Researching in Ireland


Contributing Writer
Janet Wahlberg

As we continue working on research in Ireland a brief history might be helpful. Ireland originally was populated by clans and tribes. These spent a great deal of time fighting among themselves. Then the English arrived in the 17th century. Their attempts to subjugate the Irish were somewhat less than successful. They began a settlement system known as the Plantation system. Simply put, they moved the Irish out and moved the Scots and English in. This was the root of the centuries long fight between the primarily Catholic Irish and the primarily Protestant English and Scots. In 1914 this came to a head that resulted in the “Troubles,” or the revolution. In 1922 the Irish Free State was formed in the south of Ireland and the northern counties remained attached to England. During the revolution, the IRA burned down the Custom House which housed thousands of irreplaceable records. It is in large part, the loss of these records that make Irish research so challenging.

Take heart, there are other records that can be used to research. Two of the best known are The Griffith Valuation Records and the Tithe Apllotment Books. The Griffith Valuation Records was a survey carried out in every parish in Ireland between 1848 and 1864. It is a detailed and reliable source including information on how much land people occupied, the value of that land, and the name of the Head of household. All property from the smallest cottage to the castles is included. If your family were country people, you are more likely to find them as they may have owned their homes. In the city many more people rented “flats”. The Tithe Applotment Books were complied between 1823 and 1837 in each civil parish. They were created to determine the amount of “tithe” that persons with holdings greater that one acre would pay to the Church of Ireland. They only surveyed agricultural holdings so will not be helpful if your family lived in towns or cities. Both of these records serve as a partial census substitute and may be accessed at several on-line sites such as Irish Times,,, Ask About Ireland, Find My Past and others. PRONI (Public Records Office of Northern Ireland) is an on-line site as well as an incredible archive in Belfast, Northern Ireland. This is just a very small sample of the ways to begin your search for your Irish relatives.

Again the first thing that you need to do is to gather as much information as you have. What are their names? Where did they come from (what county)? Were they actually Irish or were they Plantation settlers from Scotland or England? I believe that I belong to the latter group. If you have a name but not a county, you might try going to and typing in your ancestors name. This will bring up a map of the distribution of that name. To the right of the page there is a list of alternate spellings. One of these may be helpful to your research.

See you again next month for more of the Irish.

To read Janet Walberg’s previous genealogy columns or to delve deeper into her writings and insights for searching out and recording your own family’s genealogy, please go to and visit Janet’s own web page.