Introduction to Genealogical Research

It is natural to want to know who your ancestors were and to want to know about their lives. Sadly, knowledge of our ancestors has been lost too most of us. There is no need however, to be ignorant about our ancestors, it is possible for anyone to search through the records and draw up a family tree.

The purpose of this site is to help you to trace your Irish ancestry by giving an account of what is involved in genealogical research in Ireland. It seeks to answers many of the basic questions that might be asked by those interested in their Irish ancestry.

The assumption is that you have no knowledge at all of genealogical research. It will take you step by step through the process of drawing up your family tree. You must always keep at the back of your mind that in genealogy a person must go from the known to the unknown.

Ask Yourself Some Questions

The first step is to ask yourself some questions about the ancestor or ancestors that you are interested in, such as the following:

    Date of birth

    Place of birth

    Names of parents


    Trade, profession, occupation or employment

    To whom married

    Where married

    Names of children

    Any other information

Which Line?

Which branch of your family are you going to trace? The further back you go, the more branches your family tree will have, and these branches will divide into more branches and so on. It is simpler to start on your paternal line, since you have to follow only one surname.

If you come to a stop with your paternal line, leave it for a while, and follow another line. There will always be plenty of branches to follow.

In your great grandfatherís generation, there are eight different surnames and all may be of interest to you.

Ancestor is defined as a person from whom oneís father or mother is descended and tracing your ancestors should not be confined to the paternal line only.

Preliminary research

The next step is to talk to your family and make a note of what they have to say. You should then gather up all the information possible from documents, such as certificates of birth, marriage and death from graveyard inscriptions from memoriam cards and whatever else can be got hold of. With the information now obtained, you are in a position to talk to an elderly relative.

How far back can you go?

After searching through the records, referred to the majority of Irish people are most unlikely to be able to trace their ancestors back further than the late eighteenth century.

The reason for this is that the earlier records are based on the ownership of property and, as practically the entire Irish population was dispossessed in the seventeenth century, the records of their existence are scarce.

Talking to an elderly relative

A grandparent would be the best relative from whom to obtain information. If a grandparent is not available, any grand-aunt, grand-uncle or elderly relation possessing a sharp mind can do as well.

The opportunity to talk to an elderly relative should be taken immediately, before it is to late. It should prove a worthwhile exercise, as old people like to talk about the past and do not always find someone who is prepared to listen. Always make a note of anything that you are told or use a tape recorder. Afterwards the information obtained should be written down.

Bear the following in mind

When sitting down with an elderly person to inquire into your family background, you should bear the following in mind:

1. Give yourself plenty of time.

2. Be careful of hearsay (something heard from somebody else and not known directly). The story is told that during the Great War a message went down the trenches by word of mouth Send up reinforcements, we are going to advance, it was received as Send up three and four pence (three shillings and four pence), we are going to a dance.

3. Tell the person to whom you are speaking little, so as to avoid it being repeated to you later and you treating it as confirmation.

4. Be patient.

5. Use your discretion when it comes to the matter of illegitimate births.


Be systematic in your questioning

At what age did he/she die?

Was he/she the eldest in that family?

What was the age difference between him/her and the eldest in the family? (This will give you an indication of a date of marriage).

Was there any age difference between the father and mother?

What ages were they when they got married?

Where did the father and mother come in their own families?

The following should also be borne in mind at this stage and later when going through the registers of births: Within a year of marriage, a child was usually born and every one or two years thereafter during the motherís fertile years.

A word of caution

Do not treat all that you are told by your family and by relations as fact, verification must be sought in the records. For example: The family owned certain property, but were swindled out of it; the swindler or his descendants will often be named (but the story may not be true); members of the family went to America and were never heard of again (they may never have existed in the first place); An ancestor held high rank in the Army or Police (people are always promoted in the telling).

Childrenís names

Children were nearly always called after someone and it was the custom to call the first boy after his paternal grandfather, the second boy after his maternal grandfather, a third boy might have been called after his own father, an uncle, or grand-uncle on either side of the family. The first and second girl may have been called after the grandmothers and a third girl, after her own mother or an aunt. It is only in the present generation that this practice has begun to wane.

An Online Course in Irish Genealogy for Americans

Keeping family records