Updated: Sep 15, 2020
Ancestry is a giant among the Genealogy Giants, but how does it stack up for Irish Research? First of all, as you already know (if you've read any of my blogs) you must know the place in Ireland where your ancestor was born. If the information exists, it is likely in a record here in the US or other place where your ancestor first immigrated. So the quantity of records for the US is a big advantage. To find that locality in Ireland you need to research not only your direct ancestor, but also all of their family and FAN club (friends, associates and neighbors). There are lots of records you can use at Ancestry. Remember to focus your research to your research question and search specific databases that include the time and place where your ancestor lived. Look at the place they first settled and determine why they chose that location (hint...they knew someone there).
Ancestry also has the largest collection of Family Trees, but remember, these are just hints until you find a primary source to confirm the information. Irish names are frequently very common and you need to make sure you have your ancestor and not someone of the same name. You don't want to end up with former ancestors (those are the ones you've searched for years, only to discover you got into the wrong family)! It's painful to cut off those branches you've worked so hard on. If you don't have a Family Tree you should start one. You don't have to make it public although that's usually how you connect with cousins. If you do make it public and are working on a theory, make sure you note that so someone doesn't assume your information is fact. Begin by focusing on the ancestor of your research question, including all of their family. As hints pop up, make sure they fit with what you already know and make sense. Try to find original records as opposed to Family Tree hints, but if you get a good Family Tree with sources, contact the owner to share information.
Ancestry also has the largest DNA database. Researching and contacting your matches may bring in an entirely new line of the family. Maybe different information has passed down through that line and they have family heirlooms (perhaps the Family Bible).
So what about Irish records? First of all, use the Card Catalog. When you search from the Home page, not all databases are included in the search. A search in the Card Catalog on Ireland lists 170 databases. Notice that you can sort the list in a number of ways, including by date added, or updated. This can be helpful if you've searched the database in the past and are looking for new information. To find out the size of the databases sort by Record Count.
You can also filter the list by Category (on the left) to focus on your specific research question. What would be the least helpful is to search from the Home page with a name such as Michael Daly or Patrick Murphy and end up with millions of hits. I don't know about you, but I just don't have time to look through those. You should also search the Catalog using the work Irish, as that will bring up 53 results, some of which are duplicates, but many are additional resources. But wait, there's more! Also search the Catalog for Ireland and Irish as Keywords. You might be surprised at the results which don't seem to have anything to do with Ireland, but if your ancestor or a member of their family spent time in England or Scotland they may be in those records showing a place of birth as Ireland, or possibly even a county!
Read the description of the database before you search. Let's take a look at the database titled "Ireland, Catholic Parish Registers, 1655-1915." Wow! Roman Catholic records to 1655? Are my ancestors there? The answer is not likely. 1655 actually predates the Penal Laws (1695-1829) but I typed in that date even using it as a keyword and got nothing. You need to read About the Records. Just scroll down below the Source Information.
Note that, "the bulk of the records...date from the late 1820s onward." The earliest record I found was 1744 in Tipperary so don't get excited about finding those 1600s records.
Another way to find out what records are actually included in this database is to Browse the records. On the right side of the database search page in the example below, you can select the Diocese (in this case Tuam) and the drop down menu for Parish will tell you what parishes are included. Kilvine is not there (as their records were never microfilmed for the National Library). I can search this database over and over, but the information is not going to be there.
Notice that below the Browse is the "Related data collections." This is Ancestry's way of letting you know what other records might be available. I'm always a bit nervous when I see the word "Select" associated with a database. What was the selection criteria? Again, select the database then go to About the records. See if the place your ancestors lived was included.
If you sorted the list of databases by Record Count, you'll see that the largest database is the Catholic Parish Registers. This is the index to the records at the National Library of Ireland that was jointly created by Ancestry and Findmypast. Remember, not every parish is included so check to find out what records and dates are available for your Roman Catholic parish. You can do this by checking the National Library site or at JohnGrenham.com. The second largest database is the "UK and Ireland Outward Passenger Lists, 1890-1960." This is an emigration database...passengers leaving rather than arriving. I'm frequently asked about emigration lists, but they do not exist prior to 1890. You can also search the Card Catalog by the name of the County. The results will likely be much smaller, but might provide a specific database that doesn't show up with an Ireland search.
When you see the word "Web" at the beginning of the title, that database is free on another site, and Ancestry may have the index, but not the images. They will refer you to the owner's site. Examples of this are the 1901 and 1911 Census of Ireland which are available for free at the National Archives of Ireland site. Anything that begins with "Web" is free to access on Ancestry...you don't need to sign in or even be a guest to access the Web records.
As I mentioned with FamilySearch, many of the same databases are on multiple sites. The way you access the information may be different because each company has its own search engine. I had this blog half written when I went out walking this morning and was listening to the Genealogy Gems Podcast with Lisa Louise Cook. Turns out that her latest Podcast was titled How to Search Effectively at Ancestry.com. I was familiar with much of what she discussed but I learned some new things as well. Her hints were not directed at Irish research, but for any use of Ancestry. If you have a chance, I would recommend you listen to it. (Episode 244)
The key to successful research in Ireland is focusing on your research question and the types of records available for the time and place where your ancestors lived. Select a database to search and before you type in a name, read about it. If you don't understand what the records are, google them and read about their history. One of the things about Irish research is that we'll use any record we can get our hands on that might name our ancestor (Dog Licenses anyone?) Griffith's Valuation (also available on Ancestry) is called a census substitute because we have no 19th century surviving censuses, but it's not a census...it's a tax list. And it is more than just a list of names. Do you understand the contents of each column? The more you learn about the various database resources, the more successful you will be.
Happy Hunting and Stay Safe!
You may have received a notification of a blog posted earlier today. This website is now about 2 years old and although I've been writing blogs since 2007, this site only contains the blogs from 2018 forward. In some cases I had linked back to my old website for various blogs, but I recently took down the moughty.com site as I'm working on a new project for that site. That broke some of the links and so I've been copying the older documents and adding them to this blog. Today, I added a blog from 2014 which is highlighted on my Research Trip page. If something pops up, enjoy the older information, but I will continue to write my regular blogs each Monday.
I'm also working to update the Links and Resources pages.