Finding Your Irish Roots
Is Easier Than Ever Before

By Megan Smolenyak

Now is the time to get all your documents together so that when the time is right to visit Ireland and discover your ancestors you are ready to go.

More and more Irish genealogical sites are now online, including parish records, so you can do the research here, and as soon as you land you can head straight for that place from whence your ancestors came.


In July 2015, the National Library of Ireland went live with a digitized collection of Irish Catholic Parish Records from the 1670-1900 time frame, a huge boon for those of Irish heritage. Just one catch. No index. Well, there were a variety of partial indexes scattered here and there on other sites, but no comprehensive one.

At the time I wrote, “Be patient and wait for the almost inevitable search tools that will appear on other websites. More than likely, one or more genealogy companies such as Ancestry.com, FindMyPast, and MyHeritage began transcribing the records the day they went live.”

Sure enough, both Ancestry and Findmypast released their indexes and the timing was fairly predictable as it coincided with the beginning of Irish-American Heritage Month. This year as we mark Irish American Heritage Month and we cannot yet travel it is a good time to start your research and be prepared to travel when the time is right.

More recently things have gotten even better with family researchers making use of sites such as IrishGenealogy.ieRootsIreland.ie, and the National Archives of Ireland.

Also, FindMyPast has a collection of Catholic records that are getting better and better ­– particularly in terms of U.S. records (such as NYC). Until recently, they were strictly off bounds, so having them online is a terrific boost to many. It’s still a work in progress in terms of indexing, but even so….

Celebrity roots found in the parish records of the National Library of Ireland discovered by the author. Top to bottom: Jimmy Fallon, President Joe Biden, Bruce Springsteen, and Stephen Colbert.

These four sites cover a lot of ground. FindMyPast and RootsIreland are paysites. The others are free (thanks to the Irish government). The National Archives site has the 1901 and 1911 census records and IrishGenealogy.ie helps you access both civil and church records.

In terms of the Irish Catholic Parish archives, the actual records themselves can still be patchy – some parishes have none, some have records for certain clusters of years (most commonly, a chunk of the 1800s), and so forth. That said, they are still a big deal for those with Irish heritage because – for many – the parish records will go a long way to removing the considerable impediment of having to know exactly where your ancestors came from in Ireland before diving into local records. In fact, many will now learn where their ancestors came from in Ireland from this tremendous collection.

More and more resources are available online, and Tourism Ireland has put together a comprehensive list of genealogical research sites and heritage sites and there’s plenty of advice and support out there from official organizations, genealogy experts, and enthusiastic amateurs who are on a similar journey.

So what are you waiting for? Start digging for those Irish roots! 

When you are ready to plan your trip visit Ireland.com for inspiration, travel itineraries, and more♦


Megan Smolenyak is a genealogist and the author of six books, including Trace Your Roots with DNA and Who Do You Think You Are?, a companion to the TV series. She prefers to call herself an incurable genealogist and sometimes author. Her articles for Irish America, include a piece that she wrote about her decade-long search that finally turned up the Irish cousins of Annie Moore of Ellis Island fame. She also brought to light the Irish heritage of President Joe Biden, President Barack Obama, and such celebrities as Bruce Springsteen, Jimmy Fallon, and Stephen Colbert. Her most recent genealogical detective work has rooted out the Irish ancestors of Barry Manilow. Her articles for the magazine also include such hidden discoveries as, “The Spy in the Castle,” which concerned the Dublin Metropolitan Police officer and Michael Collins spy David Neligan.

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