How to Start your Family Tree

Seamus-smyth family tree research

If you are just starting to compile your family tree but don’t know where to start, well here are some tips and basic guides to get you started on this wonderful journey!

First of all, talk to your family first – parents, aunts, grandparents – and ask them the all important questions!  Where were they born, when were they born, parents’ names, mother’s maiden name, siblings’ names.  Any piece of information, no matter how small or how insignificant it may seem, could prove very useful in the future when you hit that common ‘brick wall’, we all face from time to time within genealogy!  Once you have established where your parents were from and their birth years, look for their marriage certificate, which will give you both parents’ father’s name.   From there you can find their parents’ marriage, and perhaps find them on the 1911 census return in Ireland (of course depending on how many generations back you need to research to find them on the census).  Bear in mind, when looking at the census returns that many people could not read or write, did not actually know their birth year, so information recorded on these forms is not always accurate. When searching the index books for births or marriages, always look a couple of years before and after the year stated on the census return.

There are now several good genealogy websites that can be accessed for births/marriages/deaths, some free and some are subscription sites.  However, it is very important to follow the ‘paper trail’ in genealogy as this confirms your findings and that you have the correct family.  Some online sites are only transcriptions of the records, so can include some inaccurate information due to the poor handwriting on the parish records at the time.  Other excellent sources for genealogy information are Valuation Office Cancelled Revision Books, great for recording the occupancy of a property from about the mid 1850s to 1970s; Registry of Deeds in Henrietta Street, again for Deeds, Leases, Indentures for property transactions; Calendar of Wills at National Archives Ireland in Bishop Street; Newspaper archives; National Library of Ireland, Kildare Street, for online parish records, which have been released for free recently.  Sometimes you have to think ‘outside the box’ and don’t be afraid to look in unusual places such as prison records, these give a good physical description of prisoners; also Merchant Navy Records, some of which contain photographs.

One of the most important things to remember when researching is for spelling variants of your ancestor’s name – don’t discard a record just because the spelling is different to how it is recorded now, again some names were recorded ‘phonetically’ as people who were illiterate could not spell their own name.

For more tips and information on searching for your ancestors, or if you need help with your genealogy project, please contact Anne-Marie at, or visit our website at  we will be happy to point you in the right direction!  Happy hunting!  Anne-Marie