Why Visit Ireland?


The Moag Farm in Ballymurphy - now a Dairy Farm

I'm feeling a bit sad today as I should be in Ireland spending the first day with my research group at the National Archives. I'm anxious to get back to Ireland, but they (like many European countries) are having a resurgence of COVID and are now on a level 3 lockdown. Now the first reason you want to visit Ireland is because it is a wonderful, beautiful place with very friendly people. But from a research standpoint, there are records in Ireland that are not likely to be available online, at least in my lifetime! I've written about some of them in the past, but here are some of my favorites.


  • Civil Registration outside of the privacy dates. These records are available in Ireland, but can't be put online.

Marriage Record after 1944
  • Church records (especially non-Catholic) that are only available at Irish repositories, in local custody or on microfilm. Also records such as Vestry or Session Minutes.

  • Estate Records - one of my favorites. You can research the name of your ancestor's landlord to see if estate records such as leases or rentals exist. The large estates were businesses and therefore kept books on the running of the estate. Some of these have been deposited at PRONI, the National Archives, the National Library, or they may be in a repository near the landlords estate in England. Your ancestor might be mentioned in a lease, or as a worker paid to do work on the estate. In the record below from a lease book of the Downshire Estate John Moak has a lease for lives in 1805. John is 58 years old (b. abt 1847). He has a son Samuel, 2 years old (b. abt 1803) as one of the lives. This is the only early mention of Samuel as there is no baptismal record for him. John's name is crossed out and Stewart Moak is written in in 1830 indicating that John died before that date. There is no other death record for him.

  • Below is the page showing the lease payments (twice a year in May and November) for John Moak. In the left margin it shows that one of the lives of the lease was his own and that he likely died on or before 11 Mar 1827 when a Heriot (payment to the landlord upon a death) was noted. The lease would still be in effect because Samuel was still living (although in the US). One of my research issues was all of the John Moak/Moags and how to separate them. I had assumed (don't do this) that the John Moag who was having children in the early 1800s was a different John Moag from the father of Stewart who had five children in the 1770s and 1880s. The document above which show his birth at about 1747 seems to indicate that he is the same John, and his previous wife likely died and he remarried and started a second family. Another Moag researcher, Deb, joined me on the trip in 2019 and she is descended from Samuel. We hadn't been able to determine how we were related. Working through the Estate records answered questions that we had not been able to answer from other documents.

  • Cousin Deb and I visited the area in Down where our ancestors lived (another reason to visit Ireland). The book Gravestone Inscription of County Down stated that the gravestone of John Moak of Ballymurphy was at 1st Boardmills Presbyterian Church, and that the headstone was broken. We walked the graveyard (in the rain) without much hope of finding the stone. The gravestone of my 2nd great grandfather which was documented in the same book, was destroyed in the early 2000s (although I am lucky to have a photo of it which I took in 1997). But Deb found it! Within the next few years, it will probably not be readable and the stones around it may be other family members, but could not be read. Another reason to visit!

  • Education records - although it did not become compulsory until the 1920s, National Education was introduced into Ireland in the 1830s. Prior to that there were hedge schools and private education. If your ancestor could read or write, perhaps they appear in a school ledger. Even more records might be available if they were a teacher. Bridget King (b. 1889) attended school from 1899-1903. It shows how many days she attended school each year and notice the reference at the right that states she last attended school on 17 Oct 1903 and is "gone to America." (I still have not found an immigration record.)

  • Correspondence - this can be found in different places, such as the Chief Secretary’s Office Registered Papers at the National Archives. Many of these reflect the middle class, however, your ancestor might be named if they were involved in activities deemed to be disruptive or illegal. Perhaps a family member wrote to attempt to have their loved one released from the gaol, or to join a transported convict in Australia. A project has been started to index these records and to date it is complete from 1818-1833. The index includes an abstract, but the original papers (which likely contain additional information) are at the National Archives. Correspondence is also found in Estate Papers. Determining if all of the "lives" in a lease are still living was important since the rent could not be raised or the lease expired until all the lives were dead.

  • Wills (mostly after 1900) - although Will Calendars are online, most of the original wills prior to 1900 were destroyed in the Fire at Four Courts. Will Books for some of the District Probate Registries did survive, so you might find a copy of a will. Unfortunately the Will Books for the Principal Registry in Dublin did not survive. Wills for those dying after 1900 are available and can be ordered at the National Archives. You do need an extra day for this since they have to be pulled from the Four Courts. With the creation of PRONI after the Partition, an effort was made to collect wills and other legal documents from private sources such as solicitors, so you may find earlier records. The will below is for Maria Moughty, was written in 1894 and proved in 1899 in Westmeath. She names all of her children and specifically mentions lands that are in her name and how they are to be passed down. She also states that a mortgage she gave her husband on one of her lands should be paid in full, and no other loans should be taken until this happens. She mentions a brother in Argentina who owes her money.

  • Revision Books - the records for the six counties of Northern Ireland are online at the Public Records Office of Northern Ireland website, however the records for the Republic can only be viewed at the Valuation Office. These records for the Republic are being imaged, but can only be viewed onsite.

  • Local records, especially local histories - this is the jackpot! Understanding what was happening in the place where your ancestors lived, especially if few records are available, can be enlightening. Getting your hands on these from the US or other country may be difficult as many are not available here, or are no longer for sale. You may not even know about them. I was gifted a copy of Drumgooland - A Parish Divided by one of the authors. It appears in a Google search but is not available for sale. The only place where it shows up in a WorldCat search is Queens University, Belfast. Pamphlets, such as church histories can also tell you a lot about what was happening when and where your ancestors were living. These can frequently be found in local historical societies or libraries in Ireland. The Presbyterian Historical Society in Belfast is an excellent source for Presbyterian histories.

  • Find your cousins! This is probably the best of all. I wrote last year about visiting the land where my husband's grandmother was born with cousins Anita and Brendan and with the help of a local historian, Michael (also related through marriage). I was also able to arrange for Deb and I to have dinner with cousin Andrew who lives in Bangor, just outside of Belfast. I met Andrew a number of years ago. We had lunch in Belfast and he was then dropping me off at the train station. On the way back to the car after lunch he mentioned that he had the Family Bible! Remember the cousins got the good stuff! Since I had no time to look through it, I was able to visit the following year and get copies of the Bible pages, as well as lots of pictures. (Notice that I always travel with DNA kits and Andrew agreed to take one.)

Will your ancestors be in all of these records? No, of course not. Remember, everything is dependent on time and place. Once you've researched all of the available records here and online, (and COVID is under control) it's time to plan a trip to Ireland.


Happy Hunting and Stay Safe!



If you're ready, there are still a few slots left for the 2021 Research Trip.





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