17 Tips + 1 for Family History/Genealogy Research in Ireland

Visitors trotting by on James Street, Dublin.
©irisheyesjg.
My original list of thirteen tips plus one, first published in 2010 as a post on this blog, has expanded to 17 Tips + 1. It is based entirely on my own experience on research trips beginning in 2008, and encompasses every year up to and including Mar/Apr of 2016. Because of my work as an historian, I regularly travel to Ireland, at least twice a year. As well, I am an Irish citizen and most of my family members still live in Ireland. Along the way, I have learned a lot to help me make the best use of my research time while I'm in Ireland, and I hope these tips are helpful to you.

If you are planning to travel to Ireland, and have any questions, I am always happy to help, so please feel free to email me at eire historian at gmail dot com.

UPDATES: A number of updates are included below — always signalled by bold red lettering — the most recent being as of Mar/Apr 2016.

1. PREPARE, Prepare, prepare:

Before you set foot outside the country in which you now reside, do your homework. This means knowing as much information as possible about the persons for whom you are searching. This may sound counterintuitive, but according to a member of the genealogy advisory service, one of the principle challenges they come across is people who have not done their homework. (See National Archives of Ireland Genealogy Service and National Library of Ireland Genealogy Service)

Don't be the one who shows up with an 'ancestor' from the 1700s and expect someone to prove he/she is connected to you. Also, be aware of the fact that an advisory service is available to offer advice, not to do your research for you. If you are not up to the task, or would prefer to have a professional working for you, then consider commissioning research (click here).

One of the most helpful pieces of information you can have in hand when you arrive in Ireland is the name of the townland in which your ancestor(s) lived. The geographical unit of the townland is unique to Ireland, and is said to have existed since pre-Norman times. Quite simply, it is the smallest division of land on which your ancestors lived. For the purposes of research, you want to know the townland because it makes it more likely you will find those ancestors to whom you are actually connected.

For example, there are a lot of Geraghty families in Mayo, the county in which my paternal great-grandparents Patrick Geraghty and Margaret Toole lived before they migrated to Dublin City. By knowing they had lived in the townland of Leckanvy, in the barony of Murrisk, I was able to find those to whom I am actually connected.

If you do not know the townland, at the very least knowing the barony, parish or poor law union will be of some assistance, but it will make your search much more difficult. If you only know the county in which your ancestors lived, your search will be an onerous one — unless you are searching for an unusual surname — so you may want to consider enlisting professional help.

Be sure to visit IreAtlas, the website of the late John Broderick (1941-2001), a superb townland database. Searching by county, barony or parish will give you an idea of exactly what you are up against in terms of numbers of townlands in the counties of Ireland.

Buy and consult a copy of eminent Irish genealogist John Grenham's Tracing Your Irish Ancestors: The Complete Guide. It is the indispensable resource for anyone wanting to successfully find Irish Ancestors, and is readily available online, as well as from reputable brick and mortar book vendors. There are also excellent county-centered guides published by Flyleaf Press which you may find very helpful in your search.

2. CREATE:

Create a page and/or file for every individual for whom you are searching, and make sure it is filled with as much information as possible. Be the researcher who is best prepared. Irish archival and library staffs, and those at register offices etc., usually go above and beyond the call of duty, but even they have limits.

Ask yourself the following questions:

1. Do I have the full names of the people for whom I'm searching: birth name, maiden name and married name (if applicable)?
2. Do I know his/her precise date of birth, marriage, death, or at the very least the year in which these events occurred?
3. Do I know his/her parents' names, or the names and details of any siblings?
4. Do I know the townland, parish and county in which he/she lived?

In 2009, at the General Register office Dublin a woman was looking for birth, marriage and death records for her great-grandmother, whom she said may have been born in Dublin and may have lived in the west of Ireland in the early 20th century. Unfortunately that is all the info she had, and yet she was upset that they couldn't help her. According to staff at the GRO, this happens more often than you might imagine.

3. BE AWARE of hours of business for Archives and Libraries:

Be aware of business hours for the archives and libraries you plan to visit. In Ireland currently all public archives and libraries are closed for research on Sunday. (At NLI only exhibitions are open on Sundays). Most archives and libraries are closed on Saturday, with the exception of the National Library in Dublin which is open for a half day on Saturday.

Most of the heritage centres outside of Dublin operate only Monday to Friday, and many close for an hour midday for lunch, although hours of operation can vary widely. The hours for county archives and libraries can vary widely as well, so check first. (See Libraries.ie and Learn about Irish Archives). PRONI Belfast is also closed weekends, but offers later hours on Thursday. Some repositories only operate Tuesday through Thursday.

Many repositories limit document ordering hours. Also, since some documents are stored off-site, they usually require from one to three days lead time in order to retrieve them. This applies to some of the records held by the National Archives, the National Library and the Manuscripts Reading Room of the National Library. (see Manuscripts Collections)

Also if you are going to use the free Genealogy Advisory Service at either the National Library (NLI) or the National Archives (NAI), be aware they work during limited hours. Currently this service is on offer for much longer hours at the NLI than at the NAI. (See Advisory Service times NLI and Genealogy NAI)

Shortly before you leave home, it is always a good idea to check the websites of the archives and libraries you plan to visit to see if there have been any changes to their hours of operation and/or rules for ordering documents, so you get the most out of your research schedule, and can truly enjoy your time in Ireland.

4. GET your reader's ticket:

Most archives require readers' tickets, and some repositories require you wear your reader's ticket tag while you are in the facility. You must have your reader's ticket on your person in any repository which requires a reader's ticket.

Also, readers' tickets have an expiration date. They are usually issued for a period of one to three years, but this can vary depending on the repository.

No appointment is required to consult materials at the National Library of Ireland (NLI) or at the National Archives of Ireland (NAI), but you will need a reader's ticket at each facility. At the NLI if you are using only genealogy advisory services, and/or consulting newspaper collections, and no other collections, you will not need a reader's ticket. However, you may wish to get a reader's ticket anyway, just in case there is something in the principal collections that you might want to view.

For full information on reader's tickets see the National Archives of Ireland (NAI) Readers' Tickets and the National Library of Ireland (NLI) Readers' Tickets.

IMPORTANT NEWS: As of May 2015, the National Library of Ireland (NLI) has modified the hours during which you may acquire your reader’s ticket.

Previously available during the entire opening hours of the Library, acquisition of a reader’s ticket is now limited to the following hours:

Monday: 10:30am — 12.30pm,  2pm — 4pm,  and 5pm — 7:45pm.

Tuesday thru Friday: 10:30am — 12.30pm, and 2pm — 4pm.

Saturday: 9:30am – 12:45pm.

The protocol remains in place with no reader’s ticket required by those individuals using only the Genealogy Advisory Service and/or accessing Roman Catholic parish registers on microfilm and/or newspaper collections.

The National Library of Ireland, as viewed from the perspective of the National Museum, Kildare St., Dublin.
©irisheyesjg.
5. BOOK your research appointments, if applicable:

In the past you had to either write letters or phone the repositories and libraries in order to book research time and order documents. Now many can be booked either online on their websites, or via email. A couple of days in advance of your visit, phone or send an email asking for confirmation of your appointments. Be aware some institutions, such as the Bureau of Military History Archives, strictly REQUIRE advance reservation for conducting research. Bring photo I.D. to every archive you plan to visit (your passport is best).

Also, as of September 2012, the Bureau of Military History Archives divided its research day. It is still open for research from Tuesday through Thursday inclusive; however the reading room opening times are now divided into two distinct research blocks separated by a one hour break time. The first research block is from 10 am to 12:30, and the second block is from 1:30 pm to 4:00pm. If you require more than one block of time be certain to inform the Duty Archivist when you book your appointment. Not to worry, there is a lovely little pub, just down the road from the base, where you can get a delicious lunch.

UPDATE: As of 26 April 2016, The Bureau of Military History Archives is now in a beautiful new facility with a state of the art reading room. Along with the opening of the new Military Archives building, the BMHA released online over 45,000 medal files for those persons who served between 1916 and 1923. Be sure to visit the Military Pensions Collection & Medal Applications Collection online search page. For visiting and viewing documents in person an appointment is still required. You can get more information on the page Frequently Asked Questions.

With respect to conducting research at university archives, such as University College Dublin (UCD) and Trinity College Dublin (TCD), be aware that the collections at these archives are principally aimed at those doing academic research, although they do hold some materials germane to family history/genealogy. Be sure to consult the collections listings on their websites to see if they hold any material applicable to your family history. (See UCD Deposited Collections; TCD Genealogy).

To conduct research at UCD you must hold a reader's ticket and you must have an appointment booked before you arrive. At TCD an appointment is strongly advised.

At both UCD and TCD, new readers must fill out a research application form upon arrival, providing details about your research topic, and your university affiliation. As well, at TCD you must present a letter of introduction from the professor supervising your studies, if applicable. (see UCD: Planning your visit) (see TCD: Planning your research visit). 

6. ARRIVE EARLY and come prepared:

If you booked somewhere for a full day's research, arrive shortly after they open. This creates a good impression and lets them know you're serious about your work, and they will do everything they can to help you.

If you are going to an office, such as the General Register Office in Dublin, early arrival ensures you can get copies of your registration documents before it gets too busy. Take advantage of websites, such as the Irish government website irishgenealogy.ie or the LDS site FamilySearch.org, so that you might have in hand the volume numbers and page numbers of the registration records you need.

7. KNOW THE LIMITS:

Be aware of any limits on materials available to you. For example, if you go to the General Register Office (GRO) reading room in Dublin for civil registration records of birth, marriage and death, you used to be limited to only 5 copies of registration records per day to take away with you. By 2012 that number was raised to 8 per day, providing you asked.

Entrance to the General Register Office,
Werburg Street, Dublin.
©irisheyesjg.
In 2013, the General Register Office reading room moved and is now located on Werburg Street, just down the hill, about a half-block away from Christ Church Cathedral.

Currently 8 copies of registration records per day remains the standard for purchase. Any copies you wish to order beyond that number will be mailed or emailed to you; the choice is yours.

A caveat for those who choose to have the extra copies emailed to you: be aware the GRO sends those copies in a word processing file, rather than an image file, so if you use photographic software, such as iPhoto, you may not be able to immediately import the records. (see this link for full details about using the GRO reading room).

UPDATE: As of September 2015 there has been a slight change in the way in which you get your copies in person. Previously, you paid for your copies upon submitting your requests. Now, you no longer pay up front. They wait until the copies have been presented to you. This means if the record doesn’t exist or if there is an error on your part or their part, then you don’t have to worry about getting a refund. Payment remains the same for those copies mailed or emailed to you.

8. BUDGET FOR RESEARCH COSTS:

The Genealogy Advisory Service at both the National Library and the National Archives is offered free of charge, and conducting research in both of these facilities is free.

If you are going to be doing research at the General Register Office reading room, in addition to the charge of €4 each for copies of birth, marriage and death registration records, there is a research fee which you must pay in order to consult the index volumes. See Search Fees for full details about their current fees.

Also, at the Land Valuation Office, you must pay in order to consult the valuation books and maps. See the Archive Research section of their fees page for full details about their current research fees.

UPDATE: As of September 2015, a research fee is no longer charged for consulting the valuation books and maps. You may photograph the valuation records for no charge. If you do not have a digital camera, you may purchase photocopies of individual pages at €1 per page. Fees remain in place for all certified copies.

If you are travelling outside of the capital and plan to use the services of a heritage centre, be sure to contact the centre beforehand for full details about what you will be charged. Some heritage centres charge a flat fee of as much as €90 for searching their records for you, still others charge very little; the amount you will pay varies widely across the country. Also, some counties no longer have heritage centres. In that case a local library or history society may be able to assist you.

One of a bank of stained glass windows above the stone stairs in the National Library of Ireland.
©irisheyesjg.
9. BE PATIENT, and OBEY THE RULES.

Remember, you are one of many people of Irish heritage searching for information.

Given that digitized versions of the Catholic Parish Registers at the National Library of Ireland  on microfilm have been released online, you no longer have to worry about accessing them at the NLI. However, there is plenty of other material of genealogical import worth seeing at the library.

In addition, microfilm of The Irish Times newspaper (1823-1825 & 1859-2012) is available on a self-service basis in the microfilm room, adjacent to the Main Reading Room. Microfilm of the Irish Independent newspaper (1891-2011) is also available on self-service.

The NLI remains a working library for many people doing academic research, as well as for those doing family history research, so the library is generally a space of quiet study. Photography is generally prohibited in the principal study room. 

10. ORDER in advance materials you wish to consult.

This gets you off and running as soon as you step into an archive or library. This has always been very helpful for me at the National Archives, the Bureau of Military History Archives at Cathal Brugha, The National Library of Ireland, and University College Dublin. Everything is ready and waiting.

At Cathal Brugha, the duty archivist brought me 'extras' he had uncovered, in addition to the documents I had requested. At UCD, by receiving a documents request in advance, the archivist was able to give me an idea of the breadth of what I had requested, so I was able to edit my list to suit the amount of time I would be at the archive.

The documents ordering system for the National Library of Ireland works beautifully when you order in advance. Be sure to use it. Visit this page on their website for precise details about advance online ordering. Be aware that they have instituted a strict system of in-person document ordering times, so if you do not order in advance, you may find yourself wasting time just sitting there waiting for books/documents.

If you are a beginner at research, the NLI has a Family History Research Guide for beginners which is chock full of information. Be sure to stop by the Family History Research page of their website and download your own PDF copy.

11. BE AWARE OF RESEARCH SPACE LIMITATIONS

This is especially important for facilities which do not require an appointment, such as the Valuation Office in the Irish Life Centre.

If you plan to search through the land valuation revision books — an excellent way to connect an ancestor to a specific property at a specific time in history — in this office, be aware that there are a limited number of spaces for researchers, and sometimes these are taken up by genealogy enthusiasts on group tours. It is best to arrive as close to the opening time as you can, so that you can claim your space, and get help if necessary, before the rush starts. (see Archives, Genealogy and Public Office)

12. ASK IF YOU MAY USE YOUR DIGITAL CAMERA/iPHONE/iPAD etc. to record photos of the materials.

Ask first before taking any photographs of materials. Many repositories will allow you to do this, but some are very strict about the use of materials. Many of the repositories will have you first sign a document which indicates that you will not use ANY of the materials for publication without their prior written permission. Some limit the hours during which materials can be photographed, and some have a specific area set aside for shooting photographs.

Entry in Donabate Parish Register 1778/79
©irisheyesjg.
13. ASK, politely ask

Just by politely asking at Kilmainham Gaol, back in 2008 I was taken on a private tour of the floor of the gaol on which the Cumann na mBan women were held during the Irish Civil War, a floor which at that time was not part of the regular tour. It never hurts to politely ask.

Long before you go to Ireland send emails, write pen and paper letters, or computer generated letters, to anywhere you can think of to ask for information. Include in your letter every possible way of contacting you, i.e. snail mail, email, business address, home phone, fax number, and mobile number.  

Sending a letter to Guinness Brewery asking for information proved very useful for me. The archivist didn't have information specific to me, but she sent me a long list of all the Breweries/Distilleries that existed in the time period I was researching, including their locations, and on it I found the one for which I was searching.

14. VISIT CEMETERIES:

If you are in Dublin, the Prospect Cemetery at Glasnevin is a must see. With over one million people interred in its grounds it is a place replete with history. Visit the genealogy page on their website beforehand to see if any of 'your people' are among their numbers, and then go and pay your respects. If you happen to be a graveyard rabbit, Mount Jerome Cemetery is another must see in Dublin. Over 250,000 people are interred in its grounds, with some buried under some of the finest examples of Victorian period stones. Check out the the Dublin Heritage web page for their directory of graveyards throughout the county of Dublin. Be sure to stop by cemeteries in any area of the country in which you might find yourself. You never know who you might find.

Stones near O'Connell's Circle, The Prospect Cemetery at Glasnevin, Dublin.
©irisheyesjg.
The Bradley Tomb, Mount Jerome Cemetery, Harold's Cross, Dublin.
©irisheyesjg.
15. TALK:

Talk to other researchers you meet, and tell them what you're working on. Prior to the opening of the 'new' research room of the Bureau of Military History Archives in Dublin, researchers once had to work side by side in a very small room. At the most five people could squeeze in at one time; however, such tight quarters were conducive to conversation. Here I received a couple of great suggestions about books and documents from Paul, a researcher working next to me. Midway through a research day in 2009, the C.O. even put on tea and biscuits for us and talked to us about what we were working on. This archive is housed on the working Military base Cathal Brugha, so you must be escorted to it by a soldier, which offers another opportunity for conversation and learning.

16. TOUR:

Tour your ancestors' neighbourhoods. Look for the house where they lived. If it still exists, be brave, knock on the door, be very polite and tell them who you are and why you're there. They may invite you in, and you may discover they know of your ancestors or their descendants. Some Irish are surprisingly open to this, and like me, you may find yourself sitting down to tea with complete strangers who will become friends.

17. SEND THANK YOU NOTES:

Say thank you a lot. Always ask the name of anyone who helps you along the way. When you return home send thank you notes, or at least a thank you email, to the people who helped you. It will make you more memorable, and you may find little bits of helpful information show up in your mail later on.

Finally... one extra tip, although not related to research:

DON'T complain about the rain. Ireland is an island in the North Atlantic, and if you recall your elementary school science, that means its climate is 'governed' by the vagaries of the sea, so it rains in Ireland more than it does in a landlocked place. According to Met Éireann — the Irish meteorological service — there is rainfall on about 280 days a year in Ireland, sometimes more, sometimes less. That doesn't mean it rains all day long; often the rain falls for just a few minutes or a couple of hours. After the rain comes the sunshine, and the rainbows, and that just has to make you smile.

A favourite rainbow shot I took when I stopped for petrol in North County Dublin.
©irisheyesjg.
Copyright, including all images, ©irisheyesjg2008-2015. All Rights Reserved.
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