A Q&A held on IrishCentral’s Facebook page saw a great range of questions answered by FindMyPast’s expert genealogy team in Dublin. We’ve compiled the 5 most frequently asked questions from that session in case you’re facing similar challenges tracing your Irish roots. 

1. Where do I start?

A lot of people know they have Irish ancestors but have yet to get started on their Irish family history research. Speaking to the older members of your family and gathering as much information as possible before bringing your research online is always a good idea. Check out FindMyPast’s step-by-step guide to tracing your Irish family.

2. Where in Ireland did my family come from?

What makes Irish genealogy somewhat challenging is the fact that so many records were destroyed in a fire at the Public Records Office of Ireland in 1922. This included almost all of the nineteenth-century census records among others. All was not lost, however. There are still a great range of substitute records you can use for finding where your family came from like Griffith’s Valuation and newspapers.

3. When did my family come to America?

Emigration from Ireland was rife in the 1800s, particularly to America. This makes travel records all the more important when tracing your Irish family history. Knowing what port your family left from is sometimes key in this type of research. From Famine immigrant lists to passenger manifests and naturalizations, you’ll find an array of great migration records to explore on Findmypast.

4. How do I get back further?

With some research, most people can trace their Irish ancestors back to the nineteenth century. Before then, it becomes more challenging. Civil registration of births, marriages, and deaths only began in Ireland in 1864 so if you’re looking for an ancestor before then you rely mainly on parish records and other earlier resources. It is at the discretion of each parish in Ireland whether to make parish records available to the public. Don’t lose faith, however, because, there are still a great range of Irish records you can consult when trying to get back further.

5. What does my Irish surname mean?

Everybody loves to know the meaning of their Irish surname, the origin of it in Ireland and the places it is most associated with. One of the most prevalent books used by genealogists for this is Edward McLysaght’s The Surnames of Ireland.

* Originally published in January 2015. Updated in November 2023.