Introduction to Irish Genealogy

Noreen Maher, Genealogist

Many mining families came to the Slieveardagh area when collieries needed men that were willing and capable of working underground. Miners often move on again when there is no more work available. The men who worked the Slieveardagh Coalfield have many descendants across the world.  Here Irish genealogist Noreen Maher explains how to go about looking for your ancestors whether they were miners or not.

Genealogy is defined as ‘that branch of history which involves the determination of family relationships’ or ‘an account of the descent of a person or family through an ancestral line’.

Where to start.....

Start with yourself and work backwards

This way you can start with the information that you already have from living relatives, photos from family reunions or events, and documents. Word of warning, just because your great-aunt tells you a family anecdote, don’t take it as fact. Use it as a basis for your search but always verify your sources.Separate FACTS from THEORY, SOURCED from UNSOURCED information. Genealogy isn’t guesswork, only state what you know as fact, you can’t jump to conclusions or skip a step or generation.

Pick a family line and work as far back as possible

Decide on either your paternal or maternal line – one at a time! If you know that one of your ancestors took part in an historical event (i.e. 1916 Rising) it might make for more interesting research to follow that line. They may be mentioned in publications of local or national history. Curb your enthusiasm! Tracing all lines at once leads to confusion. Tracing one line introduces you to sources you will use again and again, on other lines.

Interview family members 

Have a sheet prepared with questions or headings such as parents’ names, where they lived, how many children they had, occupations etc. Don’t get side-lined by stories about family members or the family black sheep! Ask where they heard it from; interview a few family members separately – you might be surprised to hear a variation on the same story! Don’t prompt them or suggest information.

Gather and photocopy/scan family documents 

Birth, marriage, death certificates, pension books, memorial cards, cemetery receipts, wills, Deeds, family bible, photographs, and any letters or documents held by the family contain a treasure trove of information.

Be organised! 

Keep notes on a computer, if possible, create an electronic or paper filing system. It’s very easy to mix up dates or names that might take you off on a different track. There are a number of family research software options free or with subscriptions as well as organiser tools that can keep you focused.

Don’t be precious about your family name!

In the early years of recording civil records, many of the records were gathered during English rule and the spelling of Irish surnames was often anglicised. As some of our forebears were illiterate, this was often the reason for different spellings on documents i.e. 1901 and 1911 Census records. This also applies to ages – for various reasons, people either had no record of their birth and ‘guessed’ their age, females wanted to appear younger, and when the Pension Act came into being, evidence of age became an issue. 

Be flexible 

Use the information as a guide to researching, and validate it with official records where possible.

To Do List

List tasks and organise your time productively. If you need to visit Repositories (i.e. Library or archives), check opening times. Is there more than one Repository on your list and can you visit both on same day? Make sure you have noted your names and dates before you travel as some searches entail a fee or will need ID/library card.

Review your research

At every stage, review what you have so far, if you have interviewed a family member, did you record all the information or do you have to make a return visit? If you have done on-line research, will you have to do site visits i.e. to view Parish records, or graveyards? Keep an eye on your costs, try and use free resources as much as possible, only register for sites if you know you will have a list of names to search – costly if doing one-off searches on a regular basis.

Use the internet with care

There is a growing amount of Irish material on-line but be warned, anyone can set up a website or add information on a forum, that may not be factual. Stay away from online Family Trees – if you share your research on-line you lose control of it and may find that someone with the same names in their tree adopts yours!

Hiring a professional Genealogist

If you find your time is limited or you are overwhelmed by the number of sources and sites it might be a good idea to hire a professional. A genealogist will quickly identify sources relevant to your family research, and produce a report that you can share.If you need my assistance, I have years of experience and local knowledge. 

Noreen Maher can be contacted on or and mention this site!

Reading List

Tracing Your Irish Ancestors – John Grenham (4th edition, Gill & Macmillan, Dublin 2012)

Tracing Your Irish Family History – Anthony Adolph (Collins, 2007)

Tracing your Roscommon / Cork / Donegal / Dublin / Kerry / Limerick / Mayo Ancestors - (Flyleaf Press –check for latest publications: )
*Check availability in your local library before purchasing

Irish Roots Magazine – published quarterly - available in Easons or a digital version

On-line Resources

The availability of so many websites on genealogy means you can do all your research from your armchair! 

This is especially convenient if you are researching your family from afar i.e. USA or Australia. Equally if your family came from Tipperary and you live elsewhere in Ireland, there is quite a lot of information that you can initially access on-line and then you can follow up with a site visit.

National Library of Ireland and database of manuscripts, newspapers, and published articles

1901/ 1911 and pre Census records as well as Soldiers Wills, Wills Registers, Tithe Applotment books, etc

Irish Government-run site with database of civil and church records for many locations in Ireland, records being added on a regular basis 

Website run by the Library Council of Ireland – free access to Griffiths Valuation –

You will find excellent resources on library websites also. Check for their local studies collectionse.g. 

Latter Day Saints Church database of Irish civil records

County Genealogy Centres run a website providing free access to indexes to church, civil, land, census and gravestone records for the majority of Irish counties. There is a fee to view details of records once you’ve located them in the index. 

Irish military Archives (witness statements, activities, during the period 1916-1923 – phased online project) 

*This is not an exclusive list, more and more sites and digitising projects are coming online every year.