Best Genealogy Websites for Finding Your Irish Roots

An increasing number of questions have been coming in from readers looking to trace their Irish roots. To help point everyone in the right direction, I called on my friend Megan Smolenyak to suggest her favorite online resources.

You may recognize Megan from Episode #113 of our podcast, her genealogy books “Who Do You Think You Are?” and “Hey, America, Your Roots Are Showing,” her appearances on the television program “Who Do You Think You Are?,” her numerous articles, and her website Have a look, and if you have a website that you found useful in your family research, add it in the comments below. — Corey

Megan SmolenyakHey everyone, Corey told me that many Irish Fireside readers were asking for help looking into their roots.  What follows are the websites I find myself turning to over and over.  I won’t pretend it’s comprehensive, as attempting that would turn this into a novel, but these are the resources that have helped me research the Irish ancestry of everyone from Jimmy Fallon to Joe Biden – and oh, yeah, my own Irish roots!  Here’s wishing you lots of luck on your own roots-quests! and

These are the biggest players in the online genealogical world, and both are loaded with indexes and records.  Ancestry is fee-based, while FamilySearch is free (if you simply can’t afford Ancestry, check your local library as they may offer the institutional version for free), and it’s definitely worth using both.  Their content overlaps a fair bit, but both have resources the other one doesn’t, so I tend to bounce back and forth between them during any given research session.  It’s also worth noting that their indexes have often been separately created, so if you can’t find what you’re looking for at one, it may be possible to find it at the other due to a more accurate transcription.  And after a little digging, you’ll soon discover that one site might have just an index for a specific collection, while the other has both an index and digitized records.  At the moment, FamilySearch is the more internationally-oriented, but particularly due to a just-announced collaboration between the two, Ancestry will be beefing up its global content in the not-too-distant future.  And finally, both make it possible to search other, external websites as part of a routine search, offering something of a one-stop shopping experience.  For instance, a search for an ancestor at Ancestry may pop up a link to her family in the 1901 Irish census, but that link will take you out of Ancestry to the website that actually holds the record.

Both contain useful content for those of Irish heritage, such as Irish Civil Registration indexes (i.e., birth, marriage and death indexes), but don’t overlook their ability to help you figure out exactly where in Ireland you should be looking!  Be sure to scour resources such as passenger manifests, naturalization records, and tombstone images to identify the town of origin of your immigrant Irish.  Also, once you have a specific location, make it a habit to search the catalog at FamilySearch by place and/or keyword, trying all variations of the place name you can find (e.g., townland, county, parish, etc.), as the material that FamilySearch offers online at the moment is just the proverbial tip of the iceberg.  If you find that they have, say, parish records for 1850-1875 for the church your ancestors attended, either hire a Utah-based genealogist to pull the record for you or rent the microfilm to search it yourself at your closest Family History Center.

FindMyPast originated in the UK, so is strong on records from the England, Ireland, Scotland, Wales, Australia and New Zealand.  In fact, you could subscribe to the Ireland-only version (, but so many of our ancestors had family members who scattered to these other countries – or even spent some time in Liverpool or Manchester themselves before coming to America – that I find having access to the “world” version very helpful.  While they don’t have as many records as the aforementioned sites, they frequently have digitized versions of original records that the others don’t.

Census of Ireland 1901/1911:  (

I love, love, love this resource from the National Archives of Ireland.  All the 1901 and 1911 census records have been indexed, digitized, and made available online for free.  Those whose ancestors left Ireland over the last century or so will almost definitely find relatives before their departure, but even for those of us whose families emigrated earlier, it provides a window to learn about the ones who remained.

This site doesn’t include digitized records, but has perhaps the best index of church records for Ireland (both Republic of and Northern) you’ll find.  It doesn’t quite cover the whole country (Carlow and Clare are coming soon, and plans for Cork, Kerry and Dublin City are still to be announced), but it’s as comprehensive as you’ll find at the moment.  Church records are key because civil registration of births, marriages and deaths didn’t kick in until 1864, so if you had Famine-era ancestors, this website is one of your best bets.  Also, if you’re one of the many who only has a county of origin for your ancestors – and you’re fortunate enough to have a few unusual names in your family – you may well be able to use the search functionality at this website to zero in on the exact location.  And while I’m emphasizing baptism, marriage and burial records, please be aware that this site offers other records as well.

I know when I mentioned the Cork, Kerry and Dublin gaps in the preceding website overview, many quietly growled to themselves because their ancestors hailed from at least one of these places.  Well, fortunately, the Department of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht offers indexes for church records for these locations – and better yet, they’re free!  They also offer a helpful “main search” option (look at the menu at the top) that serves as a springboard to roughly a dozen other online resources, so you don’t have to learn and individually search all the online nooks and crannies that may hold pieces of your genealogical puzzle.

Just what you would guess from its name – a website that houses Irish digitized newspapers from around the country.  Coverage varies widely by location and time frame, so it’s a bit hit or miss, but it’s always worth checking.  Searching is free, but you’ll need to pay to view results.  If you’re not lucky enough to have unusual names, try including a location to narrow the results.


A photo from my genealogy adventure with Megan Smolenyak… where we visited several sites associated with Barrack Obama’s Irish lineage. Shown in photo: Canon Stephen Neill, Liam Hughes, Corey Taratuta, Megan Smolenyak and Megan’s Sister Stacey. Photo courtesy Megan Smolenyak.

Author: Megan Smolenyak

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  1. I read the Terms of Service for and decided I was not comfortable sharing my information with them. Please advise readers to always do this before signing up. This is part of what you would be allowing:

    Licenses and Rights Granted to Us

    In exchange for your use of this site and/or our storage of any data you submit, you hereby grant us an unrestricted, fully paid-up, royalty-free, worldwide, and perpetual license to use any and all information, content, and other materials (collectively, “Contributed Data”) that you submit or otherwise provide to this site (including, without limitation, genealogical data and discussions and data relating to deceased persons) for any and all purposes, in any and all manners, and in any and all forms of media that we, in our sole discretion, deem appropriate for the furtherance of our mission to promote family history and genealogical research. As part of this license, you give us permission to copy, publicly display, transmit, broadcast, and otherwise distribute your Contributed Data throughout the world, by any means we deem appropriate (electronic or otherwise, including the Internet). You also understand and agree that as part of this license, we have the right to create derivative works from your Contributed Data by combining all or a portion of it with that of other contributors or by otherwise modifying your Contributed Data.

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  2. Hi Sara, Everyone has to decide for themselves what they’re comfortable with (and incidentally, this kind of language is fairly typical for genealogical websites), but it’s not necessary to contribute any data to search the incredible treasure trove of records and indexes available at FamilySearch.

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  3. All of those sites are very familiar to me.

    My family came to America very, very early (very early 1700’s) so finding that kind of information is very hard to come by without forking over some kind of money to a service.

    Megan, would you have any insight on how I might find earlier information?

    Thank You!

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  4. Hi Bianca, If your family came that early and you’re trying to identify a place of origin, you may be best served by hiring a professional. I know you don’t want to spend any money, but barring a lucky break, some serious research is typically required for that kind of situation. That said, research the heck out of any collateral lines you’re aware of (details that didn’t make it down your branch might have traveled down others), and if you are dealing with any slightly unusual names (say, Nelligan, as opposed to Murphy), try searching more current immigration databases (e.g., perhaps (free, but you’ll have to register) using for the search functionality) to see if any geographic patterns emerge. You might be able to narrow the field this way. Then you can try location-specific resources like those mentioned above. Also, FYI – the odds will be slightly more in your favor if your early arrivers were Protestant (and many of those who came then were) as their paper trail tends to be a bit better.

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    • As I began researching my family tree, I read up on Ellis Island. If you have family that came before 1800, you won’t find them through Ellis Island. Ellis Island didn’t welcome immigrants to our shores until 1892. I’ve found ship manifests through, and if you know where there departure was, you can Google it!
      I hope this helps

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  5. My ancestor came over from Ireland about 1845 as about 2 yr old orphan. The family lore is that all his family died in Ireland during the famine and he was sent to an uncle in Wisconsin. Unfortunately no one knows the name of the uncle. My question is, I am sure there are many others who may be in the same situation. Where is the best place to look for information on orphans from Ireland’s famine?

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    • Katie —

      If you are still connected to this site (your post is now over 3 years old!), get a hold of me and “possibly” I could give some direction. I have quite a few relatives that settled in Wisconsin from Ireland just at that time. Who knows??

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  6. Thank you so much for responding so quickly to my inquiry about my Irish Roots!! I will use these resources that Megan recommends and so look forward to doing so!!! Than you again! There is a wealth of information awaiting me!!

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  7. I read this article completely concerning the resemblance of latest and earlier technologies, it’s amazing article.

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