Finding your Irish family history
A huge resource of family history information is available in the journal articles, books and manuscripts written by genealogy enthusiasts and scholars over centuries. They contain personal information on ancestors that is not available anywhere else. No church or civil record will tell you that your ancestor was a wonderful singer or dancer; nor detail their hobbies; nor reveal that their marriage was the culmination of a great romance, or of a family arrangement. Accounts of families in history journals (sometimes written by family members) can provide such information and can knit together barren civil and church records into a richer picture of the family; how they were regarded, and their contributions and interactions with their community. Even if there is no article specifically on your family, they may be referenced in articles about other local families or events. Local history journals are therefore a valuable source, particularly as more of them are becoming available online. If you have a very famous (or infamous) ancestor, an academic historian or professional biographer may have documented their lives and family in books, but these are rare.
Sources for Irish family history 2021
Hot off the press is a new publication by Flyleaf Press entitled ‘Sources for Irish family history 2021’ which lists 6,500 articles and books on around 2,500 Irish families. As a special offer for IrelandXO readers, there is 40% discount on this title. Click here and insert the discount code IRLXO when ordering.
An analysis of the 2,500 family names covered by this book shows that they do not reflect the prevalence of Irish family names. Unsurprisingly, most of the families covered are the wealthier and prominent families that historically comprised the landed gentry and aristocracy. The families of the ‘gentry’ and the landlord are better recorded than those of the tenants or workers. Among other factors, gentry families had members with the time, resources, and education to compile family histories.
The availability of these sources varies significantly by county. Some counties (e.g. Kildare, Cork & Kilkenny) have long-established and active local history societies and their journal back issues are a huge resource. Local history activity in other counties, e.g. Mayo or Longford, is of a more recent vintage. Note also that these societies are voluntary organisations therefore the frequency and standard of their journals varies. Some impose editorial guidelines, whereas others have minimal editorial input. The introduction to the above e-book lists the 100+ journals cited, the vast majority located in Ireland, and their websites.
Where to find local publications and history journals
All of the articles and books listed are available, but not necessarily on-line. Some have been put on-line by their societies, and others have been digitised by Archive.org, Google books and by local libraries. Other societies sell copies of their past journals for a modest fee. Some histories were privately published in small numbers for distribution to family members and are rare in hard copy. However, many of these have also been digitised. A full description of how to access all of these is included in the book introduction.
Share your own research of your family history with others
Finally, the above description may encourage you to submit your family history to a library, or a local history journal. This will ensure that your work endures and that you will delight a fellow researcher (probably a relative) sooner or later. In 2015 we conducted a survey of 500 family history enthusiasts as to their intentions. Surprisingly, only 38% planned to write a family history, and < 14% intended to make it available outside their family. See our blog here for full details.
Local libraries, particularly those in the area from which your ancestor came, will gladly accept such publications. Some may assess its quality and value before accepting it, but if it contains useful local information in a readable form, it will usually be accepted. If you have an unpublished family history which has been accepted by a major library, we will also be delighted to include it in future editions of ‘Sources for Irish Family History’.
Dr Jim Ryan is a writer and publisher who has been active in Irish genealogy for the past 35 years. His books include: Irish Records- sources of family and local history; Tracing your Dublin Ancestors (Flyleaf Press 2009); Irish Church Records (Flyleaf 2001); Sources for Irish Family History (Flyleaf 2001), and Tracing your Sligo Ancestors (Flyleaf 2012). He writes blogs and articles for Ancestor Network and Irish Roots, and previously for In-Depth Genealogist, and Irish America. He has lectured extensively to genealogy conference and societies. You can find his blog HERE
Do you know of a family history publication related to your local Irish area? The IrelandXO Local Guide hosts a media/book category and Ireland Reaching Out members are invited to add the details of any local publication they know about, sharing it with others descended from the same area.