Tracing your Ancestors - Beginning Your Family History

Clare Roots Society

Maguire Suite, Old Ground Hotel, Ennis


Thursday 19 Feb 2015

by Paddy Waldron

WWW version:


  • Where do I start?
  • Basic free online sources
  • Where do I start?

    Basic free online sources

    The first objective is to verify your family's oral traditions in primary sources; then to go back beyond the oral traditions.

    Remember that not every record for a John Murphy refers to the John Murphy from whom you descend.

    Even if your ancestor's surname is less common than John Murphy, the same principles apply.

    Avoid forcing a fact to fit the story; force the story to fit the facts.

    Although the 1911 census may imply that your ancestor John Murphy was born in County Limerick in 1852, the first baptism that you find for a John Murphy in County Limerick in 1852 may NOT be your ancestor.

    Be even more careful with secondary sources: if someone else's online family tree has a John Murphy born in County Limerick in 1852, he may NOT be your John Murphy.

    The most basic source is Google, which is great for more unusual names or combinations of names, like "quin sleeman"; but Google, by accident or design, does not harvest many genealogy sites.

    The major free online Irish sources, roughly in reverse chronological order, include:

    1901 and 1911 Census of Ireland --- Irish Civil Registration Indexes 1845-1958
    See sample page from original index (1866)'s one-size-fits-all search form can mislead beginners. The indexes don't include spouse or parents, apart from the birth index from c1928-1958, which includes mother's maiden surname only. To narrow the search, you can fill in one of (a) birth date and/or place (b) marriage date and/or place or (c) death date and/or place. Filling in fields which are blank in the record you want will prevent you from finding it. More details here. --- Ireland Births and Baptisms mostly 1864-1881
    See sample birth record
    To narrow the search, you can fill in both parents' first and/or last names and/or birth date and/or place. The appropriate placename to use varies from year to year and from record to record. Try townland or dispensary district or Poor Law Union or county. --- Ireland Marriages mostly 1845-1870
    See sample page from marriage register
    To narrow the search, you can fill in spouse's and/or father's first and/or last names and/or marriage date and/or place. Irish marriage certificates did not until relatively recently include the name of either the groom's mother or the bride's mother. --- Ireland Deaths mostly 1864-1870
    See sample death record
    To narrow the search, you can fill in death date and/or death place and/or residence place. Irish death certificates did not include the name of any relative until c2004, unless the informant happened to be a relative, and even then the relationship may not have been specified. If it was, then the relationship may be shown in the transcript. The appropriate placename to use is generally the townland.
    Full search
    In some non-Irish records the transcriptions may include father's first name, mother's first name and mother's last name, but not father's last name! See, for example, many entries in New Jersey, Marriages, 1678-1985. You must leave the father's last name blank if you want to find these records.
    Irish Genealogy
    parish records, free for only about 4 counties, mostly pre-1900
    Alternative search form.
    "Civil Indexes temporarily unavailable – it is hoped to restore certain indexes in the near future."  The near future may be nearer than when this temporary unavailability started in July 2014.
    Griffiths Valuation (askaboutireland Family Name Search or Place Name Search - free)
    It's apparently not possible to link to specific map locations - see discussion. It is possible to link to the occupiers of a specific location using the PlaceID, e.g. Moveen West (PlaceID=257300). To view Original Page or Map View, right click on icon and select "Open Link in New Tab".
    Griffiths Valuation (Irish Origins - subscription)
    Griffiths Valuation (Find My Past - subscription; also includes Landed Estates Court Rentals)
    Griffiths Valuation, printed in the 1840s, 1850s and 1860s for different parts of Ireland,, is continued up to around the abolition of rates in 1977 in Valuation Office cancelled books, Irish Life Centre, Abbey Street, Dublin; e.g., Moore Street, Kilrush
    Lewis, Samuel: Topographical Dictionary of Ireland 1837
    Tithe Applotment Books 1823-1837
    Available online since November 2012. Edit the URL to see results 100 at a time.
    Wills and Administrations 1858-1982
    Different access methods for different subperiods.

    Last but not least - Clare County Library, Clare Past Forum and County Clare Ireland Genealogy facebook group.

    Continue with offline sources (General Register Office, Valuation Office, National Library, National Archives, local libraries and archives, etc.) and subscription, pay-per-view, etc., online sources (,,,,, etc.)