Researching Your Irish Ancestors

Before a person begins any research in Ireland for their ancestors, there is work to do here at home.  For the average American the most critical factor in bridging the gap between the United States and Ireland is the date and place of arrival in America and the exact part of Ireland from which the original ancestor came.    This means if family stories say that great-grandpa Isaac was Irish, this does not necessarily mean that he was born in Ireland.  It may mean that his parents were born in Ireland and great-grandpa Isaac may have been born in America with Irish ancestry.  You need to trace back to the original ancestor who immigrated from Ireland.  Once you find this ancestor, then you need to find everything you can about this person.

The emigration point from which your immigrant left may not be their home town.  Today, we would drive to Louisville, KY to catch a plane to fly somewhere.  It was the same with our ancestors, they needed to travel to a port city to board a ship.

Census records, death certificates, tombstones, and family bibles are all sources that may give clues to the person’s birth place.  Check also to see if there may be personal papers such as early letters from the homeland or diaries of this ancestor.  Other items that may be of help or interest are passenger lists, naturalization records and early land records.  All of these ask for personal information.

Compulsory emigration from Ireland rose sharply due to poverty following the Act of Union in 1800.  This resulted in excessive competition from English factories which meant a great loss of home industry, thus resulting in thousands departing Ireland to seek a new livelihood in the New World.  Worse was yet to come with the blight and failure of the potato crop which deprived the masses of their staple food resulting in starvation.  We know this as the Potato Famine.

Once it was decided to emigrate to another country, a sailing ticket was purchased from the local agent of the shipping line.  Then came the long trip to the port of embarkation.  Delays of several weeks were not unusual while the would be passenger sought a place on a ship.  Not only individuals but also whole families or even groups of people from the same locality would make the dangerous voyage together.  Voyages usually took from fifty to eighty days depending on weather conditions.


Another interesting fact to note is the great number of passengers who listed their occupation as ”labourers” or “farmers”.  This was done to avoid the ban against the emigration of skilled labour needed to power the Britain’s industrial revolution.


If you have any questions about the post or any genealogy related questions, our Library Genealogist, Wanda S.  will be glad to assist you.  You can reach her via email at  You are also welcome to leave a comment in the comments section below and we will route it to her.

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