The complete guide to Irish genealogy Bespoke Genealogy

Whether you’ve been researching your Irish roots for years or are just about to start, you’ll know that Irish genealogy is not easy. In theory, Ireland’s family history records should be as good as they are in England or Scotland as it was part of the United Kingdom until 1922. Sadly, due to a number of reasons and events, not least the 1922 Public Records Office fire in Dublin, many key records were destroyed.

However, all is not lost by any means. Many important records still survive and other (lesser known) records can be used as substitutes for some of the ones lost. With records being added to online collections every week, there has never been a better time for Irish genealogy research.

Irish genealogy is a bit more complicated than in other Western countries and requires some lateral thinking and probably a greater understanding of the environment our ancestors lived in. But it should be possible to do if you can find some key facts such as who your immigrant ancestor was, the name he/she used in Ireland, his/her religion in Ireland and where he/she came from exactly.

This guide is mostly a collection of some of the best articles on Irish genealogy and history on the web (and a few of mine) and should help with your research. The first section looks at some of the key periods and events in Irish history. I believe that having a basic understanding of Irish history can help with your genealogy research. Knowing about the potato famine, for example, explains why there were so many Irish immigrants into the US and Canada in the mid 1800s.

The next section looks at the preparation work you can do to get started on finding your Irish roots. I follow that with a few books I use (and recommend) which may help with your research. There are then a couple of articles that explain the 1922 fire, describe the records that were lost and the implications for genealogy.

There are then articles looking at the major records sets and how to access them. Finally, the last section has some articles linking to many useful resources.

I hope you find these articles useful.


Irish History

Ireland has had a long and troubled history. Knowing this history can explain why some genealogy records were kept or are missing or can encourage you to check whether certain records exist. These articles mostly look at key periods or events in Irish history.

Getting Started in Irish Genealogy

Starting your Irish genealogy journey can be difficult. These articles should help you do some preparation and understand what problems you are likely to face before you start your research.

Books I use for Irish Genealogy

Here are four Irish Genealogy books I use and recommend that can help you with your research:

John Grenham – Tracing your Irish Ancestors

See it on Amazon here

If you only buy one Irish genealogy book, this is the one I would recommend. It is really three books in one. Firstly it is a directory of the records available for Irish research; secondly it’s a guide that takes you though the different types of records and shows you how to make the most of them; and finally it’s an Irish Catholic Parish directory (with maps) showing what records survive by year and where they can be accessed.

You need to bear in mind though that the current (4th) edition of this book was published in 2012. Since publication, some key Irish record sets have become available on line such as civil birth, marriage and death records on   and Catholic parish records on the National Library of Ireland site. However, this book is so useful you shouldn’t let that put you off. If you see a record set of interest in the book that is not showing as being available online, just Google it to see if it is now.

Claire Santry – The Family Tree Irish Genealogy Guide

See it on Amazon here

This book is not as detailed as John Grenham’s above, but it is still a good overview of the main record types available and how they can be accessed. It was published in 2017 so most of the online links are relevant. The book is aimed at North Americans with Irish ancestry.

Claire Santry writes the excellent Irish Genealogy News blog.

Ian Maxwell – Your Irish Ancestors

See it on Amazon here

Although originally published in 2008 (this is a 2014 reprint), I would still recommend it as more than half of it is devoted to a social history of Ireland which helps put things into context.

Brian Mitchell – A New Genealogical Atlas of Ireland

See it on Amazon here

Brian Mitchell’s atlas was first published in 1986 and this is the 2nd edition. It contains maps for all of the 32 counties in the Republic of Ireland as well the 9 in Northern Ireland. There are at least four maps for every county:

  • Civil and Church of Ireland parishes
  • The baronies and Church of Ireland dioceses
  • Poor law unions and the parishes included within the probate districts of the county
  • Roman Catholic parishes and dioceses
  • Presbyterian congregations for the nine Northern Ireland counties

More Irish genealogy books can be found here.

The 1922 Public Records Office Fire

The 1922 explosion and fire in the Public Records Office in Dublin which resulted in the loss of priceless records is of course the main reason why Irish genealogy is not as straightforward as it could be. These articles explain this event and its implications to family history.

The next sections look at some of the key record sets:

Civil Records

Civil registration began in Ireland in 1845 with non Catholic marriages and for all births, marriages and deaths from 1864.

Census Records

The first census in Ireland was taken in 1821, but sadly little remains of this and later ones until the 1901 returns.

Church Records

With the loss of most of the pre-1901 census returns and with civil registration in Ireland starting relatively late, surviving church records are often the only records that can be accessed for some ancestors.

Property and Land Records

Many property and valuation records in Ireland survive and have become incredibly useful for genealogy research. Some records, like the Griffiths Valuation have become census substitutes.

Wills and Probate

Even if wills themselves have not survived, many related documents such as indexes and probate calendars have.

Emigration Records

A huge proportion of the Irish population has emigrated over the years, mainly to escape famine, poverty and religious persecution. These articles look at the implications of this and the records generated in Ireland and some of the destination countries.

Historical Newspapers

Newspapers can be a very useful source of genealogical information, especially for birth, marriage and death announcements as well as for obituaries.

Military Records

A high proportion of Irish men served in the British army, not just in Irish regiments, but also throughout the force. Surviving military records can therefore be very useful for your research.

Other Resources

For more Irish genealogy see:

Happy researching!


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