In a move that could be a real moneymaker - and thus an incentive to provide genealogical services - for many additional countries, Ireland will begin providing Irish Heritage certificates by the end of 2010.
There are some 70 million individuals worldwide with Irish heritage, and this seems like a great way to show it. The certificate may also provide travel and tourist discounts when the certificate-holders visit Ireland.
Ethnic holidays - such as St. Patrick's Day for those with Irish ancestry - often spur an interest in family history. According to the New York Times, the Irish diaspora in the United States numbers more than 36 million people, more than eight times Ireland's population. Many are searching their roots, and creating demand for accessible resources.
Every ethnicity has its own challenges, but the international interest of Irish researchers means there are many websites, online databases, and a community of researchers willing to assist.
The most important place to start researching any ancestry, of course, is your own family. Ask questions and record the answers. Try to get names and towns of origin, dates of immigration and other pertinent details. Ask about immigration and citizenship documents, obituaries and cemetery records, family bibles, and other types of documents.
For Irish research, it is important to know the origin (parish or town) of your family and what religion (Protestant, Catholic or did they belong to the small but vibrant Jewish community). When did they live in Ireland? To where and when did they immigrate? What were their occupations?
As you speak to relatives, remember to record all stories and customs. While not everything may be true, or may have been embellished over the years, there is usually a kernel of truth. Write down everything as even the smallest of clues may be valuable.
Each category of ethnic research has its own problems - Irish genealogy is no different, and in fact the field suffered three major losses which effect research:
- In the early 19th century, Dublin Castle's Record Tower was destroyed.
- During World War I's paper shortage, the government ordered the destruction of the censuses for 1861, 1871, 1881 and 1891.
- Most civil records (including the censuses of 1821, 1831, 1841 and 1851) were burned in a 1922 fire at the Ireland Public Record office.
Ireland took a census every 10 years from 1821-1911. Today, the oldest ones available are 1901 and 1911, which are microfilmed and available at the Mormon Family History Library and international centers; 1901 has databased or published indexes.
To go back in time, it is essential to find the town or parish of origin. Although the 1922 fire destroyed the 19th-century censuses, parish registers of the Church of England and other important collections, records kept in other offices survived. These include vital civil records (birth, marriage, death), other religious records, later censuses and property records.
Many Irish immigrants went to Australia and New Zeland, the UK, the US and Canada, so useful resources will include passenger arrival and naturalization records, gravestones, military service, obituaries, land deeds, family bibles, wills and other items. Information may be different depending on the country and year.