Trace Your Family Tree

Genealogy is the study of a family’s lineage. People might use genealogy to trace out their family trees, or simply to find a specific person in a family’s past and connect him or her to other members of that family. Genealogy is interested solely in who is in a family and who they are related to, as opposed to the more general study of family history, which might also track dates of birth and death, occupations held by family members and other important facts about their lives and deaths.

Historically, genealogy was a very important field, because family connections between nobility were crucial to the idea of inheritance and the passing down of titles and rulership. In many societies, for example, if a king had no direct heir, the next closest heir would have to be found. Detailed genealogical records ensured that the passing down of titles would never have to rely on incomplete facts. Despite this, many differing genealogies would often crop up, allowing multiple people to lay claim to a title of rulership or inheritance. Irish families, for example, use genealogical records to help rediscover family that has been separated for two or three generations, since their families emigrated from Ireland.

With the Internet, genealogy is now much easier to research than at any other time in history. Despite the rather large amount of false information and scams that pervade the online genealogical world, there are many legitimate and incredibly valuable resources available, allowing people who, fifty years ago, would have had to spend many years tracking down their family roots to do so in months, or even weeks. While genetic analysis isn’t entirely accurate, it is so close that it is considered by most people to be certain evidence of a family connection.

The following are some guide lines to help your research:

  • Work back from yourself, generation by generation linking each person through documentation where possible. Start with family papers and family stories. Write, or better yet, record older family members – oral tradition is a valuable source of information. Family papers and photographs are the foundation on which to build your research. While family stories and traditions can be a useful source of information you should try and confirm the veracity of the stories through reference to official records or other independent sources.
  • Having gathered information from family sources, the next step is to locate public documents referring to your ancestor. These may include birth, marriage or death certificates which are completed by the civil authorities and which record details of these events and other related information.
  • Wills, newspaper obituaries, local histories, pension and military records are all potential sources of information which can help provide information to assist in your search. This information is also of value in itself, of course, insofar as it can give background and colour to your ancestor.
  • Where your ancestor emigrated from Ireland, there may be passenger arrival or naturalization records which could provide vital pieces of information to help you narrow your search as you go back through the decades.
  • Census returns can often provide vital information also and for users seeking census records in Ireland, attention is drawn to the National Archives of Ireland which has computerised the 1901 & 1911 Census of Population returns and have made these available online free of charge.

What do you need to know to begin your search?

At least some of the following information would be essential in order to facilitate a successful search:

  • The name of the ancestor whose details may be contained in the record sources in Ireland.
  • Their approximate date of birth
  • The names of your ancestor’s parents or spouse
  • The county of your ancestor’s origin. Within each county there are various sub-divisions – one of the most commonly used is the parish, which can incorporate a number of townlands. If you have information on the parish or townland your ancestor came from, it would greatly assist in your search
  • Their religious denomination
  • Details of their trade or employment can be of assistance

Types of records

Many Irish records, in particular census and probate records, have been lost or destroyed (notably in the burning of the Irish Public Record Office in 1922). There are a number of different sources of records survive including Civil births, marriages and deaths, church records, land/property records, valuation office records and registry of deeds.

Church Records

You can contact Fr. Mattie Long on for church records in the Kilgeever Parish.

Civil births, marriages and deaths

In Ireland, civil registration began in 1864 with non-Catholic marriages being registered from 1845. Research facilities are available in Dublin and Belfast.

For information on the two General Register Offices click on:
Republic of Ireland General Register Office
Northern Ireland General Register Office

Church registers of baptisms, marriages and burials

Irish Census returns

Most have been lost for 19th century. Many of the 1901 and 1911 census returns are available at the National Archives of Ireland with the 1901 and 1911 returns now accessible free of charge on their website at

Griffith’s Valuation

The Primary Valuation of Ireland is more popularly known as Griffith’s Valuation after Sir Richard Griffith the Commissioner who surveyed Ireland between 1848 and 1864. Griffith’s Valuation provides the most completed guide to the location of surnames throughout Ireland in the years following the Great Famine. Search the records at:

Valuation Office records

Located in the Irish Life Centre in Dublin, the Valuation Office contains the rates or “real estate tax” records based on the Primary Valuation of Ireland. It is possible to trace the occupiers of land from the original survey until the present day. See: for further information. Rates books for the 6 northern counties are held in the Public Records Office of Northern Ireland.

Registry of Deeds

The Registry of Deeds was established in 1708 to regulate property transactions. Records were created by property owners and merchants and are indexed by Grantors and by the townland. The indexes are arranged by time period for each county.

Researching online

The Central Signposting index (C.S.I) contains links to over 3 million genealogical records which may help you trace that elusive Irish ancestor. If you are not certain of the county of origin of your ancestor this could help you make a start. Please note that there may be a charge on some of these websites.

Irish genealogical web sites

Major Record Repositories:

Church Records:

Organising your information

Once you have done some research at home and online there are a number of tools available to help you organise your information and build a family tree.

Family Trees

Building the family tree is the best way of organising the data you have uncovered from the first stage of your work, and is essentially a map of your roots. You can see at a glance how people in your family are related to one another, and even more importantly it will indicate uncertain or unknown areas that you’ll have to investigate further.

It is a good idea to regularly update your tree, especially after you have made a trip to the archives or obtained some information online – make sure you date the new version, and keep the old ones handy just in case you have made an error in your research. It is also advisable to take sections of your tree into the archives with you, as it can help you focus on the task in hand.

Various computer programmes are available to create family trees and assist you in organizing your research results. Remember to cite the sources you have checked and record on paper or in a computer programme. One good program is called Brother’s Keeper.

Here is a list of places which you can visit in Dublin to help with your research:

  • National Archives of Ireland. Has a wide range of archives, including census returns. They also provide a free ‘Ask the genealogist’ service.

National Archives, Bishop Street, Dublin 8, Tel: 01 4072300

  • National Library of Ireland. Contains many Roman Catholic registers.

The National Library of Ireland, Kildare Street, Dublin 2.
Tel: 01 6030200. Fax: 01 6612523

  • General Register Office. Contains civil registers of births, marriages and deaths.

3rd Floor, Block 7, Irish Life Centre, Lower Abbey Street, Dublin 1.
Tel: 01 6354000. Fax: 01 6354001.

  • Registry of Deeds. Contains details of property transactions

Henrietta Street, Dublin 1.
Tel: 01 8048429

  • Representative Church Body Library. Contains records of the Church of Ireland

Braemor Park, Dublin 14.
Tel: 01 492 3979

  • Religious Society of Friends Library. Contains Quaker records

Stocking Lane, Rathfarnham, Dublin 16.
Tel: 495 6890

  • Irish Jewish Museum. Contains records of the Jewish community in Ireland

3-4 Walworth Street, South Circular Road, Dublin 8.
Tel: 490 1857

What you can find in Belfast

  • Public Record Office of Northern Ireland. A source of genealogical material including Church records, Census returns, property details and national school records.

66 Balmoral Avenue, Belfast BT9 6NY.
Tel: (04890) 255905

  • Presbyterian Historical Society. Contains historical information about the Presyterian Church in Ireland

Church House, Fisherwick Place, Belfast BT1 6WD.
Tel: (048 90) 322284

Other records locations

  • The General Register Office, Roscommon is the central civil repository for records relating to Births, Deaths and Marriages in Ireland. It is concerned with civil registration matters only. Records of marriages other than Roman Catholic marriages date back to 1st April 1845. Records of Births, Deaths and Roman Catholic Marriages date back to 1st January 1864.

Government Offices, Convent Road, Roscommon.
Tel: +353 (0) 90 6632900. LoCall: 1890 252076. Fax: +353 (0) 90 6632999

Getting further help

There are many sources of advice and help available including professional genealogists and useful books.

  • Donal Begley, editor, Irish Genealogy, A Record Finder ( Dublin, Ireland: Heraldic Artists Ltd.,1981)
  • Kyle J. Betit & Dwight A. Radford, Ireland: A Genealogical Guide for North Americans, (Salt Lake City: Irish At Home and Abroad, 1995)
  • ffeary-Smyrl, Steven and Eileen Ò Dùill, Irish Civil Registration: Where Do I Start? ( Dublin, Ireland: The Council of Irish Genealogical Organizations, 21 St. Bridget’s Grove, Killester, Dublin 5 2000)
  • John Grenham, Tracing Your Irish Ancestors (Dublin, Ireland: Gill and Macmillan, third edition, 2006)
  • George B. Handran, CG, ed., Townlands in Poor Law Unions; a Reprint of Poor Law Union Pamphlets of the General Registrar’s Office (Salem, Massachusetts: Higginson Book Company, 1997)
  • Tony McCarthy, Irish Roots Guide, (Dublin, Ireland: The Lilliput Press, 1995).
  • Màire Mac Conghail and Paul Gorry, Tracing Irish Ancestors, A Practical Guide to Irish Genealogy, (Glasgow, Scotland: Harper Collins, 1997). Distributed in the United States by Roberts Rinehart Publishers, 6309 Monarch Park Place, Niwot, Colorado 80503.
  • Edward Mac Lysaght, The Surnames of Ireland, (Blackrock, Co. Dublin, Ireland: Irish Academic Press, reprinted 1991).
  • Brian Mitchell, A New Genealogical Atlas of Ireland, (Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Co., 3rd printing, 1992).
  • James G. Ryan, Irish Records, Sources for Family and Local History, (Glenageary, Co. Dublin, Ireland: Flyleaf Press, 1998).
  • James G. Ryan (editor), Irish Church records, (Flyleaf Press (Dublin) 2001. ).

Best of luck in your research.


Comments about this page

  • Great article Brige. I’ve been meaning to give this a try for my own family for a long time now. I thought with the advent of www it would be easy but alas knowing where to start is the real problem. It’s great that you have provided all the (hyper)links a person could want and all in the one article! Great stuff and best of luck with the new website. Jack D.

    By Jack Dolan (24/06/2011)

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