Are you barking up the wrong tree? Irish Family History Tips
Posted by Niamh Allabyrne on the 12th of October 2012 at 11:52:04
Have you been bitten by the Genealogy bug? Or has the prospect of starting your family tree left you in a cold sweat? Trying to start your family search can seem like an arduous task and people often get confused by where and how to start it. In my case, I decided to start with my paternal line and focused all my energies on my Dad’s family. And it was no mean feat – our surname despite being quite unusual, did not make the search any easier and I have counted some 22 variations of its spelling so far! I learned the hard way never to dismiss a “weird” spelling! However, my research has gone back even further than I could have imagined – (late 1600s) and has even turned up a few “new” cousins along the way. I am no expert, fumbled along and may have even barked up a few wrong trees, but here are some of my tips on how to begin researching your family tree.
- Pick a line to research – maternal or paternal – and then pick a surname to research ; don’t forget - you start off with say your Mom’s side, but then everything multiples and within a couple of generations you are looking at a serious amount of names and dates, so focus in on one parent and one surname.
- This is the happiest you will be on your journey! Collating the information that you already have in the family! A relatively easy task – excuse the pun! This is a great chance to meet with relatives, look at old photographs and letters and discuss the old family stories. Note everything down – sometimes the most random and bizarre stories have a ring of truth in them and like Chinese whispers over the years have simply evolved. Gather all the certificates you can – not just the standard births, baptismal, deaths and marriages, but also any educational, military and employment records, along with wills, letters and diaries as all will no doubt prove useful at some point.
- Find out where people are buried as gravestones can provide great information, so you may find yourself spending an odd Sunday or three rambling around various graveyards on your quest for ancestors!
- At this stage, you may have found perhaps small variations in the spelling of names – so to help you focus later on – perhaps note all these down now and add to it as you continue your research. There are lots of great research sites, so it a good idea to look for all variations of your surname when doing your research. You may be adamant that your name has only one r for example but two generations back perhaps that wasn’t the case and they used two. Don't dismiss a wrong spelling until you have proved it is not your ancestor! Also, some surnames of Irish origin (and some Scottish) may have lost/ dropped their O, Mc, Mac prefix, so always consider this when researching older records. And indeed, some people when arriving in North America, Canada or Australia were illiterate and names were spelt how they were spoken while others changed their name to a more Anglicised version, so again consider all the variations that you can!
- If your ancestors left Ireland, try and find their county of origin and perhaps even a village, town or townland. The common misconception is the Irish who left were mainly Roman Catholic however, Presbyterians and by a lesser degree other Protestant Denominations left in vast numbers too, with most Irish Americans being of a Scots Irish heritage rather than an Irish heritage. This is important factor when looking up church records, so do find out if you can!
- At this stage the next step is to see what information you have as this will effectively guide you to your next step. Write down all the information you have and see what you are missing and where you would be likely to find it. There are a great number of websites and books on the topic, so do some research on how to trace your ancestors from wherever you are in the world. With so many resources on-line, you really can find out an awful lot without having to physically trawl through dusty records! I would also encourage you to join on-line genealogy communities – people are so willing to help and share information and tips, and provide you with some great ideas!
- There are more and more records becoming available on-line from passengers lists to prison records, street directories, housing lists and censuses so do keep up-to-date with all the new resources.
- The logical step when looking for someone is working backwards generation by generation. However, if you are unable to find someone, perhaps skip a generation and try and find a parent or grandparent, or look sideways for their sibling and always think outside of the box. Spellings of names and places may be misspelled, dates may not be 100% accurate ( a good rule of thumb is to look 5 years before and after a date) so consider of all these options.
- It is all about organization and perseverance! Write down everything –even things that prove to be wrong, so you don’t find yourself being led the same merry dance at a later stage! It can be so easy to be discouraged especially when you realize that you are not on the right ancestral line, but don’t give up as the rewards can be great! When you do find your ancestors and learn of their struggles, triumphs and tragedies, it gives everything a new light and it certainly gave me a fierce new appreciation of who I was and where I came from.
So if you are looking for your Irish ancestors, the following are some great online resources for you to start. One important thing to note which has certainly added obstacles to Irish Genealogy is that in 1922 during the Civil War, the Irish Public Record Office was burned to the ground and with it Ireland’s 19th-century census returns, all probated wills and almost two thirds of the parish registers of the Church of Ireland. However, some of these lost records did have copies, and combined with the other sources from which to find information, you research will not in vain! Happy hunting!