Tracing Irish Roots an Uphill Struggle

If you are like millions of Americans, you can trace your roots back to Ireland, but even if you can’t, on St. Patrick’s Day you can become honorary Irish for the day.

Irish roots in the New World go back to Colonial days, but since 4.7-million Irish came to America between 1820 and 1920, this is the time period when you probably will discover your Irish family arrived on these shores. Irish research is not easy due to the destruction of the Record Tower in Dublin Castle in the early 18th Century and the disastrous 1922 fire in the Public Record Office, which nearly obliterated civil records. Successful research for Irish ancestors, therefore, depends in large part on access to parish records.

While the LDS (Mormon) Family History Library in Salt Lake City has many Irish records on microfilm--and you should start your search there--it does not have all the records. This library has a sizeable collection of Irish church records, but the majority are not yet microfilmed and can only be searched at the parish house or by an agent in Ireland. The most critical piece of information you need to continue your research in Irish records is a precise address--and the more common the surname you are researching, the more critical this advice is.

“Records that provide both names and definite addresses are therefore very valuable ways of linking people with places,” says James G. Ryan, author of “Irish Records: Sources for Family & Local History.” The two major records used for this purpose are “Griffith’s Valuation Survey” in the mid-1800s and the “Tithe Applotment Survey” in the early 1800s. Both of these are indexed in the “Surname Index” compiled by the National Library of Ireland, which indicated how many house/landholders with a particular family name were recorded in “Griffith’s Valuation Survey,” and also where (but not how many) landholders of that name are in the “Tithe Applotment Survey.”


“By examining the original records indicated in the index, the full names of those listed and the town in which they lived can be established,” he says. Ireland’s civil register of births, deaths and marriages, which starts in 1864, is a good source for genealogists seeking information about their families who came to America in the 19th Century. If you know when the parents of your immigrant died, their death certificates may give the family’s home address. Marriage certificates will reveal the addresses of both partners, and birth records also indicate the parents’ address. In Ryan’s new book, ($38.95 ppd. from Ancestry, Inc., 350 South 400 East, Salt Lake City, Utah 84110), each chapter (arranged alphabetically by county) has a brief history with genealogically significant dates and events. The author discusses what records survive, where they are located, and in the case of the church records, the address and name of the current clergyman--everything a researcher needs to locate specific types of records. Maps accompany each county.

Another valuable source, seldom utilized by researchers, is Irish newspapers. Ryan has included data on them, plus information about commercial and social directories, censuses, wills and administrations, and gravestone inscriptions in this outstanding new book, which will enable many researchers to find their Irish ancestors.