Key Irish Genealogical Sources
Census  and Census Substitutes
If available, every name census records are a core resource for genealogical research in any county. However, the vast majority of Irish census records for the 19th Century census are missing for various reasons. The first, all Ireland, every name census, was taken in 1821 and then on ten year intervals throughout the Century. The 1861 and 1871 census were destroyed by the government soon after they were taken. The 1881 and 1891 censuses were pulped during WW I, and most of the remaining census for 1821, 1831, 1841 and 1851 we destroyed by the fire at the Public Records Office in the Four Courts building on 30 June 1922 during the Irish Civil War. What remains of these lost censuses are fragments mostly from 1821 to 1851. More about these pre-1901 fragments can be found at the National Archives.
The first full remaining Irish census is that of 1901. That census plus the 1911 census can be searched by name or location at the National Archives. This search will let you view images of the censuses as well as extracts of the information contained therein. While there were many censuses taken during the 20th Century the remaining ones are closed for a period of 100 years.
A researcher whose Irish ancestors left Ireland during the 19th Century may wonder why they should bother searching these early 20th Century censuses. The answer is that there may well be other family members who stayed back in Ireland and who can be found through these searches.
Why Census Substitutes?
Good question? Because of the absence of almost all of the 19th Century census records for Ireland, records that would be almost entirely ignored in any other advanced country, become important for the genealogical research. None of these has the value of a well conducted every name survey of the whole county, but they are what is available. Each is limited as to what portion of the population they cover and as to what information is recorded. Nonetheless, they are useful because they do tie a person or sometimes just a surname to a particular place at a specific time.
The two most comprehensive of such lists is the Tithe Applotment Books and Griffith’s Primary valuation.
Tithe Applotment Books:
The TITHE APPLOTMENT BOOKS (1823-1838) The Tithe Applotment is a detailed census of occupiers of titheable land, listing landed gentry, farmers and tenants. Its limitation is it represents only a small section of the population – not a list of householders, laborers, weavers, cottiers or urban dwellers. For almost every parish, they show the land occupiers’ names, amount of land held, and amount to be paid in tithes to the Church of Ireland (the Established Church until 1871). Everyone had to pay regardless of religion. The amount to be paid was fixed based on the average price for wheat and oats in each parish over the seven years preceding 1821, and was to be paid in cash rather than in kind (e.g., services, crops). 
Digitized images of those for the Republic of Ireland may be searched by name and/or location at The National Archives of Ireland website. The FamilySearch website has digitized images for all of Ireland. The FamilySeach WIKI page provides a good explanation of these records.
Tithe Defaulters:
There was a rebellion against the Tithe by some Catholics in the 1831 time period. A list was drawn up of these Tithe Defaulters in June to August of 1832. This lists gives name, location by townland and sometimes occupation. The surviving records cam be searched at findmypast, a pay site.
Griffith’s Primary Valuation and allied publications:
Griffith’s Primary Valuation was a tax assessment survey conducted across all of Ireland from 1848 to 1864. This survey enumerates each land occupier, the name of the landowner, map reference for the land, the acreage, the value of the property and the tax on that. These records are arranged by county, barony, Poor Law Union, civil parish and on down townland. These records were published county by county over a period extending form 1848 to 1864 going from the South up to the North. See this table for the dates of publication for each county.
Probably the best place to search and view these records is Ask about Ireland, a free site providing the ability to search by surname or place. Here you can look at either a transcription of the printed report or a digitized copy of the report itself. This site also links each digitized image to an image of the relevant map that was created at the time of the valuation. These digitized images are downloadable as PDF files. The map view allows for switching between various versions of 19th Century maps and a modern map of the area. These maps also can show symbols of the area covered by Name Books which provide a bit of a history of the name of places and various local landmarks. It is well worth the time to read the material about Griffith’s provided at Ask About Ireland and
Griffith’s Valuation is also available online at findmypast and Ancestry, both pay sites that provide search capabilities, images of the published Griffith’s and linked maps.
As preparation for the publication of the Primary Valuation books a number of other surveys and evaluations were conducted. These pre-publication books are described in several places. A good place to learn about these is at The National Archives of Ireland page on Validation Office books 1824-1856 where there is a description of the books and a search tool for those that the NLI has digitized. Extracts of these records can also be found and searched at FamilySearch.
After Grifith’s Primary Valuation was published a series of records were created to keep track of changes in the land occupier landlord, size of holding or value of the plot. In the North these are called Revision Books and in the Republic there are called Canceled and Current Land Books. The Northern Ireland Revision Books have been digitized and are available to search on the Public Record Office of Northern Ireland (PRONI) website. The Canceled Books and the Current Land Books for the Republic are available for viewing in person a the Valuation Office in Dublin. The Family History Library has films of these up to 1900.
Name Lists
Spinning Wheel Survey of 1796:
This is a list of 52,641 people who received either a spinning wheel or loom for planting either one or five acres of flax in the year 1796. Counties Dublin and Wicklow are not included. Names and civil parishes are noted except for County Longford where names are arranged by barony. IGSI has a microfiche copy of this in our library. The Family History Library has a rental copy, No. 6341104.
Religious Censuses:
1766 Religious Census: Most of this was lost in the 1922 fire in the Four Courts building. Ancestry has an index to about 11,000 names found in the census fragments. The Family History Library has the same list of names arranged by parish or townland on microfilms No. 100173 adn 100200. The National Library of Ireland has a guide as to where to find surviving returns.
1740 Census of Protestant householders: Another collection destroyed in 1922. Transcripts for Counties Armagh, Antrim, Derry, Donegal, Down, Longford and Tyrone can be found at either The Public Record Office of Northern Ireland and The National Library of Ireland.
1749 Census of Elphin diocese: This detailed survey can be found online at findmypast. It covers most of County Roscommon, part of south-east County Sligo and part of north-east County Galway.
Freeholders Lists:
Freeholders were those with larger land holdings who were able to vote. There are many of these lists created on various local levels. See Ryan, Irish Records: Sources for Family and Local History and Grenham, Tracing Your Irish Ancestors for those created arranged by location.
Catholic Qualification Rolls, 1700-1845:
Early entries are of those Catholics who converted to the established church and took an Oath of Allegiance to the King. After 1744 they did not need to convert, just testify as to their allegiance. These lists cover over 50,000 people. They can be search on the National Archives of Ireland website.
Voter Lists:
These include lists of those eligible to vote and of those who actually voted. There are many of these. It is best to consult Grenham’s, Tracing Your Irish Ancestors on a County by County basis or other detailed County genealogy reference works.
Old Age Pension Applications:
In order to benefit from the Old Age Pension act of 1908, applicants has to prove they were 70 years of age or older. Given that civil registration of births did not start until 1864, the government used the 1841 and 1851 censuses as evidence of age. Applicants provided their parents’ names and place of residence in March of 1841/1851 for a search of these records. These applications can be searched on line at The National Archives of Ireland website.
Church Records
Given the lack of surviving 19th Century censuses and the late start of Civil Registration in Ireland, church records are an essential part of Irish genealogical research for the 19th Century, especially prior to 1864 when Civil Registration began. It is in church records where relationships between parents and child and between spouses are to be found. Church records are one of the few surviving sources that name these relationships in a direct manner and provide date and place were the events that create these relationships.
The vast majority of the Irish population belonged to the Roman Catholic religion. The remainder of the population were spread over a number of Protestant congregations with Church of Ireland and Presbyterian comprising the greater number of these. Of the total 1861 Irish population of 5,794,864 the religious affilation was divided as seen here:
Roman Catholic 4,505,265
Church of Ireland 693,357
Presbyterian 523,291
Methodist 45,399
Independent 4,532
Baptist 4,237
Quaker 3,695
Jewish 393
Other 14,695
Regardless of the religious affiliation of your ancestors, you should always check the Church of Ireland records because many people would get married in that religion and/or have their children baptized there. This was because many civil rights were denied to members of other religions. Also be sure to check Church of Ireland cemeteries for grave information because they controlled most of the cemeteries.
To see what church records survive check Ryan’s Irish Records and Grenham’s Tracing Your Irish Ancestors. Today in what many call the golden age of Irish genealogy research indexes, extracts and digital images of many of these records are available on line in both free and pay websites.
Images of most Roman Catholic church records are available free through the National Library of Ireland arranged by parish, by year range and sometimes by type. Free indexes to these are available at both findmypast and Ancestry. The research should check both of these indexes because while they are based upon a common indexing effort they each use different names for alternative spellings when that option is chosen.
The website provides an excellent discussion of Irish church records that as of April 2017 is best accessed by clicking through from their home page. This site provides images and transcripts of Catholic records for Dublin city and west Cork, transcripts only for Kerry Catholic records and images and transcripts for Church of Ireland for Kerry, Carlow and Dublin City.
A complete list of surviving Church of Ireland registers can be found at the Representative Church Body Library website. Surviving Church of Ireland records for Dublin City aand Counties Carlow and Kerry can be searched for free at
A complete list of surviving Catholic registers, copies and transcripts is available at John Grenham’s website. Drill down to the parish in question starting from the County map found here..
The Septs has published a number of articles by Dwight Radford detailing specifics of church records for an number of Irish Protestant congregations.
Irish Immigrants Among Three American Minority Religions
July 2007, Vol. 29, Number 3
The Irish Plymouth Brethren
April 2011, Vol. 32, Number 2
The Methodist Church in Ireland
January 2012, Vol. 33, Number 1
Tracing Church of Ireland Clergy
July 2013, Vol. 34, Number 3
The Inward Light
April 2014, Vol. 35, Number 2
The Inward Light Dictionary
April 2014, Vol. 35, Number 2
Pre-1845 Church of Ireland Marriage Bonds
January 2015, Vol. 36, Number 1
Tracing Presbyterian Ministers as an Emigration strategy
April 2015, Vol. 36, Number 2
Moravians, Mormons, Quakers and Why I should Even Care
January 2016, Vol. 37, Number 1
Church of Ireland Records: Determining What Has Survived
October 2016, Vol. 37, Number 4
Civil Registration
The Irish government started registering the marriage of Protestants in 1845. The registrations of everyones birth, marriage and death started in 1864. As with such registrations, there was never 100% compliance, but registration did approach that goal as time went on.
Birth records record the name, sex and place of birth in addition to the name, occupation and address of the father and the maiden name and address of the mother.
Marriage records provide the names, ages, marital status, occupations and addresses of the couple plus the names and occupations of the fathers of the couple.
Death records include the name, occupation, place and cause of death and age at death. In addition it includes the informant and how they knew of the death.
These records were registered in the Poor Law Unions called Superintendent Registrar’s Districts. These were further divided in local districts each run by a registrar who reported to the Superintendent. The registrar recorded each event chronologically as it was reported to him. Remember a number of Poor Law Unions crossed county lines.
The indexes to these records can be searched at the Family History Library website, FamilySearch and at the Irish government website, There is a difference in how each site handles these indexes. Those indexes at apply to deaths births more than 100 years ago, marriage more than 75 years ago and death more than 50 years ago. At this site you can call up an image for many of these records. Images of birth records start with registration in 1864. Images for marriage records start in 1882, and those for death records start in 1891.
FamilySearch has put a searchable database of the indexes to Irish civil records of birth, marriage and death online. Their indexes go to 1958. These can be found here. Unlike the FamilySearch indexes do not link to images of the records. They do, do however, link to transcripts of names and dates for births from 1864 to 1881. For those who wish to search these records off line, the Family History Library has microfilms of the indexes up to 1958 which can be rented through Family History Centers or cooperating libraries.
Place names recorded in the Civil Registrations were to be taken from the list of approved standardized spellings. However, registrars often used local versions of a place name or their interpretation of what they heard from the informant. The place name for an event may differ between the Church Record and the Civil Record of that event. The date noted for an event may also differ between these two sets of records. This may be because there was a fine for late registration of an event with the civil authority who was often located some distance from where a person lived thus a person may have given a latter false date to avoid the fine.
Land Records
  • Only a few owned land
    • Most were tenants through layers of subleases
    • A deed may list tenants
  • Deeds registered from 1708
  • Surname Index – personal-name
    • Sellers only to 1833
    • Sellers and buyers and location after 1833
  • Lands Index or County Index
    • Arranged geographically
  • Records and indexes from 1709 to 1929 at FHL
Military Records
  • Irish made up large portion of British Army
  • All classes in Army – often a family tradition
  • Most at Public Record Office in England
    • Not indexed by name (PRO index of pensions 1760-1854)
    • Essential to know regiment – how to find
      • Pictures of ancestor in uniform
      • Badges and medals – lists
      • Battles and places of service –
      • Local sources
      • Civil registration after 1879