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How do I trace my Irish Ancestors?

FREE download: Family Tree Chart

Being Irish, or of Irish descent, is typically something most people feel very proud of, something they want to cling to, and usually something they want to find out more about.  It’s estimated there are approximately 40 million Americans who trace Irish ancestry.  The number worldwide is obviously far greater than that.

For hundreds of years people left Ireland in shiploads due to famine, oppression, poverty and lack of prospects.  They primarily left Ireland to go to places such as the USA, Britain, Australia and other more prosperous countries. Unfortunately, even in more recent times, economic failures have resulted in people needing to emigrate from Ireland.

Unfortunately for many US citizens, tracing their Irish heritage can be a very difficult task, generally because information was lost with the passage of time.  I’ve heard of many people jumping on planes and heading to Ireland, to search church records of births, marriages and deaths with the hope of finding information that can help them build out their family tree.  This can be quite an effective technique, if you know where to look, because churches are pretty good at having all this information stored away, and the church staff are very willing to help.  And because the people of Ireland lived their lives with such close ties to the church, a lot of people can trace ancestors in this fashion.  Thankfully, technology has made life a little easier for the current crop of ancestor hunters.  Now you can search Irish church records online (see below).


Like all the other ways of tracing your roots, you need to have some information to get you started.  First and last names, places and dates of births, town names, children’s names, profession etc, are all good starting points to getting you the information you are looking for.

Luckily for you, these days there are so many options to building your family tree.  Before you waste too much time, or spend any money, the first place to start is by asking questions of older relatives who may have emigrated from Ireland, or had a parent or grandparent that did.  You’d be surprised at how much information they may be able to give you to get you started.  I’ve often quizzed my own grandfather on my own family history.  It’s good to write it down now so you can pass it on to your children in years to come.  Print out a family tree, like the one we’ve provided for free below, and put yourself in the box label ‘Me”, and begin writing down as much information as you can.  When you exhaust the knowledge that your family members have on offer then your next move will probably to do some online research.

Don’t forget to download your free Family Tree Chart
 

Here’s a list of websites and services I’ve come across that can help you get started.  Some charge a fee for their service, while others have some very detailed information for free.

To use this website you’re going to need names and places of birth of your relatives.  This website allows you to search census records from 1901 and 1911 that took place in Ireland.  You will be able to print out a PDF scanned copy of your ancestors actual census filing (pretty amazing, if I may say so).  It gives some pretty interesting information regarding the family’s occupations, health status, ages, etc.  And it’s free.

This site allows you to search church records for marriages, baptisms and burials going back hundreds of years.  They even have a wonderful document you can download that gives you tips on tracing your Irish ancestors.  There is also a genealogy related Information Directory within that file that provides many useful phone numbers and other contact details for ancestry resources.

Ellis Island

Millions of Irish emigrants passed through the doors of Ellis Island en route to America.  If your Irish ancestors arrived in the US between 1892 and 1954 then there’s a good chance this is where they first set foot on US soil.  Their website will allow you search for you relatives, and has original arrival records and ships manifests that you can print out.  Interestingly the first ever person to be processed at Ellis Island was a young Irish girl, Annie Moore, arriving on a ship from Cobh (formerly Queenstown) in County Cork.

Irish Heritage Certificate

Apply for your certificate of Irish Heritage at the link above.  The certificate is an official recognition by the Irish government of your Irish Heritage.

See the YouTube video to see what your Irish Heritage Certificate could look like.

Some other notable websites that may aid you in your research:

There’s plenty more resources available online to help you find where you came from.  I think with the information above, you should have a pretty good chance at finding this information.  I wish you the very best in tracing your roots.

I’ll leave you with an excerpt from John Locke’s famous poem, “Dawn on the Irish Coast”, aka the “Emigrant’s Anthem”

But there it is—
The dawn on the hills of Ireland !
God’s angels lifting the night’s black veil
From the fair, sweet face of my sireland !
O, Ireland! isn’t grand you look—
Like a bride in her rich adornin !
With all the pent-up love of my heart
I bid you the top of the morning !

Slainte!