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Some researchers are blessed with the knowledge of exactly where in Ireland their ancestors came from. Maybe their family kept in close contact with family left behind or maybe their family discussed the old country in detail. Then there are those researchers whose family never discussed Ireland or lost contact with those left behind. All they know is that their ancestors came from Ireland. Ireland is composed of 16 counties, north and south. Much like the United States, you must know at least a county of origin to proceed. What to do?

There is no foolproof method for locating an ancestor's county of origin in Ireland, but there are many resources to consult that will either tell us or help to narrow it down.

In order to describe the different records available that may give us answers we seek, I have broken down the records themselves into two distinct types:

Country of Arrival Records (records in the new country, ie: United States)

Country of Origin Records (records in the old country, ie: Ireland)

Country of Arrival Records
It is widely known that there will be more records available pertaining to immigrants here in the United States then in their country of origin. Most immigrants naturalized, voted, purchased land, etc. In fact, most immigrants spent their adult lives in their new country - so logically more records will exist for them.

Please make sure you speak to older family members. They may have heard a specific location in the Ireland mentioned a few times. There may also be old letters, diaries or photographs with a place mentioned. Or they may know where at least one relative lived in Ireland.

Archives & Libraries
Most state and local archives and libraries have extensive local holdings, including but not limited to: biographies; directories; church, cemetery, immigration and court records; newspapers and other records that are just for that area. These holdings are usually cataloged or indexed for easier searching.

Tombstone inscriptions and cemetery records can be the best sources for determing a location in Ireland. You are more likely to find this information depending on which church the cemetery is attached to. Irish immigrants buried in Roman Catholic cemeteries often have a location in Ireland engraved on the tombstone. Even if the tombstone itself does not give a location, it may give clues to other relatives (who's origin can be traced).

NOTE: Tombstone inscriptions are only as accurate as the person who gave the information. Also, if the family was poor, they were probably buried without a tombstone, as a tombstone (especially one with an extensive inscription), was and is quite costly.
The same is to be said for sexton's records. While the sexton's records may direct you to relatives buried nearby (or even list a place of origin), they may not be accurate.

The United States federal census provides immigration information for the 1900 through 1920 censuses: country of birth, date of arrival and citizenship status. The 1925 New York state census gives alittle more information. It specifically asks for the date and place of naturalization.

NOTE: Please remember, whichever census you view, federal or state, birthplace usually means state or country, not a specific town.

Church Records
Certain denominations kept better records than others. Roman Catholic, Lutheran and Reformed are the most noted examples of excellent record keeping. You are most likely to encounter the place of origin in marriage or death records from these churches. In the Roman Catholic faith, a member is required to complete all sacraments prior to marriage. When an immigrant went to marry in their new church in their new country, they may have had to supply the Roman Catholic Church with dates and locations in Ireland. Or at the very least, the name and/or location of their previous parish in Ireland. (I can attest to this from personal experience.) Whether or not the priest recorded this information is a different matter. The Quakers (Society of Friends) sometimes recorded foreign origins of newcomers in their Monthly Meeting Records.

When contacting the church or religious institution, it never hurts to specifically ask for any information they may have pertaining to your ancestor's country of origin. You never know what the church has recorded! I have also found from personal experience that if you don't specifically ask for it, they will not send it to you.

Court Records
Court records can be helpful because they can list family members and even property holdings in Ireland. This is especially true if your ancestor was the plaintiff, defendent or witness. While most court records post-1900 are not indexed well, it is still worth a look. Court records from colonial times are more often indexed well. If your ancestor was a laborer or farmer, chances are high you will not find them in any court records. You are more likely to encounter an ancestor who was professionally employed.

If you should locate an ancestor in court records, make sure you review all the documents. The case file, known as the packet, contains the testimonies, depositions, affidavits, etc. It is in the depositions and affadavits that you will most likely encounter a place of origin.

Immigration Records
Passenger lists vary in the content of information. Early lists usually do not give a town in Ireland, while late 19th century/early 20th century lists do. If you do not know the exact date your ancestor arrived, you can start by searching the vessel arrivals for the time period you seek. You can match up the ship name with the port of departure. From there, you can view that ship's passenger list.

If your ancestor came to the United States prior to 1820 (when the federal government required passenger lists be kept), you may want to view the following from the LDS:

Filby, William P. Passenger and Immigration Lists Bibliography 1538-1900
Detroit: Gale Research, 1988
FHL book # 973 W33p 1988

Filby, William P. Passenger and Immigration Lists Index
Detroit: Gale Research, 1981
FHL book # 973 W32p

Also keep an eye open for passports. It's very possible that your ancestor went back to Ireland to visit family. If so, a passport would have been required. (They were more widely issued in the 20th century, however there are some from as early as 1795.) For further information on researching passports, please see Immigration.

Land & Property Records
Many Irish immigrants jumped at the chance to purchase relatively inexpensive land. These records may contain many clues! If land was purchased directly from the government (ie: homesteads), there is more of a chance of discovering information about their place of origin. Deeds show the place of residence for both the buyer and seller. If your ancestor purchased land shortly after arriving in the US, the deed should show place of residence in Ireland.

Many areas required an immigrant to naturalize, or at least file a declaration of intent, before purchasing land. In this case, there may be copies of the naturalization papers kept with the land records.

Military Records
It is estimated that thousands of Irish immigrants served in the US army in the 19th century. Some military records may provide you with clues to a place of origin. The most informative are:

Pension Applications:
These records usually give name, rank, military unit, and date and place of birth, among other information.

Service Records:
These records are a documentation of the soldier's stay in the military. Rolls or enlistmentpapers may give place of birth.

The above records can be obtained through NARA. You may also want to look into veterans' organizations, unit histories and national cemetery records.

Naturalization Records
These records vary in content by area and date. You are most likely to find name, age and country of birth, rather than a town or village. Naturalization records for the 20th century are more informative. Keep in mind that not all immigrants naturalized. When searching for naturalization papers, make sure you get all the documents: delcaration of intent and the actual petition.

Local and ethnic newspaper can provide an abundant source of information. They list obituaries, new arrivals to the area, notices for missing relatives, marriage announcements, and much more. Most of these newspapers are now on microfilm and will circulate on interlibrary loan. Check with your local library to see what's available.

Everyone who has an obituary, in effect, has a small biography. Not only do obits list names of survivors, but sometimes religious and political affiliations and the hometown in Ireland. Even if the obit doesn't list the county of origin, it may list survivors who may hold the key if you trace their origins. You are more likely to find an obit for your ancestor in the community newspaper. Keep in mind however, that not everyone chose to post an obituary. To locate an obit, you will need to have a date of death - or a good estimate. Make sure you search for the full week after the date of death. If the newspaper was printed weekly, search for two weeks after the date of death.

In order for a person to retire, they would have to have showed proof of birth at sometime in their employment. (Remember, the laws were different then than they are now. How many of us had to lug our birth ceritifcate to work to enroll in the pension plan?) If the pension was going to the surviving spouse or heir, they may have had to supply proof of birth. So pension files should contain some relevant information. Pensions from private or public companies hold the most information, but usually only since the early 20th century.

Probate Records
Probate records from the colonial period are more likely to state a place of origin than their modern counterparts. Colonial probate records are often indexed and can be found at state archives and the LDS. Immigrants who were well off usually kept property in Ireland. This is likely to be mentioned in probate records. The same if the immigrant left family members behind.

Vital Records
Twentieth century vital records are more detailed in the information they required than those from the 19th century, especially marriage and death records. These records may simply give a country of birth, but may provide clues to the church they attended or the informant on the certificate. Keep in mind that death certificates can be notoriously inaccurate. They are only as accurate as the person giving the information.

Voting Records
Voting records for some areas, such as Kings County, give a lot of information: date and place of birth, number of years residency in the city and state, date of naturalization, etc. Other areas may not have required such detailed information. However, in order to vote, an immigrant had to naturalize. By searching voting records, you will know when the immigrant first registered to vote, which should help greatly in narrowing down the date of naturalization. Voting records can be found at the county courthouse.