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Irish Genealogy, Heritage, and Ancestry Information

Americans with Irish genealogy can claim both Roman Catholic and Protestant Irish roots. Most Irish-Americans today are descendants of the Catholic peasants who fled the Emerald Isle to escape the ravages of poverty, beginning with the Great Potato Famine of the mid-1840s. Irish Catholic immigration would continue to dominate the flow of European immigration almost until the start of the Civil War. Thereafter, Irish Catholics would arrive in steady if much smaller numbers.

Although some Irish Catholics found their way to the Americas before the Famine, Protestants of Irish genealogy dominated Irish immigration during the 18th and early 19th centuries. Many of these Irish immigrants were the progeny of the Scottish Presbyterians who had been transplanted to Ireland in order to consolidate Oliver Cromwell's 17th-century conquest of that nation. These Ulster Irish families (Scots-Irish) arrived in places like Derry, New Hampshire and Wilmington, North Carolina before 1700. A steady stream of Scots-Irish immigrants continued to enter the North American colonies throughout the 18th century. As a matter of fact, these intrepid colonists were critically important in opening up the colonial frontier to settlement because they tended to settle deeper into the unprotected hinterland of Pennsylvania, Virginia, and the Carolinas than any other immigrants.

There are a number of excellent reference books on the remarkable saga of Irish immigration to North America, including the following:

Ireland and Irish Emigration to the New World From 1815 to the Famine, by William Forbes Adams
The author provides a detailed account of the economic, social, and political factors underlying the early migrations; an examination of the emigrant trade and its links with American shipping interests; and a history of government policy regarding assisted and unassisted emigration.

The Scotch-Irish of Colonial Pennsylvania, by Wayland F. Dunaway
Dunaway's classic is indispensable to the genealogist because it outlines the circumstances behind the settlement of Lowland Scots in Ulster, their life in that Province for two or three generations, and the reasons for their emigration to America. It then proceeds to trace the important migratory movements of the Scotch-Irish from Northern Ireland to Pennsylvania, and from Pennsylvania down the foothills of the Appalachians through the Great Valley of Virginia to the Carolinas and Georgia.

Going to America, by Terry Coleman
This is the grim story of the British and Irish immigrants who came to America during the middle of the 19th century. Much the largest contingent was Irish, and it was above all the departure of the Irish to America, diseased, half-starved, bewildered, cheated and cheating, which made the emigrant way across the Atlantic as degrading as the convict route to the South Seas, and almost as cruel as the Middle Passage of the slave ships.

Discover Your Irish Genealogy

Many people looking for their immigrant ancestors rush pell-mell into foreign sources without doing their "home"-work. According to Brian Mitchell, author of Finding Your Irish Ancestors: Unique Aspects of Irish Genealogy, "Tracing your Irish roots . . . begins in your home country. It is only by building up a picture of your ancestors in their adopted country that you will find the necessary clues to make a worthwhile search in Ireland." Any good textbook on Irish genealogy should spell out the following steps to be taken before going abroad, including tracking the oral tradition, studying family papers, utilizing the sources of the LDS Church, and so forth." Each of these will help genealogists to get off on the right foot in their hunt for Irish and Irish-American ancestors:

Tracing Irish Ancestors, by John Grenham
Professional Irish genealogist John Grenham has written a book that combines all the best features of a textbook and a reference book, a book that carefully explains the elements of Irish research while at the same time providing an indispensable body of source materials for immediate use. Thus in Part l the most basic genealogical sources are gathered together and discussed in light of a research project, while in Part 2 sources which have a more advanced application are examined. And in Part 3 there is a reference guide to a comprehensive range of materials including county source lists, printed family histories, and church records.

Pocket Guide To Irish Genealogy, by Brian Mitchell
By skillfully blending case studies, maps, charts, and his own mastery of the subject, author Brian Mitchell has managed to convey the basics of Irish genealogical research in scarcely eighty pages. Following introductory chapters on the background of research on the American side, the author describes the nature and uses of all significant record sources in Ireland, including but not limited to civil and parish registers, gravestone inscriptions, wills, the Griffith's Valuation, tithe books, the 1901 and 1911 censuses, newspapers, hearth money rolls, the registry of deeds, estate records, and ordnance survey memoirs. The Second Edition includes a new chapter on "Irish Genealogy and the Internet," which discusses all the principal websites for conducting Irish research online.

Finding Your Irish Ancestors, by Brian Mitchell
This sequel to Pocket Guide to Irish Genealogy expounds on topics that are not found in Mitchell’s earlier book and expands on others that are. The place name chapter, for instance, explains the etymological origins of a number of Irish townlands and the importance in Irish research of the all-important finding aid, the "General Alphabetical Index to the Townlands and Towns, Parishes and Baronies of Ireland." Mitchell also shows the reader how to use the government-supported Genealogy Centres, and he ought to know inasmuch as he has administered the Derry Genealogy Centre for more than a decade.

Irish History and Immigration

No centralized system of recording Irish passenger lists ever existed. Those passenger records that have survived tend to have been recorded at the ports of arrival rather than at the Irish or English ports of departure. If no passenger list exists for a particular period of investigation, the researcher may be able to bridge the gap between North America and Ireland by inferring a connection between a reference in the 1850 federal census for New York, for example, and a reference to an individual with the same name found in Griffith's Valuation (see below). Following are several titles containing some of the best collections of extant Irish passenger records:

The Famine Immigrants, by Ira A. Glazier and Michael H. Tepper. In Seven Volumes
Between 1846 and 1851, more than a million impoverished Irish men, women, and children immigrated to the United States and Canada, mostly through the port of New York. The information on these people exists in an invaluable series of port arrival records, the Customs Passenger Lists. To bring those records dealing with Irish immigrants within the range of the researcher, The Famine Immigrants series was conceived for the purpose of enumerating all Irish passengers who entered the port of New York between 1846 and 1851. The passenger lists found in The Famine Immigrants are arranged by ship and date of arrival in New York, and each person is identified with respect to age, sex, occupation, and family relationships where such was indicated in the original manifests. Additionally, every volume boasts of an extensive index containing all of the passenger names in the text.

Irish Emigration Lists,1833-1839, by Brian Mitchell
Based on notebooks compiled during the famous Ordnance Survey of Ireland (1835-1846), these lists have been extracted, arranged under parish, and alphabetized, and they identify the emigrant's destination and his place of origin in Ireland--key pieces of information for anyone tracing his Irish ancestry. In addition, the age, town and address, year of emigration, and religious denomination are given for the more than 3,000 emigrants listed.

Irish Passenger Lists, 1803-1806, by Brian Mitchell
Except for the brief period from March 1803 to March 1806, no official registers of passengers leaving Irish ports were ever kept. The exception refers to lists contained in the so-called Hardwicke Papers, now located in the British Library, London. Altogether, some 4,500 passengers are identified in the 109 sailings recorded in these manuscripts--most cited with their all-important place of residence.

Irish Passenger Lists, 1847-1871, by Brian Mitchell
These passenger lists identify the emigrants' actual places of residence, as well as their port of departure and nationality. Essentially business records, the lists were developed from the order books of the two main passenger lines operating out of Londonderry—J. & J. Cooke (1847-67) and William McCorkell & Co. (1863-71). Both sets of records provide the emigrant's name, age, and address, and the name of the ship. The Cooke lists provide the ship's destination and year of sailing, while the McCorkell lists provide the date engaged and the scheduled sailing date. Altogether 27,495 passengers are identified.

Irish Emigration to New England Through the Port of Saint John, New Brunswick, Canada, 1841 to 1849, by Daniel F. Johnson
The Canadian port of St. John, New Brunswick was a magnet for Irish immigration during the decade that culminated in the Great Famine. A majority of these destitute Irish immigrants were required to take temporary refuge in the alms and work houses, hospitals, and asylums of St. John, before relocating to Boston or elsewhere in New England in order to rejoin their family members. This book is a surrogate "passenger list" of 7,000 persons of Irish birth from the records of alms houses, hospitals, parish houses, etc.

Genealogical Records in Ireland

Researchers who are actually ready to pick up the trail in the Emerald Isle should begin by concentrating on a handful of sources from Ireland that center on location (some of which, by the way, are available online and/or on microfilm in the US). Every Irish ancestor came from a particular locale or "townland." Irish genealogical records, on the other hand, are not organized by townland but by official jurisdictions that encompass townlands, such as the civil parish, ecclesiastical parish, poor law union, and so forth. The trick to Irish genealogy, therefore, is to determine which jurisdiction corresponds to the ancestor's townland, which will in turn will help you to identify the pertinent records. In this context, the following titles are designed to assist the researcher in narrowing his search in those records most likely to be of aid in that process:

A New Genealogical Atlas of Ireland, by Brian Mitchell
Since its publication in 1986, A New Genealogical Atlas of Ireland has established itself as a key resource in Irish genealogical research. Now, with the addition of maps detailing the location of Roman Catholic parishes in all thirty-two counties of Ireland and Presbyterian congregations in the nine counties of Northern Ireland, the 2nd Edition moves the book to the forefront of Irish genealogical research. Also, for the first time ever, this one volume contains a complete geographical picture of the three major religious denominations in Ireland during the middle years of the 19th century. The Atlas will also help researchers find their roots in post-1864 civil records. The maps herein provide the clues to the Irish origin of millions of Americans, making this atlas indispensable for tracing ancestors in Ireland.

General Alphabetical Index to the Townlands and Towns, Parishes and Baronies of Ireland, Based on the Census of Ireland for the Year 1851 ("Townland Index")
Since research in Ireland will usually start at the parish level, there must be a reference tool that will key the townland to the parish in which it is located. This work was prepared under the auspices of the British government for almost that purpose. The over 900 densely printed pages show the county, barony, parish, and poor law union in which the 70,000 townlands were situated in 1851, as well as the location of the townlands on the Great Ordnance Survey maps, with appendices containing separate indexes to parishes and baronies.

Guide to Irish Parish Records, by Brian Mitchell
This work tells you which Irish parish registers exist (all denominations), their starting dates, and where and how they can be located, and it links them to "Griffith's Valuation of Ireland," the great survey of property holders taken between 1848 and 1864. You'll find the location of churches of all denominations, as well as the earliest date of their registers. In tabular form, in alphabetical order for each of the thirty-two counties, is the name of the civil parish; the name of the Church of Ireland parish (if different), and the earliest baptism entry in the registers; the Roman Catholic parish and the earliest baptism or marriage entry in the registers; the Presbyterian congregation and its earliest baptism entries; and, if registers of dissenting churches are extant (Quaker, Methodist, Congregationalist, Baptist, etc.), it gives the beginning of their registers.

Guide to Irish Churches and Graveyards, by Brian Mitchell
In Ireland, the civil registration of births, marriages and deaths began in 1864, and the registration of Protestant marriages in 1845. Before these dates, church registers contain the only record an ancestor's birth, marriage, or death, but because of the destruction of many Church of Ireland burial records, and the late beginning dates of many Roman Catholic and Presbyterian burial registers, a gravestone inscription may be the only record of an ancestor's death. In this book every church and burial ground in Ireland is identified in relation to a townland or street address. Each townland is located in its appropriate civil parish, and each parish is listed in alphabetical order in its county and is preceded by a number that gives its location in A New Genealogical Atlas of Ireland. An Ordnance Survey number lets the researcher pinpoint the church's exact location on a six-inch Ordnance Survey map. Churches that are now defunct and graveyards that have been separated from their churches can be located with this guide.

Loss of Some Irish Genealogy Records

The earliest surviving comprehensive official census returns for Ireland go back only until 1901. To a great extent, the loss of eight of the government censuses conducted between 1821 and 1911 is attributable to the great fire of 1922 that destroyed the Public Record Office in Ireland. While it is impossible to minimize the importance of this loss, the survival of key national records like the quasi-census, Griffith's Valuation, the related Ordnance Survey books, various indexes that were not destroyed in 1922, and, of course, the records of parishes and other local jurisdictions help to make Irish genealogy a feasible endeavor. Some of those sources, available on CD-ROM or in book form, include:

An Index to Griffith's Valuation [1848-1864] (CD-ROM)
This CD is an index to the greatest of all Irish genealogical resources, Griffith's Valuation, or the Primary Valuation of Ireland. Carried out between 1848 and 1864 under the direction of Sir Richard Griffith, this survey of Ireland was intended to determine the amount of tax each person should pay towards the support of the poor within their poor law union. The Valuation is arranged by county, barony, poor law union, civil parish, and townland, and lists every landholder and every householder in Ireland--at that time about 1.25 million people. Omitting the acreage, valuation, and description of the property, this index gives the full name of the householder and his county, parish, and townland of residence.

Indexes to Irish Wills, 1536-1857, by William P. W. Phillimore and Gertrude Thrift
Indexes to Irish Wills is an alphabetical index of over 30,000 diocesan wills proved in the consistorial courts of Ireland between 1536 and 1857. Arranged by dioceses, and preceded by maps showing in which dioceses the various Irish counties are situated, the Indexes provide the name of the testator, his parish, county, and the date of probate and are, in short, complete lists of diocesan wills proved up until 1857, when the various ecclesiastical courts were abolished by an Act of Parliament and superseded by the probate court.

Index to the Prerogative Wills of Ireland, 1536-1810, by Sir Arthur Vicars
All of the Prerogative Wills of Ireland were destroyed by a fire in the Dublin courthouse in 1922, but before that Sir William Betham had made abstracts of the genealogical data in the wills from 1536 to 1800. From these abstracts he prepared 39 volumes of "will pedigrees." In 1897 Sir Arthur Vicars prepared this index to Betham's abstracts (and in effect an index to the "will pedigrees"). The index has 40,000 entries arranged alphabetically by the name of the testator, showing his rank, occupation, or condition; his town or county of residence; and the year when the estate was probated. In view of the loss of the original wills, this publication must be accounted one of the most useful tools in all of Irish genealogical research.

Return of Owners of Land in Ireland 1876
In 1873 the Local Government Board in Ireland set about to ascertain the number and names of owners of land of one acre and upwards in Ireland. Clerks of the various Poor Law Unions were called upon to draw up lists of such persons from the property valuation and rate books in their custody. These lists, forming the basis of this book, include the names of small landowners as well as large--owners of modest acres as well as great estates-and they stand as a census of a significant proportion of the population of Ireland in 1876.

County Cork, Ireland, A Collection of 1851 Census Records, by Josephine Masterson
Only fragments of the 1851 census of Ireland are known to survive, and most such fragments are for County Antrim, in the north. However, a little-known census fragment for County Cork also survived the destruction of the Public Record Office in 1922, and it is here transcribed and published for the first time. It deals exclusively with the parishes of Kilcrumper and Kilworth in County Cork and parts of Leitrim and Macroney in the Union of Kilworth. The census records themselves are arranged by household, just as they appear in the original. For each householder the following information is provided: surname, given name, age, relationship to the head of the household, townland, parish, page number of the original transcription, and, on occasion, remarks such as "widow," "gone to America," and so on.

Additional Irish Genealogy Sites

There are an enormous number of websites devoted to Irish genealogy, ranging from the sites of the largest repositories of Irish records, to those of genealogy societies and teams of researchers who have committed themselves to transcribing original Irish records, to those with the tiniest fragments of a personal family history. Following are some of the most popular Irish websites. We have not ranked them in any particular order; moreover, you owe it to yourself to hunt for the most appropriate sites for your research. A good place to start might be an official site like

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