Traveling to learn about your Irish heritage is fun way to connect with your ancestors and explore the country. Spend some time before you go researching your family to get the most out out of your trip. Here are some ideas to help you get started. 

Irish emigration spans several centuries and would-be Irish genealogists often hit dead ends because of missing or incomplete records. Two pivotal events decreased the availability of historic records from Ireland. The first was the partition of Ireland in 1921 when the country’s administrative functions were split between Belfast and Dublin. The second was the 1922 Four Courts Fire in Dublin. Wills, legal court records, Church of Ireland parish records, and Census information from 1821 to 1851 (the time of the potato famine and massive emigration) were destroyed in the fire. Nevertheless, many other sources for research remain both in Ireland and the U.S.

Before You Go to Ireland

  • Before heading to Ireland, thoroughly exhaust sources at home. Dig through family members’ basements, attics or garages for long forgotten boxes of pictures or documents which could yield a treasure trove of information. Talk to living relatives to uncover long forgotten memories and write down any names or locations mentioned. Use that information to piece together a timeline of your family’s voyage and resettlement.
  • The Catholic church played a big role in Ireland and children were frequently named with Catholic Saints in mind. Many researchers become frustrated because of the recurrent use of the same first name paired with common surnames. One solution is to look for less common first names in the family tree and start the search there.
  • When searching for common surnames use a locality in Ireland to differentiate people with the same last name. Moving around is a modern day thing and most families stayed in the same geographic locations for hundreds of years. Pinpointing a particular geographic region will help narrow the search.
  • Be aware of name variants and the possibility your surname changed over the ages. Check for alternate spelling in an Irish surname dictionary. One source is www.behindthename.com or the “Oxford Dictionary of Family Names in Britain and Ireland,” available at bookstores or some libraries.
  • Knowing where a family member emigrated from will make finding vital records such as birth, marriage, and death certificates from local sources easier to find. Neighborhood churches, municipal governments, and the Census might provide records and clues.

Check Passenger Manifests

Use passenger lists to locate a person’s city or town of origin. Many great online resources are available to search by name and date of passage. A few examples:
Famine Emigrants:

  • A 1846-1851 database at the National Archives (www.archives.gov) allows access to information regarding 700,000 Irish Famine Immigrants.
  • Ancestry.com: The website provides access to Boston, Philadelphia, New Orleans, and Baltimore Ship Passenger Lists.

Ask the Neighbors

If your family’s region of origin continues to elude you, use their new world neighbors to help narrow down the search. Identify where your family lived after arriving and a few neighbors using census information or vital records. Often, people from the same village, city, or town relocated together or to the same place in a new country.

Collaborate with others

Attend a conference or join a genealogy or historic society for advice and resources. Much of the information you need is out there, researched and (possibly) shared by a long lost relative. Here are few ideas to get you started.

Use Government Sources 

Search government sources in the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland to help with your search. Irish Genealogy.ie is a site from the National Archives that provides free Irish genealogy information and education. Aimed at high school students, the website provides historic records of births, marriages and deaths from the General Register Office.

Hire someone to do the research

Irish Family History Foundation Genealogy Centre will do the work for you. (www.rootirlenad.ie). Eneclann located at Trinity College in Dublin is an award-winning history and heritage company that offers Irish genealogy and history research services. (www.eneclann.ie)


The Boston College Database of Advertisement for Irish Immigrants published in the Boston Pilot from October 1831 to October 1921 offers an amazing look into the world of Irish immigration during the 19th and early 20th centuries. The database contains more than 41,000 advertisements from friends and relatives looking for a “lost” loved one. The listings often contain extensive information about the missing person’s life, including a physical description, parish of birth, when they left Ireland and arrived in the North America, and occupation. (https://libguides.bc.edu/irishgenealogy)

It will take some work, but traveling to discover your Irish heritage is worth the effort. 

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