Planning tips for research trips.

Wednesday, 2 March, 2016
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For many of the Irish Diaspora, visiting their ancestral home in Ireland is a regular event - an opportunity to strengthen the links with their heritage and a chance to introduce younger generations to their Irish family history. For others of Irish descent, the opportunity to travel to Ireland and visit the places of their ancestors can be a once in a lifetime journey - anticipated for years and highly significant in terms of re-establishing concrete links with their familial heritage and their sense of cultural identity.

Irish family history planning your trip

There is no better way to engage with Ireland and get a real feel for our culture than by meeting and talking with people local to the area. If you are planning a trip to Ireland, even if the dates have not been decided, make sure that you let us know so that we can help connect you with the local communities of your ancestors. You can let us know by posting a message in the parish you are descendent from or simply send us an email by clicking here

At Ireland Reaching Out, we are regularly asked for practical advice about planning a trip to Ireland - especially if the person has never been before and hopes to discover more about their Irish family history while here. We asked travel expert and genealogy enthusiast Ginger Aarons to share with us her recommendations when planning a trip to Ireland.  

"When I’m asked how much time should be allowed in holidaying and researching in Ireland, I always say as much time as you can afford! Basing yourself in two or three central areas when researching allows you time to have those serendipitous experiences that you need when breaking down brick walls in family history research, which is why so many come to Ireland after years of researching online. Allowing time to breath and not having a detailed daily itinerary is paramount both to enjoyment and ease of travel as well as giving you the time to discover where your ancestors lived. It also allows for chance meetings that can answer long held questions in relation to the family tree as well as possibly finding that elusive ancestor.  That's why it’s important to get out of the library when researching. If you give yourself that gap in the itinerary and the opportunity to change your plans (not being tied down every minute of every day) it allows a chance for great things to happen. 

Traveling to Ireland is for some, a once in a lifetime experience while for others it is a yearly pilgrimage to the "auld sod” and a chance to explore more of the island. In 18 years of traveling in Ireland with clients and for my own research, I’ve never found a place I didn’t want to explore more.  Every part of the country is rich in culture and offers so much in local traditions alongside a variety of things to see and do. There are no wrong answers as to where to go and what to see when choosing your own special itinerary."

A guide to help you plan and prepare for your research travel in Ireland.

How much time should I allow for my genealogy research trip to Ireland?

It is good idea to stay at least 4 Days in Dublin and/or Belfast area for research purposes and accessing central repositories. This allows for time to research and see sites in the city or further afield (40 miles circumference). This can be split into two time slots, (at the beginning and the end of your holiday), if you are arriving in Dublin.  However many transatlantic flights actually arrive in Shannon Airport in the west of Ireland. Don’t forget records for all 32 counties can be found in records offices in both Dublin and Belfast.

Plan to visit your ancestral area for a minimum of 6 days. If you are unsure of where your ancestors are from, but you have a general idea, base yourself in the largest city (where records may be located for that county) or just a little bit outside.  This will ease your driving in Ireland (for many, on the 'wrong' side of the road) but gives you the opportunity of perhaps a bed and breakfast or farm stay to experience all aspects of Irish hospitality.  

 If you are able to stay longer than the average 10 day holiday, then plan your days around the island with a bucket list of things to do and see. 

Picture: Main reading room at the National Library of Ireland

What are the general access days and times?

Most Irish genealogical archive repositories are opened for public access from Monday and Friday.  Some repositories may be closed on Mondays but will open on Saturdays instead. There a number of Bank Holidays in Ireland, which fall on a Monday, and this will mean that most state archives will be closed on these days. Make sure that you are aware of any Bank Holidays during your holiday before your visit.

Typical hours for the National Library of Ireland (NLI) in Dublin and PRONI in Belfast are as follows:

National Library of Ireland

Monday - Wednesday, 9.30am - 7.45pm

Thursday & Friday 9.30am-4.45pm

Saturday 9.30AM-12.45pm 


Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday & Friday 9am - 4.45pm

Thursday 10am-8pm

It's always best to check opening hours of other repositories such as the Presbyterian Historical Society of Ireland in Belfast. It is run by one person and is only open Tuesday to Thursday. They are closed for lunch and everyone has to leave the library for safety and these additional repositories can be useful if you are already in the area.

Last document ordering times are usually half hour before closing time.  There may be certain costs associated with ordering copies of documents and it is best to have cash as usually no other payment facilities are available. 

Allow time to get your reader's card/ticket at PRONI, the National Library and the National Archives. Special reader cards are issued so you can access archives and older files.  Many places require you to have a form of ID in order to obtain a card/ticket. A passport, drivers license or EU identity card should be sufficient.

What should I bring with me when accessing archives?

As with both the National Library of Ireland and PRONI, purses, backpacks etc are not allowed in the reading rooms and secure lockers are provided free of charge. The National Archives in Dublin also provides lockers for your belongings and does not allow bags, pens, food or drink in their Reading Room. In most cases you may only take in a small notebook and pencil into the reading rooms. Computers are available for research at both facilities and you may be able to use a laptop but cannot take a laptop bag into a research area. If you think you will need copies of anything, bring change or coins for the copying charges. 

Keep track of what you have accessed in a notebook, or smart phone so that you do not waste time re-ordering the same file/manuscript over and over again. You should also consider any restrictions that may be in place as a way to protect privacy and keep the records safe. In the latter case, some records/archives have been digitised so that you can access them at home before your journey. I often email my findings at the end of the day to my home account. This allows me to keep a summary of the day and acts as a refresher if I have been doing a lot of research. Keeping your notes in a small notebook is essential if you're not getting copies of the research as it it portable and easy to carry/keep in your pocket.

Keeping your traveling companions entertained!

For those that are traveling with you and not doing research, Dublin has many interesting things to see within walking distance of the national repositories. The National Gallery and Museum of Natural History are within 5 minutes walk of the NLI, as is Trinity College with its stunning library and access to the Book of Kells.  PRONI is in the Titanic Quarter in Belfast and there is a lot to do in the same area. Meeting for lunch and taking a break can help you in your research too. Research can be tiring and so frequent breaks will give you time to think! Being in the library is not always fruitful and can be exhausting. Remember to get out and stretch your legs and clear your head with some fresh Irish air. Coming back with fresh eyes can sometimes bring the breakthrough you need!

The Long Hall in Trinity College Dublin ©Tourism Ireland

Picture: The Long Hall in Trinity College Dublin

Do some homework before your trip.

Remember to do general searches initially if you're unsure of where your ancestor is from, such as in Griffith's Valuation (for dates 1848-1864) and the 1901/1911 Census. These sources are useful too to check what variations of spelling in place and people were recorded at the time. Townland spellings can be tricky so those sources are very useful and free too! Google can also turn up a plethora of information you may not have thought of. For those ancestors who may have been part of the landed gentry Hayes Sources database operated by the NLI can give entire lists of archives relevant to a given person or subject search.

When contemplating your ancestors movements from Ireland, (and sometimes between England and Ireland, not just Ireland and America), the Mellon Centre for  Migration Studies, located at the Omagh Folk Park can be a treasure trove of information. The library is open Monday - Friday and with the Folk Park next door, so your traveling companions will also have something to do!

Wishing you luck and success in your travels to Ireland! You never know who you might meet!"

Ginger Aarons, CTC  is the founder of Time Travel, LLC, often called Time Travel Tours. In 1998, after researching her own ancestry, she started doing tours in Ireland offering bespoke, custom tours for family research. Incorporating a way to travel and learn, Time Travel offers a way to see the real Ireland, taking the back roads and meeting the locals.  You can find her online at

There is no better way to engage with Ireland and get a real feel for our culture than be meeting and talking with people local to the area. If you are planning a trip to Ireland, even if the dates have not been decided upon, make sure that you let us know so that we can help connect you with the local communities of your ancestors.  You can let us know by posting a message in the parish you are descendent from or simply send us an email by clicking here