iCARA  irish caribbean ancestry - reconnecting through dna


What is iCARA?

A bit of Background

The History Centre

Reconnecting with your Irish Ancestry

The DNA Project

Facebook, Blog, & social media

Contact Us


Join the DNA project

Researching your Irish surname 

There is a lot of information available online about Irish surnames, their meanings, their origins, and their distribution in Ireland. This is covered in the section below and will give you some useful background information that will help you identify some possible or probable locations for where your Irish ancestors came from in Ireland - your so-called Irish Ancestral Homeland. 

It may help to organise your research under several headings and there are some suggestions below, but it is up to you - the choice is yours. 

Distribution within the Caribbean 

It can be useful to study the distribution of your surname within the Caribbean as this might give you clues as to where it first arrived. It may be that your Irish surname is localised exclusively to a particular island. Below is a table with links to the telephone directories of most of the Caribbean islands. Just click on a name to be taken to the telephone directory for that particular country. You may wish to copy and paste the table into your own document and enter the number of people with your surname in the column to the right of each country. Also look up the known spelling variants of your surname - for example, if you are a Sweeney, you should also look up the variants Sweeny, Swiney, MacSween, McSweeney, and MacSwiney. Even though the spelling is different, these may still be your cousins!

Origins, Meaning, & Early History (1200-1600)

A good place to start searching for background information on your surname is Wikipedia. There will be links to other websites, references, and sources such as Clan websites which will usually have a detailed history of your surname, it's meaning, and where it originated.

Specific websites that may prove useful include:

  • The Irish Ancestors website hosted by the irish Times. You can search for your own surname here. It will give you some brief information about your surname. Be sure to explore the links in the menu bar on the left. 
  • Clans of Ireland website - this is an independent organisation established in 1989 with the purpose of creating and maintaining a Register of Irish Clans. The Patron is Michael D. HigginsPresident of Ireland. The website has a Register of Clans with contact details and links to websites of individual clans.

Many books have been written on Irish surnames and their pedigrees over the past 150 years or so. Some are available online via Google books, including:

End of the Gaelic Clans (1600-1700) 

The 1600's were a tumultuous time in Irish history marked by the Catholic Rebellion of 1641 and the subsequent conquest of Ireland by Oliver Cromwell. The old Gaelic clans were finally brought under the control of the English. Many people lost their land during this time, others fled Ireland and went into exile, some sold themselves as indentured servants, and others were sent as slaves to the Caribbean and the new American Colonies.

There are two excellent websites (both run by Trinity College, Dublin) that help tell the story of your family's surname during this time. You can check if anyone with your surname appeared in the depositions relating to the 1641 Rebellion, and details of any transfer in land ownership is beautifully described on The Down Survey of Ireland. This will help tell you where your family held land, the name of the local area, and it's location in both historical and present day maps. Another useful free online source is the 1659 census which nicely compliments the other two sources.

Later history (1800-1900) 

The 1700's represents a large genealogical gap for Ireland - it is the "silent century". There are much fewer records available for this period than there are for the 1800's and 1900's. For many Irish people, they can trace their family tree back to 1800 but no further. The situation may be similar for many people with Caribbean heritage. However, resources that can prove helpful for performing a general search for your family name include:

  • The Irish Ancestors website (mentioned above). A surname search will generate surname distribution maps based on Griffith's Valuation from the mid-1800's.
  • The Forbears website gives you surname distribution maps based on the 1911 census.

Searching for specific Irish people

If you want to look for a specific person, the various resources available include the following:

Births, Marriages, & Deaths

  • Civil Registration Records (1845 onwards) - www.familysearch.org  (free search of the indexes - but to obtain certificates, you need to visit your local LDS centre1 where they have some of the certificates2 on microfilm (free), which you can photograph on the screen or photocopy for a small fee; or write to the General Registry Office (GRO) in Co. Roscommon, Ireland, using this form and purchase photocopies of the certificates for 4 euro each
  • Church Records (about 1800 onwards) - Rootsireland (index search is free but pay-per-view for transcriptions of the actual records 5 euro each) and IrishGenealogy (free index search, free transcriptions of records, & free scanned images of records). You can learn a lot from fiddling around with different search options.

Census records (& Census substitutes)

  • Cancelled Books of subsequent valuations (from the mid-1800's to the mid-1900's; you will need to visit the Valuation Office in Dublin in order to consult them)
  • Directories (early 1800's onwards) - these are a useful census substitute. They only record the head of the family but can be used sequentially to provide an approximate date of death of an individual or to track the change in land ownership within the family (e.g. from father to son) or outside of the family. Various directories are freely available online (see the Irish Ancestors Website). The National Library of IrelanD (NLI) has some directories but the Dublin City Library and Archive (DCLA) has a more complete set. Both can be consulted free of charge at the library itself

Newspapers & Books

  • Always try a Google Books search for your ancestors - you never know what has been written about them in the past! Many books are available in the entirety, others only partially.

  • Newspapers often have birth, marriage and death notices and may also contain fabulous information about ancestors who have ended up in the public eye, usually for all the wrong reasons. Websites of Irish relevance include www.irishnewsarchive.com, www.britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk, the Irish Times digital archive, and some English newspapers such as The Times (some may be accessible from your local LDS centre or your local library or via your local library's website from the comfort of your own home ) - search is usually free, articles are usually pay-per-view.

Burial records

Pre-1800 records

These are relatively scarce and few are available online. We have mentioned the 1641 depositions and the 1670 Down Survey above. You can find what additional records are available at the following websites:

  • PRONI (Public Record Office of Northern Ireland)

The emphasis on the above records is those that are essential for starting your family tree and those that are free of charge. Other sources are available online and you will find a useful list of these on the Irish Ancestors website and in the Google Books version of John Grenham's Tracing your Irish Ancestors (3rd edition, 2006).

How did your family get to the Caribbean? 

Write your own story. Or has someone done it for you? Do a Google search for any online family trees or message boards that might already contain your relatives. The best way to do this is go to www.google.com and enter "genealogy: " and then the name of one of your ancestors (the rarer the name the better - Ermintrude Alicia McSweeney would be a good start). If there is an online tree with him/her in it, or a message board query from someone already researching your family, or a relevant record, then it should come up in your search.

DNA testing & your surname 

To check if anyone with your surname has already been DNA-tested, and to see if there is a DNA project associated with your surname, go to www.familytreedna.com  and enter your surname (and its variants) in the box below "Search Your Last Name" (on the right side of the home page). Be sure to click on any links that come up to explore further. 

Making a Start

Adding Records

Researching your Irish Surname

Irish surnames in the Caribbean

1) LDS stands for Latter Day Saints, an abbreviation of The Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter Day Saints, otherwise known as the Mormons. They have created a huge genealogical resource, particularly for Caribbean records, and as well as running the free genealogical website www.familysearch.org, they also have many Family History Centres throughout the world where you can order and view microfilmed records from Ireland and the Caribbean going back to the 1600's. Check out their website for more info.

2) The following gives a summary of the Irish BMD records that are available via your local LDS centre. Some of these microfilm reels will have to be ordered and this may take up to 6 weeks. However, this service is free. Any records that fall outside of these years will have to be ordered via the GRO at 4 euro per record.

  • Birth certificates - 1864-1881, 1900-1913, and most of 1930, 1931, 1932, 1939
  • Marriage certificates
    • Church of Ireland - 1845, 1847, 1848, 1850, 1854, 1856, 1857, 1859
    • all religions - 1864-1870
  • Death certificates - 1864-1870

Maurice Gleeson

May 2013

Copyright 2011-2013 (http://freepages.genealogy.rootsweb.com/~spearinAll Rights Reserved.  Creative Commons License
iCARA and the Spearin Surname Project at http://freepages.genealogy.rootsweb.com/~spearin is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 3.0 Unported License.
Information and data obtained from iCARA and the Spearin Surname Project must be attributed to the project as outlined in the Creative Commons License. Please notify administrator when using data for public or private research. 

Last update: May 2013

Free Site Counter
Free Site Counter