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Week 12 | Periods of Irish Migration, Land Records

The Findmypast team
14 March 2018

Welcome to week 12 of The Essential Guide to British and Irish Family History, exclusively for Findmypast Ultimate subscribers! This week, we'll be looking at different periods of migration and the record sets that you can use to find your Irish ancestors.

In addition, we'll explore Irish Land records, a very useful resource that you may not yet have explored.

More than 33 million Americans have Irish heritage - for a vast majority, their ancestors immigrated to America during the 19th century.

Over 3.8 million Irish immigrants arrived throughout the 1800s, especially in the middle part of the century when the deadly potato famine wreaked havoc on their homeland.

When researching your family history, identifying your Irish immigrant ancestors and discovering more about your family's life before they came to America is a huge accomplishment.

Up until now, the problem has been that it's really hard to do that - nearly all of the 19th century Irish censuses have been lost, leaving genealogists with a precious few documents to find evidence of their Irish ancestors.

But since we released 10 million local Irish Catholic Parish records, that's all changed. When compiled all together, these valuable local documents are able to reconstruct what was previously lost or inaccessible to Americans.

Now that these records are indexed and fully searchable online, many Americans will be able to find the missing link between their American and Irish families.

Let's take a look at exactly what you need to do to make this amazing discovery.

The info you need to have before searching Irish records

Before you try to trace your family back to Ireland, you need to spend time researching your American ancestors.

Though having good evidence for and understanding of each generation in your family is very important, it's especially important to zero in on your immigrant ancestors.

Here's the absolute minimum you'll need to know before you should start looking in Irish records:

  • Name
  • Date of birth
  • Location of birth
  • Names of siblings or parents (not 100% vital but very, very helpful)

Birthplace is the most essential, and will often be the make-or-break piece of information for many. As you probably know, many Irish last names are very common, so unless your name is unique you'll need to know where your ancestor was born at least down to the county level.

If you know their full name, date of birth and the county they were born in, that's enough to take a shot. But it's even better if you can find the parish or townland they were born in.

Which Irish record sets to search first

Okay, so you know where they came from and when they immigrated. Our parish registers span a the biggest period of immigration, so it's definitely worth searching there.

However, we do have other record sets that will be useful depending on the time period of their immigration.

Immigrated after 1901


Irish immigrants, 1909

If you ancestors came to America after 1901, the very first place you should look is the 1901 census. This snapshot will give you an extraordinarily detailed picture of their life and will provide plenty of information to use to trace them further back.

If you found them in the 1901 census, don't stop there! Use the below records to find even more.

Immigrated between 1864 and 1901

Civil registration began in Ireland in 1864, so if your ancestors were still in the country at that point then it's worth looking in either the birth, marriage or death indexes, which cover 1864 up to 1958. (note: Protestant marriages were recorded from 1845 onward).

Of course, our Irish Catholic parish registers reach up until 1900, so you should definitely look there as well. But even beyond that, there are more records to look for, so keep on reading!

Immigrated before 1864


Irish tenant farmers

If your family left Ireland before 1864, the most valuable records will be parish registers and land records. This is one of the main reasons we're so excited about our new Irish Catholic parish records - prior to their release, those who had ancestors who left Ireland before 1864 (a huge majority) had a very limited number of places to look.

Definitely begin by searching our Irish parish records (we do have records from the Church of Ireland as well - it's not all Catholic), but don't stop there.

Land records like Griffith's Valuation and the Landed Estate Court Rentals will also be very useful.

Land records are key resources for the genealogist exploring their family history. It's an amazing discovery to connect your ancestors to a piece of land, especially if it was a place the family remained for generations.

Much of what we discover in genealogy isn't tangible, but you can always visit your family's ancient homestead if you know where it is located!

And of course the wealth of information found in land records themselves - names of children, spouses or other family members, occupations and even the history of your family's land ownership - can be valuable to growing your tree and breaking through brick walls.

Why land records are important for Irish research

Land records are especially important for those of us researching our Irish ancestors. A well-practiced Irish genealogist knows that we must make the most out of any record we can get our hands on - Irish research is notoriously hard due to the many missing 19th century censuses.

Land ownership is also a particularly important theme in Irish history. At various times, intense political and even physical battles occurred as the power of land ownership was used to repress or favor different religious groups and levels of the social strata.

Fortunately, this means a substantial amount of paperwork about land and land ownership was generated, and relatively early too - systems of land registration date as far back as the early 18th century.

This is great news for the genealogist, especially Americans with Irish ancestry - once you have located the birthplace of your immigrant ancestors, you can begin tracing their Irish family further back. The ultimate prize is discovering exactly where you family lived in Ireland - then you have an excuse to go visit!



Historically, many of our Irish immigrants weren't landowners - many lived on large estates that were owned by a single family or individual.

Since a huge percentage of those that immigrated to America came from the lower rungs of the social and economic latter, most of our Irish ancestors were tenants on these huge estates. So most are going to be interested not in the land owners, but the tenants.

One fantastic resource for discovering the tenants of landed estates are the Landed Estates Court Rentals. You will find the records of over 500,000 tenants on over 8,000 estates from the 19th century. Just search for the record set in our A-Z of records!

Due to the Famine, many of the landed estates fell into bankruptcy in the latter part of the 19th century. As the government took over and assessed many of the properties, a huge number of records were generated, giving you the opportunity today to discover more than ever about your Irish ancestors.


We hope you've found week 12 of The Essential Guide to British and Irish Family History useful! We'll be back next week with more on Irish records. If you have any questions or comments about the course, please do let us know on Facebook or Twitter.