Researching in Overseas Archives


Researching at the Presbyterian Historical Society

As you probably know, I'm just back from the Ireland Research Trips. I'm still catching up, but I've already been contacted by people who want to go on the 2020 trips. If you're curious about the trips, go back to the beginning of October and follow the blogs I wrote daily while I was away.


Are you ready, to take an overseas research trip? Do you know what you want to research? Remember, all research begins with a question, so determine what it is that you want to research. Preparing for a research trip is hard work...you need to make sure you have done your homework both from the standpoint of researching everything you can from this side of the pond and understanding what is available in the country where you will be researching.


First, you don't want to be doing research in a foreign country which you could have done from home. For the most part, you won't be sitting in front of a computer and typing names into a search engine. You need to make sure you've exhausted that research before you leave. I can speak for Ireland and the most valuable records are going to be manuscripts... items that have not been digitized or indexed. You'll review many documents that won't name your ancestor, but they may provide additional context to the time and place where he or she lived. In the same vein, you might also find books or pamphlets not available in the US on local history, perhaps a history of the church your ancestor attended. And of course, one of the most exciting things is visiting the place where your ancestors lived and hopefully meeting some cousins (check out days 2, 10 and 17 of my trip).

17. Death of John Moak of Carr, 1790, found in a Lease Book from the Castlereagh (Downshire) Estate

Another part of doing your homework is finding out what documents or material are available at the Archives you plan to visit. I won't say that all of their catalogs are great, but you can dig around and find out what is available for the time and place where your ancestors lived. Most of the most valuable resources for Ireland prior to the early1800s are estate records (see above). First, you need to make sure you know who the landlord was for the area where your ancestors lived. Then you need to research the landlord. Some sources are Griffith's Valuation, the Tithe Applotment (for the Republic; PRONI Tithe records to become available on 29 November), the Landed Estates Court Rentals (FindMyPast), John Grenham's Tracing Your Irish Ancestors or William Roulston's Researching Scots-Irish Ancestors (this includes information for all Ulster parishes). If your ancestors were in Connacht or Munster, check out the Landed Estates Database from the National University of Ireland Galway.


Keep an open mind! Remember, Ireland was one country until 1922. There are records for the Marquis of Downshire not only at PRONI in Belfast, but also at the National Archives and the National Library (both in their main catalog an Sources) in Dublin. Conversely, there are records for the Earl of Kildare at PRONI. Check them out to see if they are pertinent to your research. Sometimes you will find extensive introductory papers, for example, there is a 28 page PDF on the PRONI website that summarizes the holdings of the Downshire Papers. You should also check to see if there are records at repositories in England if that was the main seat for the landlord.

I'd like to share the experience of Ann Raymont, of one of the researchers on this year's trip to Dublin. She has blogged about her trip here.

If you are interested in researching in Ireland in 2020, now is the time to begin your preparation. Each trip is limited to 15 researchers and you can register here.

Happy Hunting!



Ancestry has announced their holiday sale on both memberships and DNA. Why not start your holiday shopping early and give a gift of Family Research





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