Presentation Notes: 2008-2009

Using the Internet for Irish Genealogy

Presented by Dennis J. Ahern - September 10, 2008

Notes by Jeanne Carley

Dennis J. Ahern, a well-known Irish Massachusetts genealogist active in historical groups and a speaker at genealogy conferences, described researching Irish ancestry on the Internet. In a booming voice, he began by talking about How the Irish Saved Civilization (book by Thomas Cahill) and the Book of Kells. He told how the Irish monks hid their works, painstakingly copied and gloriously illustrated by hand in the monasteries, from the roving Vikings in round towers on rocks off the Irish coast. Later, Gutenberg printed their works so that a broader group of people could have access.

He explained how the Irish census was destroyed in various ways. During World War II, pulp from the Irish census records was used to provide paper for use in Britain. Another obstacle to Irish research was the bishops' refusal to grant permission to the National Library of Ireland to access church records prior to 1991. And still today, some bishops such as in County Cork, refuse to allow access. Townlands (small areas) make up civil parishes, which make up baronies, which make up counties, which make up provinces (Munster, Ulster and Connaught), according to Ahern.

Through the Internet, all of us can become authors and spread the information to our families. "You never know what you're going to find on the Internet", he said. Mr. Ahern provided attendees with a handout listing numerous Web sites and books to help with researching Irish ancestors using the Internet. You can find a copy of the handout at Mr. Ahern's Web site at: From there you can link to the sites he mentioned in his talk.

Mr. Ahern discussed how various Web sites are making research easier, such as Steve Morse's One-Step tool for searching the Ellis Island site; the LDS's IGI searchable database of the 1990 UK census and US census records; as well as the British Birth Marriage and Death records (FreeBMD) run by volunteers.

In 1801 Parliament was abolished in Dublin in the English Act of Union and so a campaign was formed to restore the Irish Parliament, with an appeal rent collected every Sunday in which farmers put in a penny - all of them are listed in the appeal fund. He suggested looking in local newspapers for our Irish ancestors and the National Photographic Archive, and for civil registrations from 1864 at the General Register Office. For Northern Ireland, check Public Records Office or PRONI. The calendar of wills and administration throughout Ireland is listed, but doesn't have whole wills. The Irish Times in Dublin has information about the Poor Law Union in the 1840's, which provided relief for people during the Famine. Griffiths Valuation from the mid-19th century lists head of household and street address.

He spoke about the Royal Irish Constabulary, which sent men to other counties to prevent their relatives' influence in the RIC (National Archives), and the Garda (police) Archives Museum, Castle Dublin. Also he discussed the county Heritage Centers formed in the 1980's, some of which operate efficiently and others not so well. (The problem lies in the employment service hiring young people and training them in data entry, with mixed results. Now they are improving with the help of volunteers). He reminded listeners that not everyone left Ireland, so many descendants of your relatives are still there. Researchers are available to help through the National Archives and National Records Offices. Another valuable website is History from Headstones, listing tombstones from over 800 graveyards around Northern Ireland.

Mr. Ahern recommended Googling "genealogy Ireland" to find sites and trying genealogy sites where one can post queries and contribute to discussions. The Irish Ancestral Research Institute (TIARA) Web site has many links to these sites. Another important web site is the Belfast Newsletter, the newspaper of record for all of Ireland. On the Transported Felons site (Irish to Australia), orphans and relatives of prison guards and criminals were also listed. He revealed an interesting fact: many women committed misdemeanors so they could find a husband in Australia where men far outnumbered women.

Listings in the Irish Death Notices database index do not point to formal obits, but they do include names of the deceased, place, age, burial, as in newspapers. He pointed out that many newspaper obits, such as the New York Irish American, concluded their obituaries with "other newspapers please copy." Finding an obituary of someone other than in the locality where they died can be an important clue. The National Library of Ireland lists all newspapers available.

Mr. Ahern's personal Web site includes many articles and links of interest to the Irish family historian or genealogist. Look for Dennis Ahern at:

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