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From the Archives: Irish Genealogy - You'll Need More Than Luck!

(In honour of St. Patrick's Day this week I will be reposting a series on Irish Genealogy. I began this series last year and will be adding to this series in the weeks to come. However, this week we will take a look at how to start your genealogy along with some of the best websites on the internet today for searching your Irish Genealogy.)

We have all heard that old saying “the luck of the Irish.” After spending the last few years researching my Irish family history I am hard pressed to buy into this. The Irish witnessed over 1000 years of invasion, colonization, exploitation, starvation and mass emigration. Hard to imagine there was any luck going on. As a result, many family historians researching their Irish ancestors aren’t having much luck themselves.

One of the most difficult branches of my family tree has been my elusive Irish ancestors. Years ago, when I began my research and new little about Irish records, I was told I would not find the documents I was looking for because “they all burned.” Well, that person was right, and wrong. What I have come to discover is just this --- the secret to finding your Irish ancestors lies in knowing three important things about your ancestors:

1. What area of Ireland did they originate from,
2. What was their religious orientation
3. And the period in which they lived in Ireland.

After identifying these three facts, you then need to educate yourself on the Irish records that are available.

The person who told me there was a fire was in fact correct. They were referring to the burning of the Dublin Public Records office in 1922 during the Irish Civil War. The Irish Public Records located in the western block of the Four Courts, was used as an ammunition store by the Four Courts garrison. It was the centre of a huge explosion, blowing to pieces one thousand years of Irish state and religious archives. The greatest loss to family historians was the census records from 1821 to 1851, and for that reason, the earliest available complete census records begin in 1901.
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The 1861-91 censuses were destroyed by government order during WWII because of the Pulp Initiative.

However, with some education and resourcefulness not all is bleak. Some records survived the fire, and many other records such as civil birth, marriage and death records for various time periods do exist but they are not easily accessible to armchair genealogists.

It has taken me several years to get a handle on Irish records, and I presume that if I had this much trouble many others are just as confused. In this series of posts on Irish Genealogy, I hope I can help a few readers understand the lay of the land when it comes to finding your Irish family history.

In future posts, we will look at the makeup of Ireland understand the Counties, Unions, Baronies, Parishes and Townlands and how to find where your ancestors lived. We will look at where to find census records (those that do exist) and census record substitutes that may help fill in the gap for those loss records. We will look at civil and church records including birth, marriages and death certificates and where to find these elusive records. We will also look at wills and land deeds.

All the while, we will create a list of key online websites in finding your Irish ancestors. As armchair genealogists, our primary focus will be online resources, since most of us are not heading to Ireland anytime soon. (Although it’s on my bucket list.)

Online Irish websites are just as fragmented and confusing as the country itself. There seems to be no one website that covers it all. No, not even Ancestry or Family Search have all the Irish records you are looking for, perhaps in the near future??? In future weeks, we will take a closer look at the websites that can help and what they offer, as we build The Irish Armchair Link List.

Irish Genealogy can be one of the most frustrating, patchy and elusive set of records to uncover. The key to finding your Irish ancestors is in understanding what records do exist and where to find them. I hope I can help.

(By the way, during the gold rush in the United States, many Irish and Irish Americans became successful miners. It is believed the term “ luck of the Irish” was a result of their finding fortune. It carries with it a certain tone of mockery, as if to say, only by pure luck , as opposed to smarts could an Irishman succeed.)