Four "Irish Genealogy" Tips for Americans


4 Tips to Start Your Irish Genealogy

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In honor of St. Patrick’s Day here are my top tips for Americans who want to research their Irish roots. Most of these apply to any genealogical research topic so your 1/365th Irish heritage counts.

1. “Irish genealogy” is still genealogy.

Whether you are getting started in genealogy or just starting the Irish part of your genealogy you need to have a good, preferably excellent, background in basic genealogical principals. Don’t get so caught up in anything labeled (or not labeled) “Irish” that you miss developing the core skills every genealogist needs.

At its root, all genealogy is done the same way. If you do a poor job with the universal skills no amount of specialized knowledge or records can overcome that.

2. Don’t assume Irish research is easier or harder.

You may have heard rumors about Irish research being easy (usually related to the quantity of records kept by the Catholic church) or hard (usually related to the destruction of Irish records).

Don't avoid research because you think it will be hard or become discouraged because it isn't easy. How hard or easy any research project is depends solely on the researcher’s skills and the subject of the research.

3. Don’t try and jump the pond too soon.

This may be the number one problem for Americans who “know” their ancestor’s ethnic origin before they even start researching, Irish or not.

I've typed “know” in quotations because family lore is full of mistakes, misconceptions, mis-remembering, and out-right lies. One of the universal genealogy principals is to start with what you know and work back in time. This time “know” means “know.”

Test What You "Know"

Here's a generic test of what you really know, no genealogy knowledge required.

Could you find your parents in a phone/city directory when they were 25?

You need...

  • their name,
  • what year they were 25,
  • and the location to search.

You also have to be able to tell them apart from anyone of the same name or recognize them with a variation of their name or misspelled name. Now can you do the same for your grandparents, great-grandparents, etc.? Do you have that level of knowledge of your Irish ancestor?

There may not be a phone book or city directory entry for them in Ireland, but you need the same type of knowledge before you start researching there.

Additionally, you need the knowledge to identify potential records to check and the skills to understand what information a record gives you.

A lot of genealogical frustration is due to “jumping the pond” too soon and consequently being unable to identify your person in that time and place. Back-up and ask yourself what you really know.

4. Know what kind of “Irish” your ancestor is.

This is a variation on number three. Most Americans who “know” they are Irish before they start researching descend from more recent Irish immigrants. These would be the people we think of as Irish-American.

In contrast, some families maintain oral history about their "Irish" ancestors but this may refer to Scots-Irish, who are protestant.

Besides religion, here's a clue, these are usually older immigrants and often the details of the immigration are very vague. You’d be wasting your time scouring Catholic church records for your Irishman if he is Scots-Irish.

If you follow sound research principals it won’t matter what type of “Irish” your family is because you’ll figure it out along the way.

Researching your Irish ancestors can be fascinating. However, it can be more frustrating if you make assumptions and try to take shortcuts.

In summary:

  • Create a sound base of genealogical research skills.
  • Don't assume.
  • Know your facts, starting with yourself and working back in time.