Finding Your Irish Ancestors

by Joe Buggy, ProGenealogist Team Manager

The ultimate aim of almost everyone with Irish ancestors is to learn where they came from in Ireland. Some are fortunate and may have a grandparent who emigrated from Ireland in the early 20th century. In this case, there is likely family knowledge of the Irish county and parish. However, for the vast majority, the research brick wall exists with identifying who the immigrant ancestor was and then where they were from in Ireland.

United States President Joe Biden has a special connection to Ireland with ancestors hailing from County Louth and County Mayo. He has been to both places and was acclaimed with great fanfare on one of his visits. His earliest known Irish ancestor, Edward Blewitt, grew up in Ballina, County Mayo, before immigrating to the United States with members of his family in the early 1850s. Edward’s daughter Geraldine married Ambrose Finnegan in Scranton, Pennsylvania. The Finnegans were from the Cooley Peninsula in County Louth. 

How To Begin Tracing Your Family Back To Ireland

It might sound like a basic first step, but start with what you know about the branch of your family tree that you think your ancestor from Ireland is on. Talk to your family members, gather any documents that you have access to, and create a timeline of key events. A great place to compile this information is a tree on Ancestry®. This will help you keep track of what information applies to which ancestor, especially if you have plenty of Patrick Murphys and Bridget Reillys in the various generations. As you enter information into your tree, our Ancestry Hints® technology can start helping you do the work by suggesting records that could be for your ancestors. This could help you to quite quickly, and unexpectedly, work back through the generations to the immigrant ancestor.

As you work back through the generations you will be looking for a document that states an ancestor was born in Ireland. This could be found on the 1880 U.S. Federal Census, which was the first one to ask about a parent’s place of birth, a death certificate from Pennsylvania, or a newspaper obituary. You have now found the immigrant ancestor, and this is the person to learn more about.

The Next Steps To Take

The answer to where an ancestor was from in Ireland could very well come from information concerning their life. Many Irish immigrants had their parish of birth recorded on their burial markers, and there are tens of thousands of such examples in cemeteries across the United States. Find A Grave® has over 200 million memorials with many providing pictures of burial markers. The death of the immigrant could also have seen an obituary or death notice published in a newspaper where they lived. Some notices were brief, but others provide fascinating detail about the life of the deceased with a place of origin in Ireland referenced.™ has editions from all across the United States that can be easily examined for such information. The vast majority of immigrants from Ireland became naturalized U.S. citizens, and that process usually necessitated the creation of two documents: a declaration of intention to naturalize and a petition for naturalization. The layout of these documents before 1906 varied from state to state, and even from county to county, but this is another place where an Irish county of origin might be found.

Irish Headstone
Martin Kelley, born Killconoly [Kilconly] Parish, County Galway, Ireland in 1814

Using AncestryDNA® to Learn About Your Irish Ancestor

AncestryDNA® is now an important tool for helping to find a place of origin in Ireland. The Ethnicity Estimate in the DNA Story provides a visual display of regions of the world where ancestral lines emerge. These lines can go back as far as 500 to 600 years. Going deeper, many who take the test will also be shown DNA communities in their results, which reflect more recent ancestral origins from the last 200 years. These communities can be very specific and show precise locations in a country. For example, there are now 203 communities for Ireland, with some counties, such as Cork, having more than fifteen. Imagine having one ancestral line from Ireland and learning from AncestryDNA that it was from as specific a place as Achill Island, County Mayo, where the Oscar-nominated movie The Banshees of Inisherin was filmed?

Community for Achill Island, Ireland
AncestryDNA® Community for Achill Island, Ireland

The FAN Club: How Others Can Help Your Discoveries

For those who have researched their Irish immigrant ancestor extensively, utilized DNA, and are still no clearer as to where they are from, it could be time to focus on your ancestor’s FAN Club. FAN stands for Family, Associates, and Neighbors. Irish immigrants practiced chain migration and often first stayed with a family member or close neighbor from home until they got a job or settled into their new location. After a few years, that person then took in the next family member or neighbor from home who immigrated, and so on. Irish immigrant neighborhoods were also often made up of people from the same county or region. Therefore, researching those from Ireland who lived in the same building on a census form, were a naturalization witness, or served as a baptismal sponsor to the immigrant’s child can pay dividends by showing where they are from in Ireland. 

Locating where an ancestor is from in Ireland can sometimes be hard work. Using the billions of records on Ancestry, AncestryDNA, and different research methodologies gives the best chance to find the Irish place of origin. And once you have delighted in that success, an even more exciting thought will come to mind: planning a trip to visit that place in Ireland

If you’d like professional help from AncestryProGenealogists® to help you navigate through historical records and support you creating a designed family history narrative, visit us at

Gail, grave marker of Martin Kelley (11 November 1814 – 29 December 1893), Calvary Roman Catholic Cemetery, Ashland, Boyd, Kentucky, photograph, uploaded 2020; digital image, “Martin Kelley,” memorial 202972976, Find a Grave (, accessed March 2023.