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Irish Genealogy:  Before You Go to Ireland

Marriage Alice Martin:O'Malley copy

    Are you thinking of heading off to Ireland to do some research some day?  If so, now is the time to start planning.  On my first trip to Ireland I didn’t know much about where our ancestors had come from, nor, for the most part, did I know much about genealogical research!  It was a fun trip, but after spending about two hours applying for Reader’s Cards for the National Library, alas, we  had no idea what to look for.  The librarian sent us to the General Register Office.  

    I’m sure you’ll be much more prepared before you begin your trip, but as I’ve stated many times, the most important piece of information when doing Irish research is the name of the townland where your ancestors lived.  It’s also, the most difficult piece of information to find.  If it does exist, it probably will be found in this country, so before your pack your bags, be diligent about searching for it.

    Most documents we see just state Ireland; sometimes you might have a county, but even that’s not enough if you have a common surname.  You need to search all documents that were created in this country: immigration, naturalization, church, land, probate, military, cemetery (and I mean the actual documents, not just indexes).  If you don’t find the information, identify any siblings and do the same search for them.  I once had a client where I found the place of origin in Ireland from a siblings 3rd great grandson.  If you don’t find the information with the siblings, try again with witnesses to church or legal documents or even neighbors.  

    When you request a record from a Catholic church, you will normally receive your response on a standard form.  The parish secretary will look at the register and copy the information to the form.  Don’t forget to request everything that’s in the record.  Many priests would not marry a couple unless they had proof of their baptism.  The letter above was clipped into the marriage register for Thomas O’Malley and  Alice Martin.  What are the chances I would have gotten the letter if I had not requested anything that might tell me where in Ireland Alice originated.  The letter giving the details of her baptism included the townland, parish, date of baptism and parents’ names.  A bonanza!  Perhaps you won’t find a letter, but there may be a note written in the margins of the register that the secretary would not copy (since there was no place on the form) if you didn’t ask.  

    If you can’t find the information, you  might be able to narrow down the area of your search if you have a couple that was married in Ireland (maybe even having some of their children there) and you know the wife’s maiden name.  Grenham’s Irish Surnames is a CD that allows you to put in two names, and find where those names overlap in the same civil parish.  Our ancestors were not particularly mobile in Ireland and stayed in the same area for generations.  They typically married someone from the same parish as well.  

    Even if you know the townland, it’s important to know something else about the family so you can confirm your researching the correct line.  Because of Irish naming patterns and the lack of mobility, you typically have multiple individuals living in the same area, with the same name, about the same age (and rarely will you have a firm age...we usually give ± 5 years)!  You need some additional corroborating details such as the parents names or the siblings.  If possible get the death and marriage certificates for the immigrant here...don’t just take a date from an index, you need to see the actual certificate.  Did the informant give the parents’ names on the death certificate?  Hopefully he/she knew the information but try to verify it with the marriage license.  This tends to provide more accurate information since we assume the bride and groom knew their parents’ names.

    So if you plan to research in Ireland next year (or even the year after), start collecting the information that will make your trip productive.

    Happy Hunting!


© Donna M. Moughty 2007- 2013