If you are searching for family Irish roots, it’s likely you’ll become part historian, storyteller, and mostly a detective of family antiquities.
My late father late Martin J. Walsh Jr. of Murdock, Minnesota, captured images with his 35mm camera and Kodachrome slide film, including of a group of tourists searching for shamrocks in County Kildare, Ireland in 1953. This collection of images is now part of my family’s heritage and a way to connect to Irish culture.
He was searching for hints of our family’s origins during his travels. There are incredible resources available today from the comfort of home and a computer that my father could have never imagined.
It doesn’t matter if have been searching for years for the origins of your family or just starting, there’s always room for a few new pointers. There were many resources I was not aware of when I really put my genealogy search into full swing about 2010. I curated a free listing of about 100 resources to help search called Irish Genealogy Toolkit, found on my website, as a result of my genealogy search.
Since the start of my quest to find Irish roots, many church documents from Ireland are now available for searching for free online, along with a multitude of other resources. Below are ten pointers and resources to help launch a family history project today.
1. Getting started with genealogy, church documents
It’s an overwhelming task to get started discovering family roots as you will become, without knowing, a historian, a storyteller, but most importantly, a detective searching for any artifacts ancestors left behind decades or hundreds of years ago.
- Home and family, the starting point – The best place to start is to inquire and gather any genealogy work that’s been done previously at home and with your family. You might be amazed, or disappointed, that significant work has already been done. If you can’t find any previous work, you might be just the person your family needs and is calling to become the storyteller for your clan.
- Video, National Archives, Ireland – Watch informative videos on YouTube about Irish genealogy and documents from professional genealogist Nicola Morris at the National Archives, Dublin, Ireland. Hear it from a professional on starting an Irish genealogy search. If interested, view more videos on the YouTube channel of National Archives, Ireland.
- Guide, workbook – The National Archives of Ireland created a website and workbook in 2016 geared toward school children to learn about family history. After reviewing the resources, I found many of the items apply to just about anyone with little to no knowledge of Ireland and searching for genealogy, meaning most people start a search for Irish roots. View the 2016 Family History website, and download a free workbook.
- Irish Civil and Church documents: Roman Catholic, Church of Ireland, Presbyterian – Irish church and civil records from Department of Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, Ireland, official Irish website, are available to search at no cost. As of March 1, 2022, more historic births, marriages, and deaths were added to the collection by the General Register Office, Ireland. There is no cost to use website resources. Read more on the additional civil records at IrishGenealogy.ie. Search for church documents at IrishGenealogy.ie.
- Understand Irish Emigration, an overview – Read Irish Emigration History by Irial Glynn, 2012, posted at the University College Cork, Ireland, website.
2. Patience, and a lot of it
Trying to find pieces of the history of your family might not happen overnight. Starting a genealogy search can be exciting and exhausting at the same time. I would find bits and pieces that would connect to other bits and pieces, and sometimes, not a connection at all. It’s a great task to undertake, but the results can be rewarding.
I was propelled to find the origins of my family in Ireland the best I could, and achieved my goal, taking about 10 years. My real search started decades before when I was in college in the 1980s, typing term papers on an electric typewriter. We are living in an incredible time to connect the past with the present due to technology.
3. Start research at home, not in Ireland
If you are thinking of flying to Ireland to start your family search, please think again. There are incredible resources to start searching now before going to the island of Ireland. Think of ways of putting together your story the best you can with names and dates of ancestors, cities, townlands, counties, and any details you can find before even packing your luggage, and selecting sturdy walking shoes.
If you need help with research, hiring a professional genealogist is always an option. There are many resources for genealogists, but look at qualifications with professional agencies, but there are no guarantees. I’ve included several organizations to review for hiring a generalist, see the heading of Professional genealogists, resources, code of ethics, at Irish Genealogy Toolkit.
A word to the wise, make sure you understand exactly what you are paying for before hiring a genealogist. Susan Riley, Ph.D., a genealogist from Minnesota, notes it’s important to determine the genealogist’s credentials and experience; ask for work samples; insist on a written contract establishing goals, price of research, timetable; meet using video conferencing, such as Zoom, to clarify everything; and start a small, inexpensive project to see if the geologist is reliable.
4. Keep a notebook at hand
It’s important to keep a notebook dedicated to your search. Yes, a notebook! Write with a pen that’s archival quality and a notebook that’s sturdy and can be easily transported in your pocket, purse, or backpack. Take notes of the people you meet and details of what you find. When your computer crashes, you will have notes to look at in the future and will be something your descendants can use to uncover future details. I have several notebooks from search and travel, and access to family documents, such as letters, diaries, notebooks, and more. Check to see what’s available within your family.
5. Genealogy guides, tools
There are numerous genealogy guides to search for online, but look for credible sources. If you must pay to read a listing of tips and pointers, move one. The National Archives in Washington, DC, has countless resources devoted to genealogy, including articles, finding aids, webinars, and other information. View Genealogy Resources and Reference Reports for Genealogy online at the National Archives.
6. Military, vital statistics, obituaries, graves, and cemeteries
Your dearly departed relatives and their details will point towards your goal of putting together a family history. It’s your task to find out what’s available.
I’ve spent a lot of time visiting cemeteries looking for graves of my family in the United States and Ireland. I’ve accidentally found living relatives at cemeteries walking rows of graves searching for details on our family I didn’t know existed. Don’t be shy to spend hours walking in cemeteries, and visit with other people visiting cemeteries as you might be relatives.
7. Newspapers and archives
Old newspapers are a great source to search for anything written about your family in the past. I found my family mentioned in numerous old newspaper stories when searching at my local historical society in Benson, Minnesota, Swift County Historical Society, and Museum.
- Newspapers at Ancestry paid subscription, but a very helpful resource
- Listing of state archives at National Archives
- Go local – Consider inquiring at local city and county libraries and museums about available resources for genealogy, including old newspapers.
8. Subscription, non-subscription genealogy-related search websites, social media
Check with local libraries, historical societies, and museums if they offer free access to Ancestry and other paid subscriptions for searching for genealogy. You might already have access in your city, county, or state as part of public services and resources.
- Ancestry, paid subscription, with free resources to read online
- FamilySearch, paid subscription, with free resources
- Non-Subscription Databases, National Archives
- Search Facebook groups and other social media related to specific areas or counties in Ireland and topics. There is an official Facebook page Ireland Family History, hosted by Tourism of Ireland, sharing tips and trivia to help find Irish family history.
9. Travel to Ireland
If you are ready to travel to Ireland, consider Ireland’s official tourism website, Ireland.com, with free resources related to maps, brochures, trip planning, and more.
10. Nonprofit, Ireland Reaching Out (Ireland XO)
There is a nonprofit organization helping welcome home Irish living in the Irish diaspora, people with ancestral roots to Ireland. I’ve not used this agency, but their resources are intriguing. Consider learning about Ireland Reaching Out (Ireland XO), a volunteer-based, non-profit initiative that builds vibrant, lasting links between the global Irish Diaspora and parishes of origin in Ireland.
Bonus bit of departing advice
Make time to get your genealogy detective work afoot. Best wishes in your search to reconnect with your family roots!
Jannet L. Walsh, of Murdock, Minnesota, is a photographer, writer, and educator. She is the author of the forthcoming creative nonfiction quest narrative “Higgledy-Piggledy Stones: Family Stories from Ireland and Minnesota,” scheduled for publication in 2022 by Shanti Arts Publishing. Follow Walsh on Facebook, Twitter, and her website.
This article was submitted to the Irish Central contributor’s network by a member of the global Irish community. To become an Irish Central contributor click here.