The Three Ws: Who, Where and When?
Eventually, all roads of research lead back to Ireland, and civil records, church records, census records, and property records. To access these records, you will need to develop the most accurate possible information on who – the names your ancestors were known by in Ireland (before immigration officials might have misspelled or otherwise altered them), where – which parish and townland they inhabited in Ireland, and when they lived there.
The best place to start your search for this kind of information is within your own family. Your grandmother's family bible, for example, may even have a crude family tree drawn in the first few pages, or bear an inscription listing names, localities, and date. A relative's attic may hold untold genealogical treasures, such as old family photographs with names, dates, and places written on the back, legal certificates, land deeds, diaries, newspaper articles, or obituary notices. Finding any of these records can accelerate your search dramatically.
Key Questions to Ask Your Relatives
As has already been emphasized, you need name, location, and date information. If one of your relatives knows an ancestor's age, the approximate date of birth could be estimated. It is also critical to establish where they they lived in Ireland and their religious affiliation. Here are some other important questions:
- Which parish or townland did they live in, and when? Is the parish or townland address known?
- Which religion were they? If Protestant, which denomination?
- What was the date of emigration from Ireland?
- What were their ages at emigration?
- At which port did they arrive?
- What are the names of family members who remained behind in Ireland?
- What was the family's social status in Ireland?
- What was the ancestor's occupation?
- Was the ancestor married? If so, what was his wife's first name and maiden name? What are the names and birthdates of any children?
A Note on Irish Surnames
When doing ancestor research, be aware that there are myriad contradictory ways to spell an Irish surname, and government and census officials may have used the spelling with which they were most familiar, in place of the correct spelling employed by and known to the family. For best research results, make a list of spelling variants for every Irish surname you are researching. Lists of Irish surname variants are available on the Internet and in many Irish genealogy books. Working from a surname list will help you develop the most comprehensive results for your search, and ensure you don't overlook any major sources just due to a slight misspelling of your ancestors' names.