A friend's wife has started to research her family history, and has fallen at the first hurdle: one of her ancestors is Irish (born circa 1865 and died in Omagh, Northern Ireland in 1948 -- there's a rumour of a church window dedicated to her in a local Presbyterian Church in 1950).

What are the basic steps for getting started in (Northern) Irish (Protestant) genealogy? What are the key resources that can be searched online for this period?

2 Answers 2


I've been putting off research in Ireland, because I haven't been able to get far back enough in the USA to make the leap across the water, so this answer will be based on search results more than experience. However, for Ireland especially, due to the great amount of record loss over time, I would follow the checklist I laid out in our question How can I determine what records are available in a particular locale?

  1. Learn what records might have been created.
  2. Research which of those records might still exist.
  3. Research what repositories might hold those records.
  4. Research which online repositories might hold those records.

The big problem is that the Public Records Office in Dublin was destroyed in 1922 in the Battle of Dublin. Also, many of the census returns for Ireland had already been destroyed before 1922:

The original census returns for 1861 and 1871 were destroyed shortly after the censuses were taken. Those for 1881 and 1891 were pulped during the First World War, probably because of the paper shortage. The returns for 1821, 1831, 1841 and 1851 were, apart from a few survivals, notably for a few counties for 1821 and 1831, destroyed in 1922 in the fire at the Public Record Office at the beginning of the Civil War.

Basic principles: Investigating the laws in effect at the time, and examining the available record groups for the surviving records, should reveal whether or not researching in Protestant Northern Ireland in the post-Partition period is more like researching in England than researching in the Republic (i.e. whether or not Northern Ireland was supposed to keep records in the same format as England and Wales, or whether they had their own requirements).

Your beginning researcher has the advantage of already knowing when and where her ancestor died; she can start there and work backwards in time. Just like any other problem, begin by writing down everything known about the ancestor, and the source of that information, and work outward from those items in any way possible. Creating a timeline, writing a biographical sketch, and making an ongoing Research Plan is a must in order to keep focused.

The techniques used for burned counties in the USA may come in handy. When the census records and other records we commonly use are lost, we have to make use of whatever other materials survive. The checklist Sources of Genealogical Information is USA-centric, but might be useful as a starting point to compile a list specific to Northern Ireland. I would search for information by any means possible, including searching Google Books and other sources for eBooks of online histories which are in the public domain. One overlooked resource are online magazines or e-Magazines like Genealogy in Time, which has a news section of genealogy records by country. Their section on UK Genealogy Records includes Northern Ireland.

The July/August 2014 issue of the free e-magazine Irish Lives Remembered has a Focus on County Tyrone, with an article Tracing Your Tyrone Ancestors. It's available for viewing online and for download (issues are available for a limited time; they are usually free to view for up to 12 months, but check their website for the current offer period).

Other downloadable guides:

Webinars and Online Classes:

Blogs, Newsletters, etc:

Another trick I use for keeping track of what materials are available online is to sign up for the free e-newsletters and/or follow the blogs and Twitter accounts at any online genealogical providers I can find that would be likely to offer new records in my areas of interest. There's no point in signing up for any online provider if they don't have coverage for the area you need, and this is one way to get an idea of whether their collections will be of use. Also, reading articles with search tips before you sign up can be useful.


Other research guides and portal pages:

Mailing lists, Queries, communities, blogs:


4If born after 1863, then the civil Birth entry, with the parents names, and address should be available here:IrishGenealogy.ie, for Free.

Similarly, if Protestant, or Jewish, their parents civil marriage will likely be on the site, and a sub-set of any Catholic Church marriages / baptisms, if periodically wanting a few graven images and a bit of coveting, though often at a diocese level, e.g. Pay and Mary of Cork were married Dec 1851, which ain’t that helpful.

Death entries, with cause, and often the names of a family member present at death, are similarly available on the site, for dates after 1863.

Though not all surviving registry images have been uploaded, as of Nov 2020, the record sets are grouped by Superintendent District, not Registration District (town), County, or Province. Add the mix of the 3 main Irish dialects, and English, on the registers, after 1922, poor cursive handwriting, a dozen spellings of almost ever Irish surname, and minimal indexing, you may end up spending many an hour trying to find a few bodies.

Add everyone loved a Mary, with many a family having a couple, after they’d run through the 5 standard girls names, so a village / parish may churn out a dozen Mary McCathys’ a year, which in combination with a half a dozen Pat and Mary McCarthys’ as parent, and you’ll need to take a note of the address, and father’s occupation, to differentiate the superficially identical sets.

The 1901 and 1911 census, are also online, and again for free, here. Though birth dates are typically to the nearest 5 years, the place of birth typically the county, and you’ll likely find many a set with a Pat and Mary as the parents, with a Pat, Mary, John, Ellen, Cornelius, Margaret, ... as kids. So you’ll again be wanting to differentiate superficially identical sets on the fathers occupation, and residence, as given names, and dates are near useless.

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