The Irish diaspora stretches around the world, as thousands of Irish people were forced to emigrate to the new world in the hope of a new life. TV shows, like Who Do You Think You Are and The Genealogy Roadshow have increased peoples interest in finding out about their past. Luckily, there is now a host of free methods, people can research their family trees from the comfort of their own home.
1. Create a basic family tree
Write down all the information you currently have. Start with your own immediate family, siblings and parents, then aunts, uncles, cousins, grandparents, grand aunts, grand uncles, great grandparents. Then, talk to your remaining family members and get as many details as possible. I would record the stories, using a voice recorder on your phone or video the chats, get as many details as possible, such as names, nicknames, country, county, province, profession, religion, Northern or Southern Ireland, if they emigrated and any other stories about your relatives. Don’t forget to talk to siblings and cousins or family friends, sometimes other relatives your age, may have spoken to your grandparents and heard them tell a story about their parents or grandparents, a story which may seem insignificant now, may help to narrow down the search.
Go through old family photo albums with relatives, this can help to jog memories. If you can’t talk to any family members or they have no other details, if you can visit your grandparents/great grandparents graves. I would take photos of the headstones, as formal names and casual family names can differ. Relatives may have referred to your Great Grand Aunt as Mary, but her official name may have actually been Mary-Kate and it may also tell you the name of the townland, village or county they originated from.
The Irish census records for 1901 and 1911 are available online, these years contain census records for all 32 counties and are the most complete. This is a great resource and you can search by many different search terms, first name, surname, county, street, occupation, male, female, religion. Try all variations of your surname to start with, for example, a surname like McCarthy could have been spelt many different ways on the census forms.
Names that begin with Mc or Mac as a prefix, like McCarthy, can be transcribed as McCarthy, MacCarthy, Mc Carthy or Mac Carthy, McCarty. Entering any of these will bring up all the variations. Names could also be written in Gaelic, so it’s worth looking up the Irish translation of your surname and try searching for that.
You can also search census’s for 1821, 1831, 1841, and 1851 although these only cover certain counties and the information is sparse for most of these.
Note: if you don’t find an ancestor on the census, try searching by Institution. If you know their name, age and county this will help. People in institutions like prisons, army, police barracks, asylums, workhouses, boarding schools, hospitals, were often listed in the census only by their initials.
For more information, visit the Census National Archives website
There are a few different sites which will let you set up a free family tree, Geni.com is one of them. They have a handy feature, which will link your relatives together, if other distant relatives have added their ancestor’s details and their profile set to public, you will be able to see them.
4. Research your ancestor’s county
If you know the name of the town or nearest village your ancestors came from, I would start searching online for more information about this place. Run a search for the name of the town + genealogy research, they may have a website or local office you can contact, to help in your search. Also, look up the history of the town or village, find out the name of the parishes/churches and if they existed when your ancestors lived there.
Recently, the church records of Ireland’s 1,086 Catholic parish church’s were digitized by the National Library of Ireland, people from around the world can now go online for free to search for their family records, which include parish registration of marriages, christenings and burials.
You can start by entering the county your ancestors were born or lived in and it will give you a list of parishes. You will need to have the name of the parish/church and a date to narrow the search down. Some of the records can be hard to read, so the more information you can supply the better.
For more information, visit the National Library of Ireland website here.
6. Search free Genealogy websites
You can also try searching on the Irish government’s free Irish Genealogy website, which has some of the church records indexed so you can search by typing your ancestor’s name. Try different spelling variations of the first and surname, try searching by just the surname, make a note of the different spellings and try several combinations.
For more information, visit Irish Genealogy website
Note: if you don’t find your ancestors on this website, remember not all of the records have been digitized yet, you can bookmark the website and check again.
Another free genealogy website, is FamilySearch.org, use family search for free, to narrow down your search.
7. Ancestry websites free trials
When you have gathered a lot of information on your family ancestors, then sign up with one of the ancestry websites for free 2-week trial.
8. Search on Facebook
Join family tree forums/Facebook groups. Contact possible family members in Ireland. Even if you have no known relatives in Ireland, start by searching online, on google enter your surname with your relative’s hometown. If you have a less common surname this may help narrow down the search. Facebook Groups are popping up for people who are doing historical family research. It’s a quick and easy way to see if these people are your ancestors. You should also search and see if a Facebook group for your ancestors hometown or village exists, there will be local experts in this group, who may be able to help you on information about parish church names, graveyards, school names etc, join up and send a private message to the administrator asking if you can post up, looking for further information on a particular family name. Also, if you know the name of the church and gravesite where some of your ancestors are buried, you could ask if another user would take a photograph of the gravesite if it still exists.
Check out this Genealogy Facebook group.
9. Search on local online newspapers
Search for your ancestor’s hometown and check newspapers online, you can contact them and ask them to submit an email or letter from you, requesting information on family ancestors. More people are going online but many older people in Ireland still get a hard copy of the local weekly newspaper so this may be worth a shot if you have collected enough information.
After searching using the 9 points listed above you should hopefully have a more complete family tree, you can then decide if you need to hire a genealogist to dig deeper for you, or you could take your research and book a trip to Ireland and research more yourself.
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