STARTING YOUR FAMILY HISTORY
BEFORE YOU START:
Inquire with your family. First, talk to parents, aunts, uncles, cousins, grandparents etc., and find out what they know. Most families have at least one individual who keeps track of the extended network of relatives.
SURNAMES AND NAMING:
You can’t place any importance on the precise spelling of any of the surnames you’re dealing with. Although the spelling matters to us now, before the 20th century extraordinary variations regularly occur in different records – illiteracy was widespread and large numbers spoke Irish as their native language.
DATES: Reported ages are almost never accurate. Before 1900, only a few very privileged children celebrated birthdays and without a celebration, why would you need to know a precise date?
RECORD EVERYTHING:Find a way of storing the information that you are gathering in a way that makes it easy for you to find things quickly. A shoebox with alphabetical index cards for each individual is perfectly fine. There are also some inexpensive software packages and websites that allow you easily to store and retrieve complex family information.
START FROM …The 1901 and 1911 census site – http://www.census.nationalarchives.ie/ – is by far the best place to dip a toe in the water: it’s free, intuitive and has images of all the original census forms.
As far as research is concerned, the only cast-iron rule is that you start from what you know and use it to find out more. It is almost impossible to take a historical family and try to uncover what your connection might be. Instead, think of yourself as a detective, taking each item of information as potential evidence and using it to track down more information that in turn becomes evidence for further research.
How To Approach The Records
1. General Register Office records
First, use state records of births, deaths and marriages to verify what you have learned from your family. Get certificates and extract all the information on them – marriage records are particularly useful.
2. 1901 and 1911 census returns.These provide extremely helpful snapshots of an entire household, with ages, occupations, counties of birth and, in the case of 1911, number of years married. www.census.nationalarchives.ie
3. Property records.Griffith’s Valuation (1847-64) is the only comprehensive mid-nineteenth century census substitute. Information from the GRO should now allow you to pinpoint relevant entries. www.askaboutireland.ie For the early decades of the 19th century the only near-comprehensive resource is the Tithe Applotment Survey of c. 1823-1938. The records for the 26 counties of the Republic are online at www.titheapplotmentbooks.nationalarchives.ie.
4. Parish records.Before the start of civil registration for all in 1864, these are virtually the only direct sources of family information. No site has complete coverage. The major resources are this site, www.rootsireland.ie and www.ancestry.co.uk.
The National Library and National Archives both run free walk-in genealogical advisory services, where you will get personal advice on records and research.