The Desert Shamrock
Arizona’s Original Irish Newspaper
Volume 9, Number 1, January/February 1998, page 21

Understanding Irish Research

by Robert M. Wilbanks IV, B.A.
Professional Genealogist & Historian

By now you have gathered information from family records and members. Meanwhile, I hope you understand the types of information that is needed to begin the research, as well as the types of records that is looked for in the research process. Also, I have shown you that an extensive networking system, another key element of genealogy, exists which can help you learn how to research in various regions of America and Ireland. You can also learn about research facilities and how to access records and find people researching the same family or in the same location as you. If you have missed these articles in past issues of this publication, you can now access them on my web site (

Whether beginning the research in Ireland or America, the beginning stages of genealogy is the same. With most of these basics covered in past articles, I feel that I can now begin to give you a basic understanding of family history research in Ireland. This article is primarily based upon the book Ireland: A Genealogical Guide, by Kyle J. Betit and Dwight A. Radford of Salt Lake City.

Irish genealogy is considered one of the most difficult in the world and it must be approached differently than you would approach research in other regions of Europe. You must deal with mass record destruction, a history of subjugation, poverty and illiteracy, as well as a unique political, religious and social history. These factors can make research in Ireland very frustrating. There are basic questions which must be asked before beginning research in Ireland, and the answers can help direct your research strategies.

1. Where did my family come from in Ireland? Clearly the most important question, it is necessary to know at least the county in Ireland where the family came from before being able to conduct research in Ireland. If you do not know this, then you must begin your research in American records, searching for documents that will tell you where your Irish immigrant ancestor came from.

2. What religion was my family in Ireland? Knowing whether your Irish immigrant was Protestant or Catholic can effect how you conduct your research in Ireland, as well as in America. If Protestant, to what denomination did they belong? Church records can be very significant in Irish research. If you don't already know, you can learn this information in American civic marriage records, as well as other record types.

3. What was my family's social status in Ireland? If your ancestor was a farmer, it will require a different research strategy than if he was a skilled laborer or if the family came from the landed gentry. Usually, this information will be passed down in family tradition. However, if you don't know, there are many types of American records which tell you what your Irish immigrant's occupation was, which can be a significant clue to previous social status.

4. Where can I search records or have them searched? I hope that I have been making it clear that research in American records will be a significant factor in continuing your research in Ireland. Meanwhile, there are many Irish records which can be more easily accessible here in American research facilities, such as the United Irish Cultural Center Library in San Francisco, or the LDS Family History Library in Salt Lake City. Therefore, you don't have to spend an enormous amount of time and effort conducting research yourself, or hiring a researcher, in Ireland, when many of those Irish records are available right here in America.

5. How far back can I realistically trace my Irish ancestry? This is a common genealogy question. In the case of Irish genealogy, most Catholic lineages can typically be traced only back to the early 1800s. Protestant lineages fare a little better, but depend largely on social status and record survival. In the case of landed families, genealogies may already exist back to the 1500s or further.

6. Should I hire a genealogist to do my research? This depends on your goals in searching your Irish heritage. If you do not want to spend the time and effort to conduct the research, then clearly the answer is yes. However, if you enjoy the challenge of the search and the excitement of the discovery, then you will want to do it yourself. Even if you do the research yourself, there may come times when you need to hire a professional for consultation, or you may need a professional to conduct specific research in a locale where you cannot otherwise access a specific record.

These factors will definitely effect your research strategy in Ireland, and so it is significant that you ask them and answer them. Meanwhile, there is one other significant item that can effect Irish research strategies: the amount of destruction of the Irish Records during the 1922 Irish Civil War.

During the Civil War, the Public Record Office (PRO) at Four Courts in Dublin was destroyed by fire, and seven hundred years of Irish records were lost. The PRO housed a number of key genealogical records, including wills, census records, and Church of Ireland parish registers. Though the Four Courts complex has been completely restored, many of the records were irreplaceable.

However, in no way should you be discouraged, as the PRO was only one national repository. A wealth of other types of records survived in other repositories not effected by the war, such as the Registry of Deeds, General Register Office, National Library of Ireland, Genealogical Office, Valuation Office, and the Public Record Office in London. Meanwhile, there are a wealth of records from local governments, ecclesiastical records, occupational records and other such local and private records. Though Irish research is complicated by the destruction of key records in 1922, it is in no way impossible.

DISCLAIMER: This is an important reminder that the above article is provided here exactly as originally written and published several years ago. Therefore, while most of the primary context of the article may still be relevant, please be aware that possibly certain of the information and references may now be outdated, such as individuals and organizations, links, contacts, facilities, etc. Please follow-up accordingly for more updated information.

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©2013, Robert M. Wilbanks IV, Scottsdale, Arizona
created Nov 15, 2013; last updated Nov 15, 2013