6 genealogy websites to help you track your global roots

4 Apr 2016

With the year that’s in it, many Irish families are casting their eyes on their family’s past and, with the power of the internet, you can now trace it back hundreds of years.

Long gone are the days when tracking down your family tree meant travelling across the country – or even the world – to find long-lost relatives, now, thanks to a multitude of genealogy sites, it’s become much, much easier.

Many of these sites are also now likely facing a surge in traffic thanks to the marking of the centenary of the 1916 Easter Rising, which has led to many looking back at how their own family reacted to the events of that day, or in some cases, actually took part.

The challenges of genealogy in Ireland

Perhaps one of the biggest tragedies of Irish history actually occurred only a few years later during the Irish Civil War when the Public Records Office contained within the Four Courts in Dublin was bombarded with artillery shells, resulting in a huge fire.

That huge fire sadly led to the destruction of the censuses of 1821, 1831, 1841, and 1851, which removed a sizeable chunk of Irish population records, however, not all of it was destroyed, leaving enough for many to still search.

The only problem is that with so many sites out there, which are the ones that are most likely to be able to give you the information you need without the need to spend weeks upon weeks searching through vast databases?

To give you a head start on finding the branches of your large family tree, here are just a few of the best sites that are out there.

National Archives of Ireland

One of the obvious places to start is the website for the National Archives of Ireland, which contains the full censuses for the years of 1901 and 1911, as well as fragments that weren’t burned during the Four Courts fire.

The records found here are catalogued in a way that make it best for you to have at least a few clues beforehand as they are based on location, rather than being able to search for just a name.

It should be noted, however, that this is by no means a definitive list as there are dozens of websites out there, both free and subscription-based, that might be suited to more specific requests, but the information here will give you a good start.

Four Courts fire

The fire that engulfed the Four Courts during the Irish Civil War in 1922. Image via Wikimedia Commons


If you’d rather not part with your money in the hunt for your ancestors, then you might want to check out an alternative, non-profit site called familysearch.org that, interestingly, is run by the Mormon community.

Once you sign in it seems to have plenty of records on births, deaths and marriages in Ireland going back to the 19th century, with a pretty comprehensive advanced search feature to narrow down the large database.

Definitively somewhere to start your hunt before you decide to move on with more advanced, and paid-for, databases.

You can also search through an extensive catalogue of images from various periods in Irish history, including one from the early 20th century of women workers in a tobacco factory in Cork city.


It’s hard to compile a list of Irish genealogy websites without mentioning the giant that is ancestry.ie (and it’s British parent site, ancestry.co.uk) which recently released a treasure trove of Irish parish records going from 1655 to 1915.

In total, 373,000 images of documents were made available covering more than 1,000 parishes and 3,500 registers, all of which have been transcribed from sometimes difficult-to-read handwritten notes.

Some of which include Latin details that have been translated into English for the digital records, including the baptismal certificate of a certain James Joyce, which was originally written in the language then used by the Catholic Church.

While the free access finished at the end of March, you can still access the records for one month for €17.63.

Ellis Island 1902

Immigrants arriving at Ellis Island in 1902. Image via Wikimedia Commons

Ellis Island passenger database

For decades, the US was the destination for hundreds of thousands of people on this island in search of a better life and, upon arrival at their new home, their first stop was Ellis Island off the coast of New York.

The island would serve as the entry point to nearly 12m immigrants, including Irish people, whose details were taken down upon entry.

Now, thankfully, those looking to find records of a distant relative who was one of those who moved their entire life to the US can do so through the Ellis Island passenger database.

The free resource has 51m entries for passenger lists between the years 1892 and 1957, covering much of the later years of Irish emigration, revealing not only what year people emigrated, but where they were originally from, too.

The Public Record Office of Northern Ireland (PRONI)

Sticking a bit closer to home, there are also records for those who may have emigrated from, or to, Northern Ireland housed in the Public Record Office of Northern Ireland (PRONI), which grew in size since it added the Griffith’s Valuation records back in 2013.

These valuations are considered invaluable given the destruction of earlier census, however, they only cover very basic information as a resource for land value in the 19th century.

It also has a number of other resources only available through Northern Irish records, like those of freeholders in the region prior to 1840 and the 1912 Ulster Covenant (1912), all of which is free to access online.

Google Books

It might not be the first place you’d think to look, but on the enormous literary resource that is Google Books, there are a number of books dating from the 19th century and 20th century that contain historical details useful for your genealogy quest.

Two particular examples that might be of interest to Dublin readers would be the Irish Almanac of 1852, and the previous edition in 1850 published by Thom, which acted as a directory of a multitude of different businesses and organisations in Ireland and, more importantly, who ran and worked in them.

While it might seem daunting facing digitised images of a book that’s more than 150 years old, Google’s software allows for you to search by entering search tems into a search box, making the whole process a lot less laborious, and it’s free.

Genealogy records book image via Shutterstock

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic