You Are At: AllSands Home > History > Finding your Irish roots
The Irish have emigrated all over the world in the last 250 years. Many generations later, it can be very difficult for their families to trace their roots back to a specific location. They may only have a surname, or perhaps a local name or two passed through the centuries. Many of the official Irish records were destroyed in a fire around 1920, which makes a genealogical search even more difficult. But don't despair. Help is at hand.


If you have a surname, you may get help from books on Irish surnames. Many names are specific to a few counties. For example, the Cribbin surname has very specific links to a small town in county Mayo. Other names have clear links with the South of the Country because of their Norman origin. This kind of information is a good start to limiting your search area.

Another very useful source of information is the townland or topographical index. This is not widely available, but the Ordnance Survey and the National Library would have copies which they can look up if you write to them. Many people searching for their roots have a name of an area passed through the generations, but they can't find it on a map. Most townlands are not shown even on maps with a scale of 1:50000, but they are listed alphabetically in the townland index. If you have such a townland name, it will pinpoint an exact location for your ancestors.

Another useful book is the Gazeteer of Ireland, compiled by the Ordnance Office. This book lists several thousand names which might not appear on tourist maps.

Helpful addresses

Th Genealogical Office, Kildare Street, Dublin 2, will organise a search for a fee. They have resources, experience and a list of genealogists countrywide.

The National Library, Kildare Street, Dublin 2 is a huge repository of information. However, unless you are very specific they will probably not be able to help you.

The National Archives, Bishop Street, Dublin 8, has a very large collection of useful resources, such as the Census records from 1901 and 1911 and a list of convicts deported to Australia (which is available on the Internet).

The Placenames Office, Ordnance Survey, Phoenix Park, Dublin 8, has full time academic staff researching the placenames of Ireland. Even if the name you are looking for is not in the Townland Index, they may be able to help.

Virtual links

Don't be afraid to use the web. The national library and National Archives are online. These contain links to other genealogical resources. Two other sources on the web are "unison", which has links to local newspapers, and "local", which has links to local interest stories of all kinds, usually by county. There are many other sources out there, including local historic societies, which you will find very helpful. Your favourite search engine should help you to dig them out.

Some final tips

If you know the locality that your ancestors came from, the local parish priest or rector may be able to help you further. The parish records contain most of the information that was lost in the Custom House fire of the 1920's. The local schoolteacher should also be able to provide details such as age, address and Father's occupation from the school register.

If you can visit the locality, the local graveyard can provide further assistance by giving dates of death and perhaps showing several family names.

Even if you can't visit in person, you may be able to get someone else to do a local search for you. The local and national newspapers (many of which are available on the Internet) usually have a letters page, to which you can write explaining your search and asking for help. There is a good chance that someone who reads it will be able to provide further information. Be sure to make your request as specific as possible and remember that other people will not understand the facts as easily as you do.

Happy hunting!