March is Irish-American Heritage Month (also commonly referred to as Irish History Month), which makes it the perfect time to do some extra digging into your Irish family tree. The month was first celebrated in 1991 and was designated to be in March in order to coincide with Ireland’s biggest national holiday, St. Patrick’s Day. The celebratory month is set aside to honor the achievements and contributions of the Irish and their American descendants in the United States. Each year, the president and Congress officially declare it to be Irish-American Heritage Month.
Believe it or not, it took a long time for Irish people and their descendants to be accepted enough in this country to be celebrated in such a way. While large cities in the United States, especially in the east, have always had large populations of Irish people and their descendants, they were often treated with prejudice and outright discrimination by other ethnic groups, even until the mid-20th century.
When US President Harry S. Truman, who was of Scottish heritage, attended the St. Patrick’s Day parade in New York City in 1948, it was a proud moment for Irish-Americans, and a sign they were finally being accepted by American society. The “no Irish need apply” signs for open jobs that used to be so common started to disappear around this time and just prior. In 1960, John F. Kennedy became the first US president of Irish heritage to be elected to that position, meaning the Irish had finally achieved full acceptance in American society. Now, we celebrate them.
If you are interested in exploring your Irish-American heritage further during this special month, here are some great resources to use to do it.
One of the best places to look for your Irish and Irish-American ancestors is in old newspaper records. Plenty of genealogists complain that there is a lack of good resources for Irish genealogy. This is because there was a fire in 1922 at the Public Records Office in Dublin, Ireland that destroyed many of the nation’s important public records documents, such as census records, court records, church records, and others. This is a similar complaint to American genealogists who do southern genealogy—there are a wealth of burned county courthouses in the south, making locating records past the mid to early 19th century a challenge in many counties there.
To the rescue are old newspaper records. They fill in the blanks left by missing public records and vital records. While most fires, including the one in Dublin, don’t destroy every single available record, it is important to know what is available and if it will be of benefit to you in your research. If it won’t be, then turning to old newspaper records is an excellent alternative.
Old newspaper records often have notices of weddings, deaths, christenings, divorces, annulments, and births that no longer exist anywhere else. You will also find stories of court cases in which your ancestors were involved, church news in which they were mentioned, community news in which they were mentioned, and more.
You can look at old newspapers from Ireland, or at newspapers from the United States that had special Irish news section or that were published in Irish-American communities. Such collections may be found online in free or subscription websites, or in person at local historical societies or archives. You may find a ton of interesting historical information about the Irish community in general, as well as information on your ancestors that can prove relationships and other genealogical facts that need verification by looking through the records of the newspapers where your Irish and Irish-American ancestors lived.
This is an important website for Irish genealogical records. It has more than twenty-three million records pertaining to the Irish people. This allows you to do way more Irish genealogy research from home than was previously possible. The information on the site comes from thirty-four county genealogy centers in Ireland, so much of the country is represented. This makes the chances of finding your Irish ancestors here much better.
You will find such things as church records from Catholic and Protestant churches, civil and court records, census records, headstone inscriptions, and records of births, deaths, marriages, and christenings. You can even search the database by name and or county.
The site has a map that shows which county has records that are online. You can also purchase anywhere from a one-day to a one-year membership to the site to access records you can find in the free index search.
The research Wiki on FamilySearch.org is a great resource for Irish genealogy. If you search the Wiki for Ireland Genealogy, you will be treated to lovely links to Irish research tutorials and guides, as well as Irish genealogical records. You want to make sure to explore every part of the Wiki to make sure you get the most information possible out of it. Since it is always being updated, it is a resource you should use and come back to often, to help further your Irish research as new information becomes available.
In addition to the resources on the Wiki, it also has links to Facebook groups of people who are doing Irish genealogy. It is a good idea to connect with these people if you are not highly experienced in Irish genealogical research, as they can point you in the right direction to find out more about your Irish ancestors.
Whether you have always known you have Irish genealogy, or recently discovered it through research or DNA testing, now is the time to begin exploring more of your Irish heritage. It’s the month for it, after all. Utilize any records available to you within your family or local area first, and talk to any living ancestors who know about the Irish side of your family. Once you have used these resources, then move on to outside ones like these three. They can help you fill in those blanks on your Irish family tree.