Today’s blog post is written by David R. Elliott, who is the author of Researching Your Irish Ancestors at Home and Abroad. David R. Elliott is a retired professor of Canadian and European history and the author of three previous books. He has operated a genealogical research company, Kinfolk Finders, for ten years. As well as lecturing on Irish research he has indexed Irish cemeteries, parish registers, and poor law union registers. Dr. Elliott is past-chair of the London/Middlesex branch of the Ontario Genealogical Society and vice-chair of the OGS Irish Special Interest Group. He lives in Parkhill, ON.
Doing genealogical research pertaining to Ireland is complicated because more than a million Irish died during the potato famine of the later 1840s and most often were buried in unmarked graves, the government’s deliberate destruction of the 1861 and 1871census records to prevent them from being used “for the satisfaction of curiosity,” and the pulping of the 1881 and 1891 census returns during World War One’s paper drive. The burning of the Public Records Office in Dublin in 1922 during the civil war destroyed most of the 1821 to 1851 census documents, all of the pre-1858 wills, the marriage bond forms, and almost all of the Anglican parish registers that were housed there. The result is that there is a big hole in the Irish genealogical records, making some think that Irish genealogy is impossible. However, it must be understood that there are millions of documents that have survived in the parish churches, town halls, and other government agencies, and we have the 1901 and 1911 census returns that may contain information on family members who did not emigrate.
To know which county your ancestors lived in is essential for the genealogical quest. Often the key to the county is to be found in the records of the adopted country: gravestones, church and lodge memberships, marriage and death certificates, obituaries, family Bibles, local histories, family correspondence, military and land records, and even oral history. By knowing the native county the search is thus reduced from 32 counties down to 1 in most cases.
I wrote my book Researching Your Irish Ancestors at Home and Abroad to introduce researchers to the many sources on this side of the pond that need to be explored before going to Ireland, as well as providing information on the religious and political history of Ireland that shaped the records that were generated there. I felt it important to deal with matters relating to travel to and within Ireland and accommodation options. I have introduced readers to what to expect in the various Irish archival centres and graveyards. Irish genealogical internet sources are also explained.
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