Tracing Your Irish Roots

For hundreds of years Ireland’s main export was people, most of whom didn’t want to leave. Millions left to escape hunger, poverty and oppression, with a particularly large number going to the USA.

It is perhaps because they were forced to leave it that so many of those emigrants who left forever in body never really left Ireland in spirit and passed down their love of and longing for their homeland to their descendants.

Little wonder then that so many of those descendants are to-day searching for for the stories of their ancestors, to discover what it was that made them leave their homes and families, to learn a little about how they lived and about who they really were.

Why Trace Your Roots?

The desire to know who we are and where we come from – where we belong – is a strong one, and the more remote we are from it the more we want to know about it. People living in Ireland have tended not to share the avid interest in their ancestors prevalent among those who descended from Irish emigrants.

Graveyard KillenardThis is not as surprising as it might seem. I know, for example, where my paternal great grandfather was born because I lived in the same house as he did as a child. My first school was his first school and almost certainly many of those who started there with me were descendants of his classmates.

I know just as much about my mother’s family, who also lived in the same house for several generations. Most of my ancestors for a couple of generations back at least, on both sides, are buried in this graveyard.

This was typical of most families in Ireland and when your past is that close it hardly seems worthy of thought.

But times are changing.

Neither of the houses mentioned above belong anymore to my family. While I grew up with dozens of cousins who I saw all the time, my son has few and sees them less often. Time has brought significant lifestyle change to Irish people living in Ireland – they have smaller families, are more mobile, are less likely to remain living where they were born.

With these changes has come an increased curiosity about the past and the people who came before before. Do you look like them? Are there family traits – brown eyes, a talent for painting, a history of heart disease – that are obvious generations back? How and where did they live?

These questions are being asked nowadays not just by descendants of emigrants from Ireland but by Irish people whose ancestors stayed at home yet seem to have become more distant.

How can we help?

We have a series of articles intended as an introduction to tracing your family’s roots in Ireland. It can be a challenging journey, with many blind alleys along the way and our hope here is just to help a little by pointing you in the right direction.

It is far from an exhaustive guide but we suggest many other resources along the way – books, websites, places, people – where you can find out more or get expert assistance.

We are not genealogists and cannot assist with individual queries about any aspect of tracing your ancestors. If you are looking for such assistance, please see our page about getting help.

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Published: November 20, 2008 | Updated: March 31, 2017 | Image Credits

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