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Start Irish search with county


© St. Petersburg Times, published June 2, 2001

Anybody can be Irish on St. Patrick's Day. Just don a bit o' the green and join the celebration. Proving your ancestral ties to the Emerald Isle is another matter, and to do that requires quite a bit more effort.

Naturally, the place to start is with yourself and then, to ensure accuracy, work back one generation at a time until you identify your original Irish immigrant ancestor and where he or she lived before emigrating here. Without knowing at least the county, it's almost impossible to proceed with your search. Too many people shared the same name.

Next, do your homework. You'll save yourself a lot of aggravation if you learn exactly which records you can get that apply to your personal search. Visit your public library or a Mormon Family History Center or troll Web sites like the one sponsored by the Irish Times. Go to and click on "Our Ancestors." The link is loaded with free information and some that you must pay to obtain.

Ireland conducts a national census every 10 years, for example, but the only ones you'll see are those for 1901 and 1911. Most early census returns burned in a fire at the Public Records Office in 1922 or were pulped by British authorities during World War I. Before that, most national records were lost when the Record Tower in Dublin Castle was destroyed in the early 18th century. Thus, local (parish) records are invaluable.

"The biggest misconceptions (about Irish records) are twofold, and they come from opposite directions," said Irish genealogist Michael Merrigan in an e-mail interview. "Some people think that Irish records go back hundreds of years as they do in England, while others believe that no Irish records exist because they were all destroyed in the 1922 Civil War. Both are wrong.

"Most people with an Irish Catholic ancestry can trace their families back to about 1790 or thereabouts. The more wealthy Catholics could go back a little further with luck."

Merrigan, secretary of the Genealogical Society of Ireland and one of its founding members, has been rooting since 1983.

Looking for someone who was born, was married or died after 1864? Evidence of the event might be at the General Register Office in Dublin, where civil registration records are kept. The office split in 1921. Records pertaining to residents of Northern Ireland's six-county region after that time are stored in the office's northern counterpart. (See

Property transactions and tax rolls may prove useful. From 1823 to 1864, many people paid taxes to the Church of Ireland or the government. Commonly called the Householders Index, these records can help you determine where the ancestral family lived. The Registry of Deeds, established in March 1708, is the repository for deeds of sale, mortgages, transfer leases and Griffiths Valuation, a tax survey conducted between 1848 and 1868. Records are indexed.

Irish military records exist in several forms and countries, depending on when and where the soldier served. Records after 1916 are kept at the Military Archives of Ireland. Prior records may be in London (British Army) or on file in the country where the soldier served, such as the United States, France and Spain.

The good news is that you don't have to wait until you can afford a trip to Ireland to start your search. The Mormon Church has amassed a sizeable collection of Irish records, so many are as close as your local Family History Center.

"The easiest records to access for Irish-Americans are those held on microfilm by the Family History Centers," Merrigan said. "These include parish registers, civil registration records and census returns. Both the 1901 and 1910 census returns were microfilmed by the LDS (Latter-day Saints)."

For additional information, check out these sites: and

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Donna Murray Allen welcomes your questions about genealogy and will respond to those of general interest in future columns. Sorry, she can't take phone calls, but you can write to her c/o Home&Garden, St. Petersburg Times, P.O. Box 1121, St. Petersburg, FL 33731, or e-mail her at

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