Note: I first published this summary of my experiences researching my Irish genealogy on the Geni Forums four years ago. Geni has since discontinued the forums, so here is the post in its entirety.
Finding your Irish Ancestors for Free
Sean Feeney - 7 July 2007
Note: This concerns my experience tracing ancestors in County Sligo, Ireland. Your experience may vary, and I’m sure each county is a bit different in terms of where they store their records but this should serve as a good guide.
Yes, the records are mostly free. All you’re paying for at the center is for someone to do your research for you. There is a reference library down the road from the central library which has the property records, like Griffith Valuations, and the census records. The central library doesn’t have anything. You’ll need to know the surname and exact location (not just the county). To get to the reference library, walk east along Stephens St. from the central library and turn right on Bridge St. The reference library will be on your left, about half way down the block. Hours: M-F 9:30-12:45, 14:00-16:45.
If you are unsure of the exact location, it might be listed on your ancestor’s birth record. To get a copy of birth, death, or marriage records, you’ll have to go to the Markievicz House (Health Services Board - HSE) up the road from the central library. Walk west along Stephens St. and take the first right up Holborn St. Veer left at the fork in the road and Markievicz will be on your left in a fenced off parking lot. It will cost you 6 euro for a research copy of a record. The location and the mother’s maiden name is about the only thing you’ll find of use on a birth record from the late 1800’s in Ireland – they did not include the parents’ dates and places of birth like we did in the United States. These records also only go back to 1864.
If you want maps, you’ll need to contact the Valuation office in Dublin. They can issue you a map based on the information in the first column of the Griffith Valuation for your ancestor’s land. It is located in the Irish Life Center on Lower Abbey St.
Source Material at the Sligo Reference Library
If all you’re doing is records research, it may be easier to base yourself out of Dublin. Aside from the Valuation Office, it also has the National Library, General Register Office, National Archives, Registry of Deeds, and various church libraries. Most of the Sligo Reference Library microfilms are just duplicates of the ones at the National Library.
My ancestors lived out in the country, not in Sligo town, and they were farmers. This being the case, the sources most helpful to me were the parish records, 1901 census, Griffith Valuation, tithe applotments, and graveyard inscriptions.
Overcoming the 1864 Brick Wall
Due to English invasions, most records prior to this time were destroyed. All we have before this time are the English records and the 1659 census, which just gives us an idea of where our surname was located at the time. Your best bet for overcoming this brick wall is using the parish records for as far back as they go and studying the graveyard inscriptions, which can easily go back to the late 1700’s, and talking to the people in the area.
Even if your name is a fairly common Irish name, I found that if you go to the area where your last known ancestor lived, you can find descendants whose word-of-mouth information can get you a good bit past 1864. The Irish have a long-standing tradition of oral story telling to relate information about ancestors and this continued into the twentieth century, albeit by this point the stories no longer involved magical folklore. This is good for genealogists as this lends more credence to the information nonetheless. The people in Ireland are incredibly nice and don’t mind you asking about family information, at least in the rural communities where everyone still waves to everyone as they drive by.
In my case, I just drove to the townland where I knew my ancestors lived and I started asking in the shops and pubs that proudly displayed my surname. Some customers pointed me in the right direction, and the third door I knocked on had a long-lost relative in it (from their perspective, I suppose, I’m the long-lost relative since the family that stayed in Ireland continued on after my grandfather came to America). Finding this relative allowed me to really grow out my tree, both upwards as I expected from this trip and to the side and downward, as I did not expect. Although I’m sure this cannot happen for everyone, if it happened for me it could happen for you.
Have you been successful finding information about your ancestors in Ireland using a source or method not listed in this article? Please add a comment about your experience!