Irish research from home

Irish house in Burrowa NSW, taken by the author

Irish research is a greater challenge than for other countries for many reasons. The lack of indexes, online or otherwise, and the large number of censuses and other resources that were destroyed make Irish research more difficult, but not impossible, from Australia. I have ancestors from Northern Ireland and it is very difficult to find any information about them, and to trace them back further, without going to Ireland. One day I will go to Ireland but until then I have to make do with what I can find online and in books and microfilms.

It is becoming easier, though, with records being indexed and transcriptions being made available on a pay-pre-view basis. I’d like to share some basic principles that are important to Irish research, and a few websites that I have found worthwhile.

Place is important

To find your Irish ancestors you need to know where in Ireland they came from. If you are lucky the parish or townland will be given on the death certificate or immigration list. Convict records may also be helpful here, especially later ones after about 1820. It is practically impossible without a more specific place than just “Ireland” or the name of the county, especially for the many common Irish surnames. Of course, you would no more expect to find your ancestor if you only knew he came from Ireland than if he came from England or Scotland – you need something more specific than that.

If you do have a place and you can’t find a town or a parish by that name then it may be a townland. Try this townland search to narrow it down. The spelling may not be correct, so you may have to experiment a bit, as it was difficult for the early clerks to understand the Irish names they were hearing, and the Irish person concerned may not have been able to read what was written in any case.

What about the Censuses?

Of course, if you only knew that your ancestor came from “England” and had a relatively uncommon surname, and perhaps a middle name, you might find him in the English censuses. For Ireland there is not this option, as almost all of the censuses before the 1901 census were either purposefully destroyed, “recycled” during World War I or lost in the great fire at the Public Record Office in 1922. Both the 1901 and 1911 Censuses have been released and are available on microfilm. For many of us, these censuses are too late to tell us anything about our ancestors who left Ireland many years before.

If you’ve ever asked about Irish research you’ve probably been told about “census substitutes”. These are records that would not be very interesting to family history researchers had the censuses been available, but have taken on great significance in their absence. The two most popular are:

The Tithe Applotment Books 1824-1838 list the occupiers of land for the purposes of calculating the tithes payable to the Established Church, the Church of Ireland. Tithes were not payable on all land and seemed to fall heaviest on the poor, so although not all householders are listed, your ancestor may be.

The Primary Valuation of Ireland, known as Griffith’s Valuation, was made between 1848 and 1864 and lists every householder and occupier of land in all of Ireland. Online indexes are available

These sources only list the head of households and not whole families, so it is more difficult to identify names on the lists as being your ancestors. They show the concentration of surnames in a given area and that can be very useful as a starting point if you only know your ancestor came from “Ireland”.

Online sources

First the bad news – there is very little available online that is free. There may be the occasional kind soul who has transcribed a series of records and put them on the web for everyone to enjoy, but you will be very lucky to find anything relevant to your county, let alone a specific parish. Still, some people are lucky, so do a search on the search engine of your choice and good luck.

For the rest of us there are pay-per-view (PPV) sites. Here are a few of the biggest ones:

AncestryIreland.com is the website of the Ulster Historical Foundation. They are a pay-per-view site where you can search for free and you buy credits to see the details. If you join their guild, the Ulster Genealogical and Historical Guild, then you pay half-price for credits. They specialise in counties Antrim and Down, but they have many records from the other seven Ulster counties, including a large gravestone index. Their History From Headstones site also allows free searching of the index, with payment required to view inscriptions. Their army of volunteers are adding more databases all the time.

Also specialising in Northern Ireland is Emerald Ancestors with birth, death, marriage and census records. They also sell ebooks of rare out-of-prints books, manuscripts and accounts of life in Ireland.

Irish Genealogy has been established by the Irish Genealogical Project to coordinate records from all the Irish Family History Foundation centres over the whole of the island of Ireland. These centres, one for each county or two counties, are responsible for collecting, indexing and computerising church records, civil records, census returns, census substitutes, graveyard inscriptions, and other relevant material. Their Online Record Search contains parish register indexes for many counties.

Their gravestone inscriptions, for example, currently only cover the nine counties of Ulster and seem to include different graveyards than those covered by the Ulster Historical Foundation. Once you have been given the results of your search you can select, and pay for, the record of your choice. They can point you to the relevant county research centre.

Irish Origins is part of the Origins Network which gives unlimited access to their collection for a limited period – 72 hours or monthly. Griffith’s Valuation 1847-1864, Irish Wills Index 1484-1858, the Irish Tithe Defaulters 1831, the 1901 Census for Dublin City and the Griffith’s Survey Maps and Plans are some of the highlights of this collection. Partnered by Eneclann, the Trinity College, Dublin, research and publishing company.

Irish Family Research transcribes old books and documents and makes them available online for subscribers. Directories, graveyard inscriptions, newspapers, landowners lists and Griffiths Valuations are some of the databases you might find. They are adding more all the time. There are some free databases available for registered users, and then different levels of membership allow access to more content, with Premium Members able to request lookups from material not yet transcribed.

The Irish Times newspaper has a large Irish Ancestors site with input from John Grenham, a well-known writer on Irish genealogy (see Sources below). Initial searches are free and then payment is on a credit systemor you can pay for a subscriptionSurname searches give the numbers of times the surname appears in the Griffiths Valuation by county (for free) and parish (for a fee). An ancestor search gives a personalised report of sources to be searched (not the sources themselves) for the ancestor in question, based on the information you enter.

There is a large section of links to Irish genealogy websites, and a Lewis’s Topographical Dictionary (1837) database with detailed information on the town or parish you select and a map of the county. You can also commission research from their research partners at Eneclann, the Trinity College, Dublin, research and publishing company.

National Archives of Ireland are digitising and indexing the Censuses of 1901 and 1911. So far only Dublin has been completed but the intention is toget them all up there, and free too. The Ireland-Australia Transportation Database, also known as the Irish Gift, lists all Irish convicts transported to Australia.

Irish Newspaper Archives has a large database of digitised images of Irish newspapers from all over Ireland including the Irish IndependentThe Freemans’ Journal, the Connacht Tribune, the Meath Chronicle, and the Donegal News.

Ireland’s Historical Mapping Archive has images of Ordnance Survey maps from the first survey in 1829-42 onwards. They can be downloaded or printed and posted out.

LDS Family History Library

Over the years the Family History Library of the LDS Church has microfilmed everything that they have been able to lay their hands on. Unfortunately what they were able to film in Ireland is less than we would hope, but you may be lucky enough to find what you want in their library.

Search in the Family History Library Catalog for the placename in Ireland if you have it. Again, be adventurous with the spelling that you found on the death certificate or other record.

Films can be ordered and viewed through your local Family History Library or some genealogy societies. The 1901 and 1911 Censuses can also be viewed in this way. Some libraries may have these on permanent loan.

The Family History Library has a new project underway to digitise and index a large number of records from all over the world. These will be available in due course on their new Record Search site, which is currently in the pilot stage. There are mostly USA records so far but more are being added as the many volunteers get them indexed. Many of the Irish civil registration indexes are being indexed now (I’ve done a few myself) and so should be available soon – Births 1884-1921; Marriages 1868-1958; Deaths 1864-1921 at this stage. It’s a great way to become familiar with Irish names and districts.

Other sites:

The Irish Famine Memorial at Hyde Park Barracks in Sydney lists names of 400 orphans who were shipped out to Australia from the workhouses in Ireland in 1848-1850 as part of the Earl Grey Scheme.

Irish War Memorials contains photos, text of all inscriptions and a name search of all persons listed on war memorials all over Ireland.

Cora Web’s Ireland links page has many more links for Irish research.

Sources:

John Grenham, Tracing Your Irish Ancestors, 3rd Edition. Genealogical Publishing Co, Baltimore, Maryland; 2006.

Ian Maxwell, Tracing Your Ancestors in Northern Ireland, edited by Grace McGrath. The Stationery Office, Edinburgh, , 1997.

See also the websites cited in the text.

Convict Numbers

ball_and_chain 300x225I’ve been reading a classic book on the transportation of convicts to Australia called Convicts and the Colonies by A.G.L. Shaw (Melbourne University Press, 1977), who was Professor of History at Monash University in Melbourne. I’d like to share some numbers with you.

Numbers of convicts transported

From May 1787 to March 1792 4077 males and 769 females were transported from England, an average total of about 1000 per year. The transportation process was interrupted during the Napoleonic Wars, as convict labour was needed in the dockyards and in the services. Only 5263 males and 1810 females sent between 1793 and 1810, an annual average of only 292 men and 100 women over 18 years.

From 1811 to 1815 tranportation steadily rose but only after the end of the Wars in 1815 did the crime rate increased and the transportation rate likewise was increased. From 1816 to 1825 the annual average was 2600 per year. In 1827 the new Home Secretary, Sir Robert Peel, reformed the penal laws and as a result the annual average rose to 4160 per year due to more police and changes in punishments for different crimes.

Sentences

The most popular transportation sentence was for 7 years, applying to over half of all those transported. “A quarter were sentenced for life, but the proportion of lifers alowly declined as time went on. Nearly all the remainder received fourteen years until 1840; after that ten-year sentences became fairly common.” (p. 149)

Before 1818 only a third of those sentenced or respited from a death sentence to transportation were actually put on a transport ship; the rest got no further than the hulks – old, unseaworthy ships acting as prisons. In the 1820s at least two-thirds were actually transported; about three-quarters declining to two-thirds in the 1830s; and back to three-quarters in the early 1840s. “Lifers” were usually sent, as were most prisoners in their twenties. In general the old and the sick were not, although there were exceptions.

Crimes

So many crimes carried a sentence of death or transportation in those days that once one crime was proven at trial there was no real need to prove any others. So although the convict may have been “known” to local authorities and suspected of a great many crimes, only one, perhaps the easiest to prove, was needed to send him or her away. A bad reputation could result in a harsher punishment. Estimates have been made by Shaw and others that show that approximately two-thirds of convicts had had previous convictions. Before 1840 most first-offenders were sent to New South Wales with the more hardened criminals being sent to Van Diemen’s Land.

Most transported convicts came from the cities – London and Middlesex, and the industrial towns in Lancashire. The most common crime by far was larceny. A disproportionate share of first offenders came from these large cities, as an attempt to discourage this type of crime. Many rural offenders were convicted of poaching – not from threat of starvation, but well-equipped organised poaching for profit. They were often guilty, or suspected, of violence or other types of crimes such as “making free with their neighbours’ property” (p. 158). Only about 300 convicted poachers were transported during the whole period of transportation. A third of transported convicts tried in rural counties were born elsewhere, indicating a high level of wandering.

Fewer than a thousand transported convicts from England were political prisoners, including trade unionists and rioting agricultural labourers.

Women

About one-sixth of transported convicts were women. Predominantly single, from the cities, especially London and in Lancashire, and on average three years older than the men. Two-thirds were found “guilty of larceny or stealing wearing apparel” (p. 164). It is difficult to know how many were actually prostitutes, although it must be remembered that contemporary attitudes branded almost any woman a prostitute who did not conform to the strict moral standards of the day.

The Scots

“Per head of population, the Scottish rate of transportation was less than a quarter that of England between 1810 and 1821, and only about two-fifths after 1830; as a result Scottish criminals were far less common in Australia than English or Irish…” (p. 165). 85 per cent were sentenced for theft of some kind, but were, in general, more serious offenders. The Scots were first sent to the hulks at Portsmouth or Woolwich, and from there were sent together with the English to Australia.

The Irish

The Irish convicts are given a whole chapter in Shaw’s book. I will only give a few details. Nearly 30,000 men and 9000 women were transported directly from Ireland, about a quarter of the total numbers. In general they were two years older than British convicts; more were married; less were juveniles; and far more were from the country rather than the cities. Far more were first offenders except for those from Dublin and Cork. Probably one-fifth were nationalists and social rebels fighting against English domination. In addition about 6000 had settled in England and been convicted of similar crimes to the native English offenders – namely larceny.

That’s enough for today. I highly recommend this book to you if you want to know more about the convict system in NSW.

Don’t forget the relatives – a NSW immigration story

sailing_ship 200x300This is a story from my own family tree, in particular it is about my g-g-grandfather Richard Eason. When I started looking into my family history I got his NSW death certificate from 1922 on which the informant (his son Irwin) stated that he was born in County Tyrone, Ireland; that his residence in Australia had been for 72 years; and that his mother’s name was Sarah Irwin.

A search of the State Records NSW index to Assisted Immigrants arriving in Sydney and Newcastle showed a Richard Eason arriving in NSW on the Orient in 1850, aged 20. I have copies of two passenger lists from this event – the “Agents’ Immigrant Lists” and the “Board’s Immigrant Lists”. The “Board’s” list shows, among other things, parents names and whether they are still living, and relatives in the Colony. (Archives Authority of New South Wales, Persons on Bounty Ships to Sydney, Newcastle, Moreton Bay, 1848-1891, (Board’s Immigrants Lists 1848-1891), SR Reel 2461). Richard gave his father’s name as Richard Eason and indicated that he was no longer living; and he gave the name John Clements in Swan River as his relative. What is actually written in the column looked to me at the time like “acq John Clements Swan River” and I decided that “acq” meant “acquaintance” and left it at that.

I also found that a Catherine Clements, also from Tyrone, was on the same ship the Orient and gave as her relative “a brother John Clements Carcoar and a sister Sarah living in Sydney”. I wish I could say that I looked through the whole passenger list to find anyone else that had come from Tyrone, but I actually found her name in the Hervey Bay Indexers’ The Relations Index of Immigrants to NSW on microfiche in my local library.

Eventually, many years later, I did look up the arrival of this John Clements. I rechecked the Hervey Bay Indexers’ The Relations Index of Immigrants to NSW and they stated the relationship of John Clements to Richard Eason was cousin. So I looked for the arrival of John Clements. John wasn’t in the online index for assisted arrivals from 1844 at www.records.nsw.gov.au, but he was in the microfilmed card index of arrivals from 1828-1842 (Index to Assisted (Bounty) Immigrants to New South Wales 1828-1842, Genealogical Society of Utah, Salt Lake City). He arrived on the Pearl in 1841. In Assisted (bounty) immigrants 1839-1842 (SR Reel 1335) John’s native place was Clogher, Tyrone, the same as my Richard, he was Presbyterian (Richard was Church of England), and his parents were Joseph and Catherine Clements, both living.

 

The revelation was Sarah Clements, found in the same index and arriving on the same ship, the Pearl, as her brother John – her parents were Joseph Clements and Catherine IRWIN. My Richard’s mother was Sarah IRWIN, so I started to think that they really were cousins, not just acquaintances. Sarah also stated that she was under the protection of her Aunt Mrs Irwin, so I searched the rest of the passenger records for Mrs Irwin, and found William Irwin with his wife Catherine and their 5 children. William, a native of Clogher, Tyrone, was a farm labourer, and his parents were stated to be John Irwin, a farmer, and Sarah Stevenson. (Archives Authority of New South Wales, Assisted (Bounty) Immigrants Arriving Sydney 1828-1842, SR Reel 1335)

To cut a long story short, it is entirely possible, perhaps even probable, that this William Irwin is the brother of my Richard Eason’s mother Sarah Irwin, whose father was John Irwin, a farmer, and whose mother has not been recorded in any document I have been able to find. Having found a possible brother of Sarah’s whose parents were recorded I can deduce the name of Sarah’s mother – Sarah Stevenson. In addition it is likely that the Irwins’ were Presbyterian, another revelation. So by chasing up a relative’s name on a passenger list I have been able to find a likely name for my previously-unknown g-g-g-g-grandmother. Where records in Ireland are so scarce, this is no small thing!

So the lesson is this: Always follow up the names of people that are associated with your ancestors, even if you can’t see any connection. You never know where they might lead you. I thought this cousin John Clements was just an acquaintance from Richard’s old country and ignored him, and in the end he was the only link I have, even now, to Richard’s maternal grandmother. The records in Ireland are notoriously scanty and tracing generations back through baptism and marriage registers, even if they still exist, is impossible from Australia unless you pay a researcher in Ireland or go there yourself, which is my next plan!

A note on sources - all the records I have referred to are microfilmed copies of records held by State Records New South Wales. They are available at the Reading Rooms in The Rocks and Kingswood and in many libraries around New South Wales and other Australian capital cities.

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