profile image

      John MacNab 4 years ago from the banks of the St. Lawrence

      Very interesting eugbug. Like zillions of other people, I have Irish ancestry. My grandfather was Irish; his family moved to Canada, then back to Ireland and then Scotland where my mother was born. I may take you up on your searching at a later stage. Voted up, interesting & useful.