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A lot of us are fortunate to have Irish ancestry, but researching them is no easy task! Because of the violent history of the country, many events that were recorded have not survived and those that were are not always easily accessible. Researchers of Irish ancestry need to understand the role the English (Protestant) played in the lives of everyday Irishmen (most of whom were Catholic). The English have been trying to take over Ireland since the 12th century. In continuing efforts to subdue the Irish, English monarchs and government have tried every means possible to eradicate "Irishness". However, they did accomplish much in the way of record-keeping in more recent years.
As with most English-speaking countries, Ireland kept censuses, starting in 1821. However, the first four censuses were destroyed in the Civil War fire of 1922 at the Public Record Office in Dublin, and the 1861 through 1891 censuses were destroyed by order of the government. As of today, only complete 1901 and 1911 censuses are available to search for your Irish ancestry. They are on microfilm from the Family History Library and available online. Use a search engine to locate sites with Irish censuses. Fragments and transcripts of some earlier censuses are also available.
While civil registration of non-Catholic marriages began in 1845, registration of all births, marriages and deaths did not begin until 1864. For the first 20 years or so, most Irishmen were leery of government intervention and did not register these events. And, when they did, infants are often registered as just "male" or "female". One of the hardest things about researching your Irish ancestry is the confusing array of various place names and boundaries. Registration Districts are based on market towns and their catchment areas. Also confusing is the repetition of given names. Indexes are available on microfilm. Some certificates are also on microfilm; the rest need to be ordered from the General Register Office in Dublin or Oxford House in Belfast, depending on the year and place. Birth certificates give the names of both parents, marriage certificates give only the fathers' names, and death certificates do not give any parents' names.
After the Protestant Reformation in the 16th century, the Church of Ireland (Protestant) became the state church, although most Irishmen remained Catholic. Because of religious persecution of our Irish ancestry, priests seldom kept written records and those who did kept them hidden (think damage to the paper). However, record-keeping improved in the early 1800s. Catholic records are now housed at the National Library in Dublin. Many are in Latin and you may need to get written permission from the local parish priest to access them. Local Heritage Centres are also in the process of collecting transcripts of many different kinds of records. To determine the name of the relevant Catholic parish, you will need to refer to Brian Mitchell's Guide to Irish Parish Records, Lewis' Topographical Dictionary of Ireland (1837), or Index to Towns, Townlands and Parishes of Ireland which is based on 1851, 1871 and 1901 censuses.
Some Church of Ireland records began much earlier but many were burned in the 1922 fire. Existing records and transcripts of our Irish ancestry who belonged to this church are now held in a variety of locations. There were also Presbyterian, Methodist, and Quaker congregations, as well as others.
Land records take on more importance in Ireland than usual because of its history, and for these an index is available on CDs by Broderbund. Tithe Applotment lists date from 1823-1838 and Griffith's Primary Valuation covers 1848-1864. These will help you locate the area in which your Irish ancestry lived. The records themselves are of little value except for socio-economic data, and perhaps the name of the person's father if his name is common.
The Potato Famine , 1846-1851, was a tragedy for which there are few records except as immigrants entered the USA.
Wills, deeds, newspapers, emigration records, directories, estate and occupation records can be searched. Perhaps the best reference book is Tracing Your Irish Ancestors by John Grenham. It may even be necessary to travel to Ireland to search cemeteries or talk to the locals but please do all you can on this side before you go.