If you have Irish ancestors, you’ve probably noticed that it is not that easy finding them. At least it’s not as easy as finding Scottish, English or Welsh ancestors. The main reason for this is that many records no longer exist in Ireland, especially pre 1901 census records. However, there are others available to the researcher, including historic free Irish vital records (birth, marriage and death civil registration records). The great thing about these records is that you can download copies of original documents at no cost. This is unlike the General Register Office for England and Wales and Scotland’s People where you have to pay for your copies.
Civil Registration in Ireland
Civil registration began in Ireland in 1845 with non Catholic marriages and for all births, marriages and deaths from 1864. Note that before 1922 Ireland meant the whole of the island. After partition in 1922, the counties of Antrim, Armagh, Down, Fermamagh, Londonderry and Tyrone became Northern Ireland and remained part of the United Kingdom, while the rest of Ireland became the Republic.
The Irishgenealogy.ie website is owned by the Irish Ministry of Culture and is where you can access the historic records of births, marriages and deaths of the General Register Office. Records available online cover the following years:
Births: 1864 – 1921
Marriages: 1845* – 1946
Deaths: 1871** – 1971
*Note: Marriage records go back to 1845 for non-Catholic marriages only. Civil Roman Catholic marriage records began in 1864.
**Note: Death records will eventually go back to 1864, so keep checking!
The information on the records is not as comprehensive as, say, Scottish records but you do get the following:
Pre-1900 – Superintendent Registrar’s District and area, name of child and year of birth. From 1900 the child’s date of birth and mother’s maiden name was also included.
The post 1870 marriages have the Registrar’s District and place of marriage as well as the date of marriage, names of both parties, age is frustratingly usually recorded as “full” on the copies I’ve seen, marital condition, occupation, residence (only town is usually recorded) and names and occupations of fathers.
Only the registration district, name, age at death and year of death are recorded on these records.
Search for Irish civil records on IrishGenealogy.ie here.
Note that although this is a Republic of Ireland website, records for the whole of the island until 1922 are available. For Northern Irish records after 1922, you need to use the GRONI website (General Register Office of Northern Ireland) which unfortunately is a pay per view site like Scotland’s People.
For an overview of Irish Parish Registers, see my post here. And for an in-depth look at Irish Roman Catholic Parish Records see this article.
I’ve also written about Irish Censuses here.
For more Irish genealogy see:
- Find your Irish Ancestry
- 125 Free Irish Genealogy Online Resources
- Irish Genealogy Links
- Irish Genealogy Blog
And for more Irish genealogy articles, please visit the Ireland page here.
Good luck with your Irish research!
For further reading on Irish genealogy, you may be interested in the following books:
More genealogy books can be found in the Resources section of this website.
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I am eighty years old, I have tried for years to try and discover my great grandfather and mothers Irish roots. without success. I DOUBT I WILL DO SO AT THIS LATE AGE.
The whole family moved to England during the Potato Famine. Or around that time. Timothy McKiernan born 1834-5 Wife Margaret May of married before leaving Ireland. They ended up settling down in Darlington. having in all six children The oldest Robert was my grandfather. I have no knowledge of what part of Ireland they came from. The census just says Ireland. Christened Catholics
Olga, I just sent you an email.
Can you please help. My Grandmother, Annie Mulhern’s, GraND father Laurence was arrested and spent 4 years in Sligo jail for trying to break someone out of that jail in 1894. At the time of his arrest he said he was 65. They spelled his name Mulherin. Who was he trying to break out of jail?
Newspapers are probably the best bet for finding information about your ancestor. The British Newspaper Archive has the Sligo Champion newspaper available online. See ad top left of this page for access and a discount until 17th March. BTW you can access the same collection via FindMyPast and can sign up for a 14 day free trial; see add below BNA top left.
Failing that, you will probably need to access court or police records. I suggest you contact Sligo Archives http://www.sligolibrary.ie/Archives/ or the County Sligo Heritage and Genealogy Centre http://www.sligoroots.com/ to see what physical records are available and whether someone can do a look up for you. There will probably be a charge to do this.
Hope this helps.
I have tried, unsuccessfully, for a long time to find out where my great great grandparents came from in Ireland. I know that his name was Michael Skiffington and she was Mary Ann(e) Quinn. They came to Philadelphia, PA around the time of the potato famine. They were living in Philadelphia in 1848 as that is when their first child was born. I know that Michael had three brothers, Francis, Felix and Bernard. I have traced all the records I can find on all four of them but the records all list them as being from Ireland. They went to St. Michael’s Church in Philadelphia, but I don’t know if they were catholic or if they attended St. Michael’s because it was the closest church. I’ve about given up hope of ever being able to find out where they came from or finding out more about them.
It’s unlikely that your ancestors were protestant if they attended a Catholic Church. Often Catholics faced discrimination and would attend protestant churches to avoid being labelled, but it’s rare that it’s ever the other way round.
So, if the Skiffingtons were Catholics, the best bet for finding them in Ireland would be with Catholic Parish Registers. Most of these survive and can be accessed for free online at https://search.findmypast.com/search-world-records/ireland-roman-catholic-parish-baptisms . Michael Skiffington seems to be a fairly common name, but you might be able to find all 4 brothers in the same parish as well as Michael and Mary’s marriage.
Failing that, check out John Grenham’s site https://www.johngrenham.com/index.php to see which area of Ireland Skiffington is most common in, this may lead to other clues.
I was told by my Mother that she didn’t know who my father was! Separated from her husband, she had a fling. She told me he was Irish. I have always had a secret desire for anything Irish. I had my DNA done and was happily astonished to find out my ancestry was 42% Irish; 12% British and the rest Portuguese, African 7% and a small amount Scandinavian. Totalling 93% European.
Sadly, she never told me his name. I do have a picture of a man holding me in 1948. I have compared his facial features to mine and found a significant likeness!
I would like to know if is possible to find out his name with so little information?
Yes it is sometimes possible to find the names of parents with DNA testing. If a close relative of your father has also done a DNA test and posted the results on Ancestry DNA, Family Tree DNA, 23&Me etc then you’ll find a match and maybe able to work out who your father was through their family tree. It’s a good idea to also post your results on GEDMatch https://www.gedmatch.com/login1.php as well as your testing company’s site.
Amelia lindsay- lindrey or lindrey married a George Thomson from Peterhead scotland in Melbourne about 1860/61. We have never been able to find a marriage certificate so it is possible there was no marriage. They then came to New Zealand for hold. We believe amelia was born in Dublin. The family story is that her parents were killed in an road accident in Dublin. It is thought she was taken in by the family whose fault the accident was. He is presumed english/scotish. We can find no trace of any records. There has been 3 of us searching but all come up blank. Can you help in any way. Seems a long complicated story. We have found George Thomson family and peterhead was his birthplace. He was a master mariner.
This is a difficult one; I feel for you. If the story about the Dublin road accident is true, then it should have been reported in the newspapers. See my post about Irish online newspapers for sources. Have you checked Ireland and Scotland for marriage records? If they had a Catholic marriage in Ireland before 1870, there won’t be a civil record, so you will have to look for a parish record. See my post about Irish Parish Registers to see how you can access them for free online. Good luck!
Dont be so quick to dismiss a family attending a nearby church, my British ancestors had Baptismsl and wedding certs from a German Lutheran Church in Manhattan, since yhey were in no way German or appsrently Lutheran this was puzzlong, til we discovered that the fsmily loved next door to the Church and became fast friends eith yhe Pastor. They were also supposed yo ho on a Church outing by boat around Manhattan, til one of my Great Aunts had a dream that said DONT GO, they stayed home the boat burned, and 1300 mostlt eomen and children died the largest single day death yoll in NYC til 9/11. You never know!!
Have tried for yearsvto locate my husband’s greatbgrandfather’s birth records. His name was Patrick Cullen. BORN IN 1806 in Ross Cork Ireland. Migrated to New Brunswick Canada in about 1823. HOPE YOU CAN HELP
1806 was well before civil registration in Ireland, so births then would have been recorded in parish registers. Cork & Ross is a Roman Catholic Diocese. Most of the surviving RC parish birth registers have been digitized and can be accessed for free on the National Library of Ireland website here https://registers.nli.ie/. However, you need to know which parish the birth was registered in as you can only browse the registers by parish on the NLI site. However, there is a name index for these registers which can be searched for free on findmypast.com. If you can find the details on FMP, you can find the register.
If you have no luck with the NLI registers, you can contact the C&R Diocese to see if they can help. Details are here http://corkandross.org/genealogy/ They request a donation to the church for any help given.
You should be aware that many RC registers do not start until well after 1806, some not until the 1830s, so you may not be lucky.
My three times great grandfather was born in Cork around 1802, his name was William Ireton. He came to England, married an English girl and spent the rest of his life in England. He was Protestant so I am at a loss as to how to go about finding anything about his origins in Ireland, especially his parents. Can you help please. He may have had a younger brother called John.
If William was a member of the Anglican Church in England then he was probably baptized in the (established) Church of Ireland. Unfortunately, nearly half of the CofI parish records were destroyed in the 1922 fire at the Records Office in Dublin. Most surviving records are not online, so it’s best to contact the CofI RCB Library: https://www.ireland.anglican.org/about/genealogy to find out and get advice.
If your ancestor was a member of another church in England, like the Methodists, then you should contact that church in Ireland.
My husband’s great-grandfather and his brother came to New York City about 1872. John Joseph Christie and David Christie. John Joseph ended up in Henderson Station, Tennessee, where he married and started a family, later moving to Jackson, Tennessee. David supposedly stayed in New York and never married. J.J. was a painter and opened a paint and decorating store in Jackson. He also designed ceilings in homes in the area. They left Ireland from Drogheda, but it’s been hard to find a ship’s record with them on it. I wonder how to narrow it down, and I wonder if they lived in Drogheda, or just went there to leave Ireland. I have a letter received by J. J. from his father, also John Joseph. My late husband was John Joseph Christie IV, better known as Jack, Jr. Thank you for any suggestions!
If the Christie brothers arrived in New York around 1872, then they almost certainly came in via Castle Garden. These passenger lists can be found on Family Search as their New York Passenger Lists, 1820-1891 collection here: https://www.familysearch.org/search/collection/1849782. However, these lists are not very detailed and will probably only list Ireland as their place of origin.
According to the John Grenham site: https://www.johngrenham.com/findasurname.php?surname=Christie ; the Christie surname is most common in Ireland in counties Antrim and Derry. You could try searching the Catholic parish baptism registers in these areas (for free) on Findmypast.com and cross referencing David and John Joseph to see if you can find them.
If you haven’t already done so, I would also recommend looking for any information in the US that might help, like obituaries in newspapers. You might even find an obituary in an Irish newspaper.
My maiden name is McGowan, spelled like your name. My dad said his family originally came from County Cavan. His family moved to Canada and eventually to Michigan, where I was born. I am using Ancestry.com and looking to locate where my great, great, great grandfather was from. His name was William Duff, Esquire. He was a landowner in Ireland, but I’m not sure where. Any suggestions where to begin?
Thanks for your comment Beth. Firstly, congratulations on having a great maiden name! My grandfather was born in Londonderry BTW, so not too far away from Co. Cavan.
I recommend thoroughly researching the Duff family in the US before looking at Ireland. Look for clues that link them to a place in Ireland. Don’t leave any stone un-turned. That means researching siblings, spouses and children, direct and indirect lines. Also look at neighbors on census records. The Irish often settled in the US close to members of their own community from the same area. Also spread your net wider than Ancestry. Newspapers, for example, can yield valuable clues. The best US collection of historic newspapers is probably GenealogyBank: https://www.genealogybank.com/ . You can sign up for a 7-day free trial. See also my post on free newspapers https://bespokegenealogy.com/where-to-find-free-online-historical-newspapers/ for links.
When you’re ready to look at Ireland, Findmypast has probably got the best Irish records of any of the database sites. If William was a land owner there should be estate records and wills to find. FMP has collections of these records. If you’ve never had a Findmypast subscription before, you can take out a 14-day free trial with FMP. See the ad above.
It has been a long road researching my great grandparents. From obituaries I know that John Finnegan came from county Cavan and Mary Alice Morrisey from Dungarvin, Waterford county . No records of them in Ireland that I can find. I have his parent’s name Dan Finnegan and Ellen King Finnegan. Only James Morrisey shows in the marriage records in Montana.
I can’t find them on a passenger list or birth or baptism in Ireland.
No one in my family asked John any questions about Ireland. I would like so much to have a firm record of where they are from and their families in Ireland.
Thanks for your comment Colleen. You haven’t mentioned any dates, but if John and Mary were born after 1864, there should be a civil birth record. See the link in the post above to search. You need to search for all name variants. According to Johngrenham.com there are around 40 different variants of Finnegan, including O’Finegan and Phenigan.
If they were born before 1864, then you obviously need to find Church records. You can access the Roman Catholic indexes for free on Findmypast. The actual images are on the National Library of Ireland site: https://registers.nli.ie/ . In most cases, the records will be in Latin, so John will probably be recorded as Johannes or Joannes.
Findmypast has an extensive collection of Irish records. You can sign up for a free 14-day trial, see the article above.
Look for friends and neighbours on documents in the US. On census returns and witnesses on marriage records etc. Often Irish immigrants settled with people they knew from their own communities back home, so you may find clues here.
If your budget allows, I would also recommend joining the Green Room at https://youririshheritage.com/ . You can find lots of resources and ask an Irish based genealogist questions in the forum.
I’ve been searching for my Irish ancestors for years, they came from Donegal, and I have records for 4 births from the Donegal Church of Ireland dating from the first born in 1825. Is there any way to search for the marriage records of the parents? The father is Robert Nelson and the wife’s name was Ann Virtue. They came to Quebec Canada about 1840.
Unfortunately, most pre-1845 Church of Ireland parish registers were destroyed by the fire in the Dublin Public Record Office in 1922. Registers or transcripts for some parishes do still survive. If you know the parish in Donegal where your ancestors came from, you can download the list of surviving registers on the CofI RCB Library website here: https://www.ireland.anglican.org/about/rcb-library/list-of-parish-registers . This list also shows their locations. Good luck!
I have been researching my very elusive Enright family. John Enright was born around 1820 in County Limerick according to family folklore. He married Mary Hayes or Hogg Or Hynes (different children’s baptism certificate recorded it differently,) I don,t know where or when they left Ireland, if they were married prior to he crossing, where they landed in Canada. Heir eldest son Thomas was born n St. Catharines in 1847. John worked for Skickluna Shipyards in St. Catharines for over 30 years. He lived on site. They raised five other children Anna (1852), Marion (1853), James (1859), Dennis (1860) and William (1866). They we’re very fervent Roman Catholics. John and Mary died n 1902 and are buried in St. Catharines, ontario. Is there a government source that might answer my questions of arrival in Canada?
Thanks for your comment. The Library and Archives Canada website has free online immigration records here: https://www.bac-lac.gc.ca/eng/search/Pages/ancestors-search.aspx . You might be lucky, but many records from the first half of the 19th century haven’t survived. You can also check land and military records on this site. I would also recommend checking local newspapers, especially to see if there was an obituary published for John or Mary. Sometimes, these mention where the person was born.