We talked about the Irish in Indianapolis in a previous post, where we learned that any of you with deep roots in the city are also fairly likely to have roots in Ireland. But discovering that your ancestors originated in Ireland is only a small piece of your genealogical puzzle. The real challenge begins with tracing those ancestors back to their country of origin and learning about their lives in their home country.

Anyone who has attempted to research their Irish ancestors knows that it’s not an easy task. Many records have been lost or purposefully destroyed, and access to the records that do exist may be limited. However, there are a few steps you can take that will increase your chances of being successful in your search.

First and most importantly, you must discover where in Ireland your family originated. Nearly all the records that exist prior to the famine (when the majority of immigrants settled in Indianapolis) are parish and townland records. Therefore you must know the specific area where your ancestor lived in order to begin searching for records that pertain to them. For some of you, this may be the most difficult part of your research. U.S. Census records typically only list the country of origin or at most, the county in Ireland where they were born. There is no record that is guaranteed to provide more detailed information than this, but the key is to be exhaustive. Try every possible avenue. Here are a few places to start:

  • Naturalization Records – If you’re able to locate a naturalization record for your ancestor, then you will be able verify their country of origin at bare minimum. However, you may get lucky and find that more details, such as county and parish, are included as well. You can learn more about finding and accessing naturalization records in this post.
  • Passenger Ship Manifests – We have not yet discussed passenger lists in detail here, but their usefulness as a genealogical tool is self-evident. You can access many lists and other immigration records via for free through tomorrow. However, if you miss that small window of free access, you can always contact your local library for further access without charge. When reading passenger lists, be sure to pay close attention to the type of information provided, and be careful not to confuse the port of departure with the place of origin.
  • Tombstones – It’s not uncommon for immigrants to include information about their origins on their tombstones. More information about finding and interpreting tombstones can be found here.
  • Obituaries – You never know what information will be included in a person’s obituary. If you have yet to search for your ancestor’s, do so now. It may be the key to unlocking many genealogical mysteries. If you’ve forgotten how, you can refresh your memory by revisiting this post.
  • Wills and Probate Records – As with obituaries, you can never be sure exactly what you’ll find included in a person’s will and probate record file. This is especially true if your ancestor was a person of any means and if it was necessary for the courts to determine an heir. We discussed probate records and how to access them in more detail in this previous post.

If none of these sources prove fruitful, try obtaining the same records for another family member. A brother or sister who also emigrated would have the same place of origin. Even a more distant relative like an uncle or cousin would likely have originated from the same area. If you still come up empty handed, you may try searching the records of other Irish immigrants who are associated with your ancestors. Neighbors here in Indianapolis may be people, or relatives of people they knew in Ireland. Those who signed their names as witnesses to any official document relevant to your ancestors are another possible source of information. As I said before, the best thing to do is to just keep searching.

Once you find their specific place of origin, you can begin searching the available records to learn more about their lives in Ireland. Here’s just a brief list of sources to consider as you begin your search:

  • Census Records – Census data was collected in Ireland every ten years from 1821 to 1911. Unfortunately most census records were either destroyed by a fire in 1922, or were destroyed by the government prior to that date. The records that remain can be found listed on This site also includes links for accessing each remnant that remains, however, be aware that some links may be to pay-for-access sites. At the very least you will be able to discover which, if any, records exist for the area you are researching.  
  • Civil Records – All births, deaths, and marriages were registered in Ireland beginning in 1864, with the exception of non-Catholic marriages, which were registered beginning in 1845. The official records are held in two separate offices in Ireland, but indices are available online via both and
  • Land Surveys – These are the best substitute for the lost censuses that Ireland has to offer. There are two main surveys worth mentioning. The first is Griffith’s Primary Valuation, 1848-1864,  which can be accessed via Ask About Ireland. The second survey is the Tithe Applotment Books, 1823-1838. These can be accessed through the National Archives of Ireland.
Sample page from the Tithe Applotment Books, via the National Archives of Ireland

Sample page from the Tithe Applotment Books, via the National Archives of Ireland

Although these sources should be enough to get you started, there are many more out there that will help you further your research. Go explore and see what you can discover!


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