5 Free Online Resources for Tracing Your Irish Genealogy

Introduction: Gena Philibert-Ortega is a genealogist and author of the book “From the Family Kitchen.” In this guest blog post—to help celebrate both the upcoming St. Patrick’s Day holiday and the fact that March is Irish American Heritage Month—Gena describes five free websites that provide a wide range of resources to help you explore your Irish American ancestry.

Got Irish roots? Trying to find free online resources to research your Irish genealogy? Look no further because these five free websites can help you trace your Irish ancestors.

photo of a satellite image of Ireland

Photo: satellite image of Ireland. Credit: Jeff Schmaltz from the NASA Earth Observatory; Wikipedia.

1) FamilySearch

One of the first places to start any genealogy research project is FamilySearch and their Family History Library Catalog. FamilySearch is adding digitized and indexed records to their Historical Records Collection, where you can find Irish as well as other worldwide records. In addition, be sure to search the Library Catalog. From the Catalog, conduct a place search for where your Irish ancestor was from. As you search the results, note which ones are available by microfilm or digitized online. Microfilm and microfiche can be ordered online and sent to one of the over 4,500 Family History Centers worldwide (fees apply).

The Library Catalog isn’t the only thing available on FamilySearch. Check out the Research Wiki for information on resources and how to do research. Articles you may be interested in include:

2) Dept. of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht’s Irish Genealogy

A website from Ireland’s Department of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, Irish Genealogy provides you a place to search various records from other websites in one place. By clicking on the Main Search link found at the top, you can search for historical records like the 1901 and 1911 censuses as well as the Castle Garden and Ellis Island records. You can read about what records are included by clicking on the What Is Available link. A separate page just for searching church records is also available. You may search these records by name, location and date or browse by location.

Under the “Research in Ireland” tab, make sure to read the page How Does This Site Work? Here you will find information about using wild cards in your search, variant spellings, and the advanced search features.

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3) The National Archives of Ireland

The National Archives of Ireland “holds the records of the modern Irish State.” While the majority of these records can only be searched at the actual Archives, they do have some records available online. Their Genealogy page provides researchers with access to the 1901 and 1911 censuses, Tithe Applotment Books 1823-1827, Soldiers’ Wills 1914-1917, and the Calendar of Wills and Administrations, 1858-1922, with promises of additional records to come.

Don’t forget to check out the National Archives card catalog under the tab “Search the archives.” It’s here that you can explore the holdings of the Archives. Search by keyword (not necessarily the name of your ancestor, think more in terms of searching on the name of the place they were from, an event they participated in, or their occupation, etc.). Find a must-have resource? No problem; even if you can’t make a trip to Dublin to visit in person, the Archives does have a list of researchers that can help.

4) Public Records Office of Northern Ireland (PRONI)

The mission of the Public Records Office of Northern Ireland (PRONI) is to “identify, preserve and make available Northern Ireland’s unique archival and community memory.” Records available online through PRONI include the Ulster Covenant archive, which has nearly a half million signatures and addresses of the men who signed the 1912 Ulster Covenant—and the women who signed a “parallel Declaration” (over 234,000 women). Freeholders’ records (people who voted or were entitled to vote) are also indexed and digitized on the website. Don’t forget to check out their indexed and digitized wills from 1858-1900. The first phase of this important project is complete and viewable.

photo of three men and a woman from Ireland

Photo: Group portrait of three men—two in military uniform, and one woman who is wearing a beret-style hat and a fur stole. Credit: Public Records Office of Northern Ireland. Flickr the Commons. http://www.flickr.com/photos/proni/10942071025/.

One of my favorite things about PRONI is their Flickr photo stream with over 2,000 vintage photos that have no known copyright restrictions. Click here to take a look at these photos.

Like many websites, PRONI includes helpful articles to assist you with your ancestry research. Make sure to start on their Family History page and read their web pages that provide more information about researching your Irish roots, including their Family History Key Sources page.

5) GENUKI

GENUKI is a “virtual reference library” for the United Kingdom and Ireland maintained by volunteers. Just like Cyndi’s List, GENUKI will help you identify additional resources for your genealogy research. Search by Region or by using their Quick Links and discover links to census, church, military, town and tax records. Make sure to use GENUKI to find and learn more about maps, statistics and the social life of your ancestors.

One of the Quick Links includes a Gazetteer for England, Ireland, Scotland, Wales and the Isle of Man. Type in the place you are looking for and then see your results on a map or as a list complete with the county or nearby places.

GenealogyBank

There’s much for Irish researchers to find in the above free websites—but as you research, don’t forget to search GenealogyBank’s online Irish American Newspaper Archives for your ancestors. This collection features newspapers published in New York that documented Irish American lives, featuring birth, marriage and death information from Ireland years before civil registration began there in 1864.

screenshot of GenealogyBank's search page for its Irish American Newspaper Archives

Here’s a good example of how helpful these Irish American newspapers can be. As is typical with census records, Catherine Scully was only listed in the 1892 New York state census as having come from “Ireland.” However, her obituary published in an Irish American newspaper gives the important detail family historians prize so much: where in Ireland she was born (Ballingarry, County Tipperary).

obituary for Catherine Scully, Irish Weekly World newspaper article 2 December 1893

Irish Weekly World (New York City, New York), 2 December 1893, page 3

Once you search this special collection of Irish American newspapers, conduct a broader search through GenealogyBank’s online Historical Newspaper Archives for newspapers in the community your ancestor eventually settled in.

Genealogy Tip: Not sure where to start researching your immigrant ancestors from Ireland? Always begin by researching their lives in the United States first, before tackling records in a foreign locale. Irish American newspapers are a great place to start!

What Counties & Towns in Ireland Did Our Ancestors Come From?

Genealogists know the frustration of tracking down your Irish immigrant ancestor’s birth, marriage or death certificate, hoping that it will be the document that finally tells you where in Ireland your family came from—only to be disappointed once again.

Irish American death certificates

Irish American death certificates

So many census registrars simply wrote “Ireland” on the form, giving no additional clues about the town or county. This practice can present a challenge to those of us seeking to locate the towns or counties in Ireland where our Irish immigrant ancestors came from.

You can see this problem in the 1892 New York state census, which is online. Here is a typical entry, for the Scully family. The census tells us that the family members were born in “Ireland” and now live in Albany, New York.

1892 New York Census: Scully

1892 New York Census: Scully

Credit: “New York, State Census, 1892,” index and images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/pal:/MM9.1.1/X366-VPR. Accessed 21 Mar 2013, Kate Scully, 1892.

How are we going to find out exactly where in Ireland the Irish family members were born? Irish American Newspapers!

It has been my experience that Irish American newspapers are the genealogist’s most reliable source for finding information about our Irish ancestors’ birthplaces. Will every Irish obituary or marriage record give these details? No—but many of these old Irish American newspaper records do.

Let’s turn to historical Irish American newspapers to try and find the birth place of the first Scully member listed in the NY census.

Searching GenealogyBank for references to Catherine Scully of Albany, I found her obituary published in the Irish World News (New York City, New York), 2 December 1893, page 5.

Catherine Scully obituary, Irish World News newspaper article 2 December 1893

Irish World News (New York City, New York), 2 December 1893, page 5

Bingo. This old newspaper obituary tells us that she was born in Ballingarry, which is in County Tipperary, Ireland.

And there are more genealogical clues…It tells us that:

  • She died 3 November 1893 at her home in Albany, New York
  • She was a widow—her husband was Andrew Scully
  • Her maiden name was Hayde
  • She was a Catholic, and was buried at St. Agnes’ Cemetery
  • Her four surviving children were: Ellen, John, Lawrence and Patrick
  • She was a member of the Ladies’ Catholic Benevolent Association, Branch 25

Now that we know she was born in Ballingarry, County Tipperary, Ireland, in 1846, we can look for images of the Irish town from 150 years ago.

The search for images of Ballingarry was easy: Wikipedia has an engraving of a street scene from the town in 1848.

What a treasure to have an image of this Irish town from the time when she was born!

illustration of Ballingarry, Ireland

Illustration: Ballingarry in 1848. Credit: Wikipedia.

Hey—could that be her on the right side of this image standing with her father?

Every genealogist wants to know exactly where in Ireland—or any country—their family came from.

Newspapers are a great resource for finding those family facts. Dig into GenealogyBank’s newspaper archives online and find the details and stories of your ancestors’ lives.