I have tried provided a summary below of how to get started in genealogy. The steps are by no means exhaustive and you will find that as your research develops you will become acquainted with other archive collections. Nevertheless, careful planning of your research can save you a lot of time and money.
If you are interested in your Irish ancestry, the first place thing to do is find out as much as you can from older relatives. This can often give you a direct link to ancestors who grew up during the mid-nineteenth century. In my own family, for example, my late grandmother could remember stories told to her by her grandfather who was born in 1842! Even if dates and details are rather vague, the recollection of family members can provide a line of enquiry. Always remember, though, that stories themselves cannot be a substitute for extensive genealogical research. Sometimes what you find in the documentary archive more or less substantiates the stories you’ve been told; sometimes what you thought you knew was little more than myth. Of course, myth-making is at the core of who we are; it is a way of explaining our values, our identity and how we came to be here. What must be emphasised, however, is that unless you’ve got the evidence to substantiate a popular family story, myths are not fact.
Step 1 – Your Family
When you have exhausted all the sources from within your own family, the next step is to examine what is available online. Census data from the 1901 and 1911 censuses have been digitalised, with scanned images of the original census forms. Simply type in the name of ancestor and matches will be drawn from the database. If you know where your ancestor lived at the time of the census and the names of other people in his/her family (especially with more common names), you will have a better chance of locating him/her.
Before 1901, the other main online is Griffith's Land Valuation Survey. This was a massive project conducted in Ireland between 1848 and 1864 to determine the value of Ireland's land and how much individuals tenants paid in rent. What the surveyors did was to record the names of landowners and tenants on their estates, the acreage of individual landholdings and how much the land was rented for. They also included detailed maps identifying each landholding. However, it is most useful if you know the precise location of your ancestor’s homestead.
Step 4 – Search the Irish Archive Collections
The main state archive collections in Ireland are:
The National Archives of Ireland (http://www.nationalarchives.ie/)
The National Library of Ireland (http://www.nli.ie/en/family-history-introduction.aspx)
General Register Office for Ireland (http://www.groireland.ie/faqs.htm)
Northern Ireland Public Records Office (http://www.proni.gov.uk/)
General Register Office for Northern Ireland (http://www.nidirect.gov.uk/gro)
Prior to 1901, the main sources information are the birth, death and marriage records held by the General Register Office (It was a statutory requirement for all non-Catholic life event records to be registered from 1845, while the same law was not applied to Catholics until 1864.
The General Register Office (Irish Republic) website is: http://www.groireland.ie/faqs.htm.
The website for the General Register for Northern Ireland is: http://www.nidirect.gov.uk/gro
If you wish to dig further, then the parish records kept by individual parishes are essential. Be aware that the quality of these records varies greatly from parish to parish. While some Presbyterian and Anglican records date from the seventeenth century, many Anglican records were lost in the Four Courts fire of 1922. Moreover, prior to 1800, there is very little in terms of Catholic church records.
In the Irish Republic, most of the Catholic Church records are held by The National Library of Ireland
(http://www.nli.ie/en/family-history-introduction.aspx), while some surviving Church of Ireland records are held by The National Archives of Ireland (http://www.nationalarchives.ie/). Please note that many Church of Ireland records are also held in several other locations. The National Archives website gives advice on where to look.
In addition to the General Register Office for Northern Ireland the other main archive repository in Northern Ireland is the Public Records Office for Northern Ireland (http://www.proni.gov.uk/). As well as the nineteenth century church records (held on microfilm), PRONI has made available on-line material including some of wills archive held and freeholders’ records. The website for PRONI gives full details on what is held.
Step 2 – The Census