Hi there, my name is Mike Collins and you are welcome to “Introduction to Researching Your Irish Ancestors”. This is an eight module course in which we cover certain principles, tools and approaches relevant to researching an ancestor of Irish origin.

Who is this Course Aimed At?

Whether you are a total beginner when it comes to Irish ancestry research – or a champion genealogist (well done to you!) – I have put this course together so that there is plenty for all levels of experience. In short, we will aim to fill in some of the knowledge and process gaps you currently experience when researching one of your Irish ancestors.

Aim of This Course.

This course will bring you on a tour of the most common Irish record sets available online. Along the way we will introduce tools to help you decide on the best Irish records to search for a given situation.

I will then illustrate any theory discussed with a real-life case-study and, most importantly, ask you to replicate the same results that I uncover in the case-study. As a result, you will become familiar with which Irish record sets are available, where to find them and how to access and interpret them BEFORE searching those Irish record sets for your own Irish ancestry research.

Two other points to consider before we start:

  • As mentioned, the course uses a case-study (involving a real-life individual and his family) that we use to illustrate the theory covered in each module. For the case-study I chose an individual with a low frequency Irish surname (Dolphin) who left Ireland in late 1800s. Why? By using this example, you won’t get too distracted (as you might with a “Murphy”) and will become familiar with a wide range of Irish record sets and tools for your own Irish ancestry research.
  • I avoid illustrating with the bigger ancestry sites (familysearch, ancestry, myheritage etc.) on purpose. I hope that doing so will encourage you to access the Irish records sets and tools I mention directly – becoming aware of both the strengths and limitations of each of them.

Who Wrote This Course?

So, who put this course together? Well, I wrote it based on the Green Room “Irish Research Roadmap” – as well as reading all sorts of questions received our Letter from Ireland readers over the last 10 years.

This course has also been audited by our resident Green Room Irish genealogists, Jayne McGarvey and Pam Holland in terms of content and learning objectives. Jayne and Pam also had major input into the “Irish Research Roadmap” I mention above.

Why did we write this course?

You are probably taking this course as you have at least one Irish ancestor about whom you would would like to discover more. Maybe their origins are a complete mystery to you – or maybe there are just some unknown facts that you would like to uncover.

In either case, it is useful to understand the unique challenges presented by Irish ancestry research and how to navigate those challenges as you progress your research on an individual or couple.

To help understand these challenges a little more, let’s remind ourselves of the typical process we follow as we research any ancestor – no matter what their ethnic origin.

The typical process we follow to research any ancestor (no matter what their ethnic origin):

1. We start by choosing a single ancestor (or couple) to research.

It’s always a good idea to stay focused by choosing just one individual (or a couple). We will give examples by choosing a single individual in a case-study I will introduce later in the course.

2. We gather all the facts we already have on this ancestor (or couple).

Some of these facts that you gather will be backed by associated records, other will be based on family stories and hearsay while still others may be only guesses at this point.

Gather them all – and then assemble them into a timeline.

3. We look at the gaps in the timeline – the missing facts – and consider what you would like to discover next.

This step produces “discovery questions” that will help guide your research e.g. “when and where was my gr gr grandfather Thomas Murphy born in Ireland?”

So far, so good? The steps I have outlined above are useful for researching any ancestor – no matter their country of origin. However, the next two steps often differ depending on which country of origin you are researching.

In our case, we are searching for Irish ancestors – so, as we reach back into the Irish records it is useful to have some knowledge of which Irish record sets are available to search (and which are not available), where to find them and how to read them.

4. We search the available and appropriate Irish record sets.

You have already have selected “discovery questions” such as “when and where was my gr gr grandfather Thomas Murphy born in Ireland?” So, next you need to consider questions like “Which Irish record sets are available for Ireland?” or “Which Irish record sets should I be searching for the best answers to my questions?” or “Where do I find them?”

This is the point where many of us get frustrated, lost, impatient – and sometimes lucky!

5. As we search the Irish records, we want to interpret them correctly – and get the best from them.

As you browse different Irish record sets, you might wonder “how do I read this – what is this record telling me?”.

As this course is about Irish family history research, we will spend a lot of time on steps 4 and 5 above. These are the two steps where things can get confusing. You might find yourself as you wondering about things like:

  1. What the heck is a “townland” – and where can I find one called “Ballycarrigeen”?
  2. One record says that my ancestor was baptised in one parish – another that they were born in a different parish. Why?
  3. The records say that my ancestor was baptised as a 20 year old? Why?

By the way, these questions address real situations from my own Irish family tree. In case you are interested, here are my quick answers to each:

  1. A townland is typically the smallest unit of land used in Ireland. People provided townlands as their address if they lived in the open countryside – or a street name if they lived in a town or city.
  2. There is usually a difference in Ireland between “Civil Parishes” and “Church Parishes”. The “civil” parish listed as a “place of birth” in a civil record can often be named differently to the “church” parish listed as “place of baptism” in a church record.
  3. Religious conversion before marriage was often expected of a protestant man if he married a roman catholic woman. Such was the case with my ancestor who was baptised at the age of 20 into a different religion. And yes, there was more marrying across religions in Ireland than you might expect.

These are just some of the concepts that we will come across over the duration of this course.

Next, what is contained in this course – how is it laid out?

How this Course is laid out – List of Modules.

Each module in this course covers an “essential” aspect of Irish family history research. From the beginning we use a real-life individual so you can test out the various research tools mentioned in real life – and see if you get the same results.

Module 1: Introduction to this course.

  • The place you are right now!

Module 2: Trace back to your first-known Irish Immigrant in your country.

  • Choose your ancestor/couple.
  • Gather what you already know about them – assemble into timeline format.
  • Choose discovery questions based on gaps in our current information.
  • Introducing the case-study individual/family we will use through this course.

Module 3: Irish Land Divisions – What you need to know before Searching the Irish Records.

  • Which Irish land divisions are essential to know to read Irish records?
  • Introducing the “Land Division Research Worksheet”.
  • Three tools for discovering the related Land Division information for a Townland.
  • Over to you – replicate our case-study findings.

Module 4: Irish Record Sets – What’s Available and Where to find them.

  • Which Irish record sets are easily available and where do you find them?
  • A useful tool to help figure out which Irish Church records are available and where to find them.
  • Introducing the “Irish Records Research Worksheet”.
  • Select a record search strategy based on earlier discovery questions.
  • Over to you – replicate our case-study findings.

Module 5: Let’s Search the Irish Census & Civil Records.

  • We start with the Irish Census records to uncover more on our case-study family.
  • We then move back in time to uncover more on our family using the Irish Civil Records – births, marriages and deaths.
  • Over to you – replicate our case-study findings.

Module 6: Let’s Search the Irish Church Records.

  • We search the Irish Roman Catholic Church records to uncover more about our family – baptisms and church marriages.
  • Over to you – replicate our case-study findings.

Module 7: Let’s Search the Irish Land Records.

  • We search various Irish Land records to uncover more about our family.
  • We then do one more loop back to the Irish Civil records for our family.
  • Over to you – replicate our findings in this module.

Module 8: Conclusion and What to do next.

  • Reminder of what we have covered on this course.
  • Final answers we have gathered for our case-study family.
  • Next research steps for our case-study family.
  • What YOU can do next.

What Comes Next?

In the next module we emphasise how it is essential to gather as much information as possible about an ancestor in your own country before making the leap back to the Irish records. We introduce an approach to help you do just that.

We introduce you to our case-study individual and his family and start to gather all we know about them. We then compose a number of discovery questions that will help keep us focused as we choose and navigate the Irish record sets later in the course.