Challenges of Irish family history


Researching Irish ancestry is a challenge and the results can be disappointing because of the lack of written family records. This can make tracing Irish roots difficult and frustrating. The state registration of non-Catholic marriages began in 1845, but the registration of all births, marriages and deaths did not begin until 1864.  In most cases, Church records are incomplete and few Church records exist from before 1800, particularly in rural areas.


Loss of Irish census records

Irish census record

But the real problem confronting Irish genealogists and Irish family history researchers is the catastrophic loss of almost all census records from 1821, when the full census of the island of Ireland was taken, up to 1891. The census records for 1821, 1831, 1841 and 1851 were stored at the Four Courts in Dublin and were destroyed by fire in 1922 during the Civil War.  Also lost were a large portion of Church of Ireland parish records and a majority of Wills.  Further, the census returns of 1861, 1871, 1881 and 1891 were pulped by government order to support the 1914 - 18 war effort.  


This robs the family historian of a valuable means of corroborating evidence as well as verifying useful details including occupations, marital status, family composition, ages, religions, counties of birth and places of residence.


Census substitutes

As a result the family researcher must rely heavily on Irish church and estate records.  Since there is only limited information available online, to make progress, the researcher must visit centralised public archives in Dublin or Belfast. 

Irish census record

Here the researcher must be prepared to sift through huge index books of civil records and to scrutinise vast collections of old, faded and hand-written church registers, typically reproduced on microfilm. These records often have many gaps, some documents are illegible and others are badly disfigured.  In addition, they are presented in chronological order, so that finding particular family entries can require considerable time and patience.


Despite these dificulties there are considerable opportunities.  Extensive church records exist from the early 19th century and civil records are available from the middle of the 19th century.  In addition, important records from land and property valuation exercises begun in the 1820s are available and they provide valuable information about landlords and their tenants for the whole island.




Family History research services



I can undertake an assessment to verify and document information about a particular Irish ancestor and to provide a solid foundation for more detailed genealogical research, while determining what research options have a good possibility of success.    For more about my Family History assessment service...

Family History Packages

I can offer to research an Irish family line and present the results in a Family History package.  This is based on a Model Package which I have developed to describe what can be provided if all the information for a Family History is available.     For more about Irish Family History packages...

Time-limited family history research

Irish high cross - ancestral grave

I am happy to carry out specific family history research work to help you trace your family tree and discover your Irish roots.  Research work can be commissioned on an hourly basis, with a minimum of 2 hours. The research required will be documented in a Family Research Plan and agreed before starting.    




Tracing your family history in Britain


I can help trace Irish families who emigrated to Britain in the 19th century and maintain a single family tree.

    For more about tracing Irish families in Britain...




Refund Guarantee

On some occasions it will not be possible to trace a family line due, for instance, to the absence of family history records in Ireland.  I offer a guarantee that only work successfully complete will be charged and you will receive a pro-rata refund for work that cannot be completed.



skip to top


If you have little information

about an Irish ancestor and want

to do an initial search to

assess if there is

a solid basis

for further research,

then please

consider my

Assessment Project

If you are not

sure what help you need then please consider my

Free Consultation