Tracing Irish American immigrants seems a lot like finding a four-leaf clover—if you find a clover with all four leaflets, you’re bound to have good luck.
The four leaflets (or steps) of Irish immigrant research are:
1. Seek to discover the immigrant’s Irish origins using U.S. records.
2. Identify your immigrant ancestor’s family and friends.
3. Trace the origins of family and friends.
4. Learn more about the immigrant in Irish records.
Follow these steps to experience the luck of the Irish and discover your Irish roots.
Begin with U.S. Records
A few years ago I volunteered weekly at the Family History Library in Salt Lake City to help individuals with their “Irish research.” We would meet together for an hour to assess the research goal, invariably focusing on the Irish American immigrant. I kept a tally, and nine times out of ten the conversation turned to searching U.S. records to discover the immigrant’s place of origin in Ireland. Almost everyone I met with initially overlooked the need to broaden the search in U.S. records, hoping instead to immediately jump into Irish research.
I have observed dozens of individual meetings where visitors to the National Archives of Ireland and National Library of Ireland in Dublin sought guidance from genealogical consultants on tracing their Irish-American immigrants. Many a tourist asked for “all the records” on his or her immigrant ancestor without first knowing where the ancestor was born in Ireland. The research consultant would kindly recommend that sightseeing would be more productive than any attempt at family history research. On the other hand, those visitors who came prepared with the parish or townland of origin found excellent guidance on which Irish records to examine to learn more about their Irish ancestors.
Seek to discover the immigrant’s Irish origins using U.S. records. Consult family papers, parish registers, vital records, censuses, naturalization papers, passenger lists, probate records, city directories, local histories, and many more historical documents. Every community where the immigrant lived created records that may provide meaningful information. To begin your U.S. records search on FamilySearch.org, start here.
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