Genealogical sources at the National Archives of Ireland

Summary of Lecture given by Gregory O’Connor at Clifden bicentennial festival, 31 May 2012

The lecture aimed to give the audience an appreciation of the wide variety of records held by the National Archives containing genealogical information. The great loss of Irish genealogical records sustained by the burning of the Public Record Office of Ireland in 1922 and other “record-destructive” events was fully acknowledged but a greater emphasis was placed on the research potential of records which escaped destruction through good fortune, being in a different and safe storage location, or by not being the subject of official orders permitting the disposal of particular classes of documents.

A surprising amount of ” name-heavy” administrative and legal records of the 16th and 17th century are still extant such as Chancery Court Pleadings and grants by the Tudor and Stuart monarchs of lands, pardons for offences, custody of minors, properties –such as castles, towns and monasteries and natural resources. Two examples of such grants (“Fiants”) from the reign of Queen Elizabeth I were shown.

The wealth of genealogical information to be gleaned from the Household Returns of the 1901 and 1911 Censuses and the great advance in “unlocking” this information afforded by the digitization and placing online of these Returns was illustrated with examples showing the 1901 Return of a Galway household with an allegedly 122-year old “Head”, 1901 and 1911 returns of an elderly lady living with other family members and several servants and a listing of pupils in a Boarding School.

There are a number of record collections which serve as at least a partial substitute for the destroyed material among which the Landed Estate Court Rentals, Valuation Office Notebooks, Application Forms for searches in the 1841 and/or 1851 Census and abstracts of Public Records made before 1922 by professional genealogists were referred to and illustrated by examples. The genealogical importance of records formerly held in the State Paper Office in Dublin Castle was underlined with examples from the 1798/03 Rebellion Papers, Convict clemency Petition Files and “Census-type” information collected as part of the official effort to relieve distress in the West of Ireland in 1891. Also very important genealogically are surviving or substitute legal records such as Wills, Registers of cases heard at District (Petty Sessions) Courts from the mid-19th century and ,occasionally, earlier and Property and Inheritance cases heard at Circuit (Quarter Sessions) and High Court (Assize) levels of which illustrated examples were given. Finally, records held by the National Archives relating to classes of State employee such as Teachers, Police (RIC & DMP) and Soldiers (the Royal Hospital Kilmainham Collection) were highlighted.

Gregory O’Connor



  1. Can the records at the National Archives be accessed on-line? I am writing from the US.

  2. Howard D. Hughes says:

    I am trying to trace my Great Great Grandfather who was purportedly born in Clifden County Galway Ireland. His name as near as I can tell was Arin Hughes and was married to Nell O’Donegan. This info I have is sketchy at best so even close matches would work for me.

    Thank You,

  3. Howard D. Hughes says:

    I live in America in the State of Missouri and am desperately trying to piece my roots to Ireland together. H.D.Hughes

  4. Bonnie Sinacore says:

    I am trying to find information on the O’Neill and Lydon families who resided on Market St. in Clifden, according to the 1911 Census. My grandfather, Thomas O’Neill was born in Clifden and came to the US @ 1902. His parents were Patrick O’Neill and Ann Lydon. I would love to get information on the parents and siblings of Patrick and Ann. Any leads are appreciated.

    Kind regards,

  5. My great great grandfather was John Riley that rode for Mexico and carried the Irish / Mexican flag. In 1846 – 1848 His men were call St. Patrick’s Battalion. I understand he is from here in Clifden. How can I find his family? I don’t know if I can write that here if not please delete for me. I would love to find out about him. There are of things that are told in the stories about him is not all correct. He was not a drink because he didn’t drink. And he did not die in Mexico. He was with my grandmother in 1857 in Missouri, USA hope to hear from someone. I would like to meet a Riley that has a DNA test so we cam check to see if we match our DNA. Thank You!

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