Before tracing your family tree, you should find out as much information as possible from other family members. Genealogists agree that information gathered locally from older family members and friends is invaluable. The greater the quantity of information gathered at the beginning the better, as these details can be confirmed later through the written records. The best advice to give the beginner is to start with oneself, moving on to parents, grandparents, great-grand-parents, i.e. work back through the generations. There are different sources that one can consult which will help with the research. These are outlined below and should be cross referenced with each other to ensure accuracy. Some points to remember before beginning your search.
1) The tradition in Irish families of calling the eldest son and daughter after the fathers’ parents, can help to clarify the identity of the grandparents particularly where several families exist with the same surname. Similarly, the second eldest son and daughter are frequently named after the mother’s parents.
2) Other members of the family are often named after their uncles and aunts. Names were retained in families through the generations in this manner. Care needs to be exercised on this account, in distinguishing individuals in the family with the same name.
3) It is important to take note of the sponsors to a child’s baptism and those named as marriage witnesses. These sponsors and witnesses are often related in some way.
4) Take note of the places of origin mentioned in the records or by people you interview. Before explaining the different sources it is necessary to understand the many different administrative units and did not necessarily correspond with the Catholic and Church of Ireland Parishes. For this reason, it is a good idea to examine bordering parish records.
Sources for tracing family ancestry:
The civil registration of births, deaths and marriages began for the whole population of Ireland in 1864. The registration of non – Catholic marriages had begun before this in 1845. The Civil Records are an invaluable source of information because of the details they contain. The General Register Office contains all the official records for the whole country. A public research room is available where the records can be researched at a fee.
These records are also held locally at the office of Superintendent of Births, Deaths, and Marriages, Community Care Buildings, Shantalla, Galway. Certificates are available here for the various records. It is necessary to know details of the records required, as this is not a research service. The records are as follows:
Births Records provide the following information: Date and place of birth; name (if any): sex: name, surname and dwelling place of father; name, surname and maiden surname of mother; rank or profession of father.
Death Records provide the following information regarding the deceased: Date and place of death; name and surname; sex; condition (i.e. marital status); age last birthday; certified cause of death, and duration of illness.
The death record also gives the name of the informant of the death and their relation (if any) to the deceased and if they were present at the death.
Marriage Records provide the following information regarding each of the parties marrying; Date when married; names and surnames; respective ages; condition (i.e. bachelor, spinster, widower, or widow); rank or profession; residence at time of marriage; fathers’ names, surnames and rank or profession. The marriage record also gives the name of the church where the ceremony took place and the priest/minister who officiated.
The Church Records for Births (Baptisms); Marriages and Deaths are another valuable source. Baptismal records – invariably give the date of baptism, child’s name, parents names and the names of the sponsors. In addition, the residence of the parents is sometimes recorded.
Marriage records give the date of marriage, names of couple marrying and the names of the witnesses. Additional information may also be given such as the addresses.
Death Records – very few Roman Catholic parishes kept burial records. Where they do exist they are not always consistent. The Church of Ireland did record burials.
The earliest records for the Roman Catholic parish of Athenry relate to Births & Marriages the year 1858. These records are in the local custody of the Roman Catholic Church and are also on microfilm in the National Library of Ireland. “The Galway Family History Society West Ltd” have indexed the records from 1858 – 1900.
The earliest Church of Ireland Records relate to Births & Marriages of 1796 and Deaths from 1795. They are available on microfilm in the National Archives of Ireland. They have also been indexed by the Galway Family History Society West Ltd.
Gravestone inscriptions can be a useful source and may provide the missing connection or an elusive date. A Memorial bearing the inscription of an ancestor from the late 18th or early 19th Century can provide invaluable information or even reveal details of an extra generation.
Occasionally the maiden name of a married woman may also be cited. Where an age is given the date of birth can often be approximated.
Full government Census were taken for the whole country from 1821-1871 and also in 1901 and 1911. These were either destroyed by government order or by fire in the Public Records Office in 1922.
Some fragments exist however of the 1821 Census for Athenry. The 1901 and 1911 Census are the earliest complete listing of individuals existing. They are available for research in the National Archives.
The 1901 and 1821 Census for Co. Galway is on Microfilm and available for research in Galway Co. Library.
The 1901 Census gives the following information. Name, Relationship to the Head of Household; Religion; Literacy; Occupation; Age; Marital Status; County of Birth and Ability to speak English or Irish. The Records also document details of the houses the families lived in.
The 1911 Census contain the same detail as that of 1901 but with the following additional information for married women – the number of years married, the number of children born alive and the number of children still living. Widows were not required to give this information.
Photo: Woman and 3 children outside thatched cottage, probably Ahascragh, Co. Galway circa 1996 – Living Conditions – CSO – Central Statistics Office
Due to the loss of Census material, Land Records became an important source in tracing family ancestry. Griffith’s Land Valuation is the most important of these from the genealogical point of view. This is a land survey which was carried out between 1848 and 1864 (1855 for Galway). It is an important source for tracing ancestry in that it gives the names of all land and/or house holders, together with the name of the person from whom the land was leased.
Cancellation Books based on Griffith’s Valuation enable the ownership of any plot of land to be traced from 1855 to the present day. The Cancellation Books are held in the Land Valuation Office. These are some of the more commonly used sources for tracing ancestry. They should be used in conjunction with each other e.g. a birth should be cross referenced in both the Church and Civil Records. Try to ascertain if this person is located in the 1901 or 1911 Census. Do the dates correspond? It is possible that there will be discrepancies in the dates.
People frequently didn’t know their exact ages and they often rounded it off to a particular figure. Sources used in conjunction with each other verify details and help piece the jigsaw together. Additional sources are: Newspapers, Wills, Estate Records, Census Substitutes, Commercial and Social Directories, Passenger and Emigrant Lists. These can be used to supplement the findings from the main sources.
It is possible to do this family research yourself but if you decide to leave it to the professionals, the following addresses may come in useful.
Galway Family History Society West: covers the western part of Co. Galway which includes the parish of Athenry and some of its adjoining parishes – Abbeyknockmoy, Lackagh and Oranmore. They have several records on their database including Church Records, Census Records, Griffith’s Valuation and Gravestone Inscriptions pertaining to the parish. They are also currently researching several other genealogical sources.
East Galway Family History Society: covers the eastern part of the county including the parishes of Ballymacward, Cloonkeenkerrill, Craughwell, Killimordaly and Kiltulla, which adjoin Athenry.
As noted earlier, those who live in that an area borders two parishes could find it fruitful to check the records of both parishes. Some ancestors may have been recorded in one parish and some in the other.
They are several research services based in Dublin near the national repositories. Most researchers are members of The Association of Professional Genealogists of Ireland – APGI.
It is quite a feeling to begin to discover ancestors that you did not even know you had. Most people have an interest in finding out where their ancestors came from but do not know how to approach the task. From my own experience I know how addictive family research can be. It is hoped that this article will provide you with the basic information necessary to set you on your way. Good luck in your research!
The National Library of Ireland, Kildare Street, Dublin 2. Tel: (01) 6618811.
Galway Family History Society West Ltd., Unit 3, Venture Centre, Lisbaun Industrial Estate, Tuam Rd., Galway. Tel: (091) 756737.
The National Archives of Ireland, Bishop Street, Dublin 8. Tel: (01) 47837711.
Galway Co. Library, Island House, Cathedral Square, Galway. Tel: (091) 562471.
The Land Valuation Office, Irish Life Centre, Abbey St, Lower, Dublin 1. Tel: (01) 8171000
Written by Bríd Higgins
Published here 06 Mar 2023 and originally published Summer 1997
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