40m new Irish records

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Researching your ancestry is a more popular pastime than ever thanks to programmes like Who Do You Think You Are?, which traces celebrities’ forebears.

Most of us mere mortals don’t have the luxury of a TV production company to trace our family tree, but the website Ancestry.co.uk is proving a useful substitute.

The family history website has made tracing your roots even more accessible with the launch today of a further 40 million records, and for the first time has placed online Irish Catholic parish records going back as far as 1742.

Tracing an Irish ancestor living before civil registration began in 1864 has been an incredibly difficult task as few records of this period have survived.

The publication of the Catholic parish registers will enable millions of people to trace ancestors living as early as the 18th century.

These parish records include both those of the Catholic Church, which historically has represented about 80% of the population, and the Church of Ireland — the official State church from 1536 to 1870, thus covering the majority of the population at the time.

Split into baptism, marriage and burial records, these comprehensive registers reveal names, dates, places and often other family members.

As they date back before the Great Famine, it’s possible to find many ancestors who later fled the country for a new life abroad.

A number of famous names can be uncovered within the newly published records, including Belfast-born CS Lewis, who was born in 1868 and is most famous for writing The Chronicles Of Narnia.

Also, the Irish poet and playwright WB Yeats, who lived from 1865 to 1939, and Nobel Prize winner Samuel Beckett, whose birth place is listed as Rathdown.

According to Dan Jones, content director for Ancestry.co.uk, the new online collections are “a big leap forward” for researching Irish ancestry.

“There is a massive Irish diaspora,” he said. “Our core market is the US, UK, Canada and Australia, and then there are people in Ireland itself tracing their families. It has always been a bit harder to trace family from Ireland because so many records were lost.”

A key resource for researching genealogy in England and Wales is the census records, but in Ireland these were destroyed by a fire in the Public Records Office in Dublin during the Irish Civil War.

A useful substitute for a 19th century census of Ireland is Griffith’s Valuation of Ireland, 1848-1864, which features more than 2.5 million names and addresses, which is online at Ancestry.co.uk.

The website has now pulled together the rich collection of parish records that are held in individual parishes and transcribed them to access online.

“It is the first time a collection of Irish records of this size that is searchable by name and date has been made available,” Mr Jones said.

“In terms of simplicity, it is a big leap forward for researching Irish ancestry.”

For details visit opens link in new window www.ancestry.co.uk

Published in Belfast Telegraph on 22 October 2011
Read more on: opens link in new window www.belfasttelegraph.co.uk/news

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