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Your family tree is just a few clicks away

Catriona Crowe of the National Archives has a few tips to share with anyone researching their ancestors

Looking at papers in the reading room of the National Archives. The National Archives and the Department of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht are currently working on a 2016 family ancestry initiative guide. Photograph: Bryan O’Brien

The National Archives and the Department of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht are currently working on a 2016 family ancestry initiative guide.

This will help people, especially teenagers, research their family’s history.

In the meantime, this guide will assist anyone researching their ancestors around 1916, or another year.

1 “The first thing to do is to consult the 1901 or 1911 census online,” she says. “They’re totally free to access at www.census.nationalarchives.ie. You put in the name of your great grandfather or another relative, where you think they came from, and then search.

“Hopefully a list of choices come up which gives you access to their original census forms for 1901 and 1911. That gives you the names of everyone who was in the family, their occupations, their ages. From that you can find out the year of their birth.

“You also find out their religion, any illnesses, and whether any children in the family have died. That can be very poignant.

“You also get information about what kinds of houses people lived in, how many rooms, windows and how many people living in the rooms. This can be really useful for tenement buildings.”

“It gives you a sharp idea of what life must have been for them at the time. Similarly in the countryside, you have very large families living in two-room cottages.”

2 Armed with this information, you can also dig deeper, and go on to familysearch.org, a website that has the indexes to Ireland’s civil registration records – births, deaths and marriages.

“A marriage record gives you the fathers of the bride and grooms, and that can bring you back another generation.”

To get the actual certificate, you have to pay around €4, but there is an online facility at Groireland.ie.

3 If you think that a relative was involved in the fighting in 1916 or the War of Independence, meanwhile, go to Bureauofmilitaryhistory.ie. Relatives can be searched for free by name, place or word – eg “prison” – as Catriona explains.

“They are fascinating, because they’re in people’s own words. Some are settling scores, some are telling outright lies, but most give you a vivid account of the time. Even if your relative didn’t make a statement to the bureau, they may have been mentioned by someone else.

“There are 1,770 statements, running from six pages to 200 pages, from people of all kinds who were active on the nationalist side in the period.”

4 Another big free database for 1916 is the military service pension website, www.militaryarchives.ie.

“This includes claims made by people active in 1916. There are claims from the War of Independence and the Civil War too, but they’re not complete.

“It might give you details of what ambushes they were involved in, what garrison they were with, and it includes references from others, so it’s very accurate information.”

5 As for the first World War, http://soldierswills.nationalarchives.ie/ has 9,000 wills written by some of the 35,000 Irish soldiers who died in the first World War.

For other wartime records, the British National Archives contains first World War service and medal records for Irish and British soldiers at search.ancestry.co.uk.

“Otherwise you need to go to the Imperial War Museum, with records on Irish soldiers. There is also Livesofthefirstworldwar.org, which costs money but is reasonably cheap, and for those who died, there is the Commonwealth War Graves Commission www.cwgc.org.

“We’re also compiling a simple guide to genealogy which will come out in the end of the winter or early next year.

“We hope it will be absolutely foolproof.”