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Are you one of the millions of people worldwide of Irish descent? The easiest way to connect to your Irish roots is to start your family tree. And the best way to do this is to start with what you know. Grab a pen and paper and sketch out the information you have on your immediate family. Include as many dates as you can. You may not have all the details to hand but you will quickly see how easy it is to build your family tree - going back to your great-grandparents gives you 14 branches straight away. But how do you identify your Irish connection?

You may know the exact member of your family who came from Ireland, in which case you can begin adding your Irish branches straight away, but if you don’t, Findmypast can help you get started in 10 steps.

When looking for the Irishman or woman who made it across the Atlantic talk to your family, especially the older generations. Findmypast created a questionnaire to help you gather specific information that will help you. You’d be surprised at what information you can discover in a few minutes. Family tales or folklore can often provide you with information that will help you narrow down a search.

US Census records are a great place to identify your Irish ancestor – from 1860 onwards people were asked to state their place of birth. Here’s an example from New York in 1940.

Now you’ve reached the Irish branch or your tree, what’s next? During your search, keep this in mind: geographic information is vital when tracing your Irish family. Some records will contain this information, but you should also look at old letters, diaries, obituaries or gravestones. Maybe your family made the news in 1868 - information can come from the most surprising of sources.

If your ancestor has a common Irish name, if you don’t know where in Ireland they are from it’s almost impossible to identify which ‘Michael Ryan’ is your ancestor; so any scrap of information you can find which has a place name (like a parish, town or the smallest village you can think of) will help you find your Irish family.

Once you’ve created your family tree and identified your Irish link, it’s time to dive into the Irish records – we’ll show you how you can do this in part II.

To read more on tracing your family in travel records click here.

For more stories on tracing your Irish heritage from Findmypast click here.