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irish genealogy difficult

Why is Irish genealogy so tricky?

Picture of Niall Cullen - Senior Content Strategist
Niall Cullen
3 February 2020

There's no denying that Irish family history research can be challenging. To help, we've put together these handy tips for getting over the toughest of hurdles.

If you've made any progress in tracing your Irish ancestors, there are certain road bumps you've undoubtedly met on your journey.

Search Irish records

Let's take a look at the most common issues and help you get past them.

1. Missing Irish census records

The vast majority of Ireland's 19th-century census records were destroyed in a fire at the Public Records Office of Ireland in 1922. Only fragments survive. So, unlike in the UK or USA, you can't keep track of your 19th century Irish ancestors every ten years in census records.

Instead, you'll need to explore substitutes and other land records from the time. Findmypast has a really useful collection of these records, including:

You can also explore other Irish records from the 19th century to plug the gaps. Street directories, court registers and workhouse records are particularly valuable.

2. Civil registration started later in Ireland

When compared to England and Wales, civil registration began relatively late in Ireland. Births and marriages were registered from 1864. Non-Catholic marriages were registered from 1845 with Catholic marriages also beginning in 1864. Obviously, this means there are no birth, marriage and death records for any event before those dates. Ireland's parish records are the main source you'll need to overcome this problem.

Findmypast holds over 10 million Irish Catholic Parish Registers, covering the entire island. Coverage varies by parish but most of these date back into the 18th century.

3. Irish placenames

One of the most common problems researchers tracing Irish roots are faced with is the myriad of placenames encountered. Administrative districts in Ireland have changed over time so you'll need to know the difference between a parish, townland, civil registration district, barony and county.

Ireland registration district map

While there is no quick fix to this problem, our handy civil registration districts map above will help you to see how some districts cross county borders. As soon as you have pinpointed an Irish ancestor to a location, it is worth doing some research into the placenames in that area so you can interpret them correctly as you find more family records.

4. Getting back further in Irish family history

A classic challenge for Irish family researchers, a combination of the above problems means that tracing your ancestors back into 18th-century Ireland and beyond can be tricky. But there is always hope. Findmypast have some fantastic Irish resources dating back to medieval times and earlier, that you may not have considered searching. Highlights of our early Irish records include:

5. Irish naming patterns

There are certain anomalies associated with Irish names that you should be aware of as you strive to build your Irish family tree. Traditionally, most Irish families named their children as follows;

• The eldest son would be named after his paternal grandfather

• The second son would be named after his maternal grandfather

• The third son would be named after his father

• The fourth son would be named after his father’s oldest brother

There was also a similar pattern for naming Irish girls, although it wasn’t followed as closely as it was for boys.

Obviously, this means you'll find the same name popping up in families generation after generation. This can become confusing the further you go back so make you're focusing on the right ancestor by cross-referencing and double-checking all of your information.

Trace your Irish ancestry today

With more Irish family records than any other website, Findmypast gives you the best chance of overcoming these obstacles and finding out more about your Irish roots.