A guide to tracing your Clare ancestors using oral,
documentary and genetic evidence
- Tracing your Clare ancestors (or ancestors who lived
anywhere in Ireland) has never been easier.
- Your strategy should combine:
- Soon you will be well on your way to recording
histories of all 16 of your greatgreatgrandparents and beyond in your favourite
simple genealogy software
- The first sources to consult are the family elders.
- Then check the family papers:
- Remember Larry Brennan's mantra when establishing the Clare
Genealogy is about names, dates and places.
These are the bones; family history is the flesh on those bones.
- The boundaries between
oral evidence and documentary evidence can be blurred:
- Is the description of the deceased on a death
oral or documentary? (Estimated age at death, parents' names, mother's
maiden surname, etc.)
- Are family letters and diaries oral or archival?
- Are published or unpublished family histories oral or
archival? (Griffin example.)
- Armed with the basic information from the oral evidence,
one can go
online, and go back through the generations, filling the gaps in the
tradition by using the various free
websites made available by national and local authorities in recent
- census returns;
- civil birth, marriage and death records;
- church records;
- land records;
- Unless a person's name is extremely rare, narrow down the
search by place before you begin.
- For most genealogical events, there are up to four
different associated places:
- the place where the event happened;
- the place where the event was originally recorded;
- the place where the original record is stored
- the place(s) or website(s) where a manual, photographic
or digital copy (or copies) of the record can be
- In rural areas of Ireland, we can typically identify the townland
in which the event happened.
- In urban areas, we can typically identify the street
address at which the event happened.
- The administrative division(s) in which the genealogical
event is or was recorded and stored
- the townland where the event actually happened;
- the nature of the event; and
- the general time period.
- Ireland has been partitioned many times for
many non-genealogical purposes, but the genealogist needs to become
familiar with some of these repartitionings.
- Depending on the record, there may be
- an all-Ireland index;
- a 26-county index;
- county-by-county indexes;
- indexes for
subdivisions of counties; or
- indexes for areas crossing county boundaries.
- Once we know the townland, we generally need maps and/or
lookup tables to figure out where to look for the record; for a
summary, see this table.
- In your genealogy software, document the source of every
name, date and place that you find, whether it be a family oral source,
local or national documentary source, or a genetic source.
The most basic source is Google,
which is great for more unusual names or combinations of names, but
Google, by accident or design, does not harvest many
The major free online sources for Irish ancestry include:
- Current status reported at November 2017 lecture to Genealogical
Society of Ireland (see Ireland's Genealogical Gazette)
- Birth records 1864-1916.
- Marriage records 1870-1941 (Catholic marriages for
non-Catholic marriages for 1 Apr 1845-1869 to be added).
- Data protection arguments relating to data on living
persons are used
explain why more recent birth and marriage records are available
- Death records 1878-1966 (1864-1877 to be added).
- Data protection arguments relating to data on living persons are
explain why more recent records related to deceased persons are
- Births over 100 years ago, marriages over 75 years ago
and deaths over
50 years ago due to be added in annual increments.
- Basic civil records search form
- Advanced civil records search form
- The one-size-fits-all search form can mislead beginners.
- The birth index includes mother's maiden name only from
- Sometimes the groom is Party 1 and the bride is Party
2, sometimes the
numbering is reversed.
- Search separately for Kelly, O'Kelly, O Kelly and
OKelly to cover all
- Similarly for Mc Namara and McNamara.
- Church records for only about
four counties or dioceses, mostly pre-1900.
- The results from the main search form
provide links to other free government-backed online databases.
- Can be used to overcome the gaps in the official online
versions of civil records
Free registration now required
--- Irish Civil Registration Indexes 1845-1958
- Includes more recent births and marriages than the
See sample page
from original index (1866)
- Registration districts in this index are:
- The indexes don't include spouse or parents, apart
from the birth index from c1928-1958, which includes mother's maiden
surname only. To narrow the search, you can fill in one of (a) birth
date and/or place (b) marriage date and/or place or (c) death date
and/or place. Filling in fields which are blank in the record you want
will prevent you from finding it.
--- Ireland Births and Baptisms mostly 1864-1881
- Searchable by parents' names, unlike the official
- To narrow the search, you can fill in both parents'
and/or last names and/or birth date and/or place. The appropriate
placename to use varies from year to year and from record to record.
Try townland or dispensary district or Poor Law Union or county.
--- Ireland Marriages mostly 1845-1870
- These years are not yet on the official website.
page from marriage register
- To narrow the search, you can fill in spouse's and/or
father's first and/or last names and/or marriage date and/or place.
Irish marriage certificates did not until relatively recently include
the name of either the groom's mother or the bride's mother.
--- Ireland Deaths mostly 1864-1870
- These years are not yet on the official website.
- See sample
- To narrow the search, you can fill in death date and/or
death place and/or residence place. Irish death certificates did not
include the name of any relative until c2004, unless the informant
happened to be a relative, and even then the relationship may not have
been specified. The appropriate placename to use is generally the
- Full worldwide familysearch.org
- In some non-Irish records the familysearch.org
transcriptions may include father's first name, mother's first name and
mother's last name, but not father's last name! See, for example, many
entries in New
Jersey, Marriages, 1678-1985. You must leave the father's
last name blank if you want to find these records.
- Catholic parish registers up to Abt 1880.
Newmarket-on-Fergus stops in 1865 (marriages) or 1866 (baptisms).
John Grenham lists other registers (e.g.
Kilkee, Ennistymon) which were missed when registers up to 1880 were
The professional and charitable Clare
Heritage and Genealogical Centre
indexed the original registers up to 1900.
These indexes are usually available to
researchers only in the relevant parish offices.
Similar companies in most other counties now make their indexes available to subscribers at ROOTSIRELAND.ie
The National Library of Ireland microfilms are also transcribed (badly!) on
other commercial websites.
- First edition 6"/mile OSi maps, later 25"/mile maps, live
street maps, five-yearly aerial views
- Example: where are we?
in the townland
of Smithstown ...
- ... in Drumline civil parish in the barony of Bunratty
in the county of Clare in the province of Munster.
Not to be confused with Smithstown in Kilshanny civil parish
the barony of Corcomroe and many other Smithstowns around the country.
- In the 1911 census, this Smithstown was in Clenagh DED and the Kilshanny
Smithstown gave its name to its own DED.
- We are in the Poor Law Union of Ennis
(both pre- and
Julius Caesar: Divide
and conquer - divide et impera
- Griffith's Valuation (askaboutireland Family
Name Search or Place
Name Search - free)
- It is apparently not possible to hyperlink to specific map
locations - see discussion.
It is possible to link to the occupiers of a specific location using
the PlaceID, e.g. Ballina (PlaceID=1223328). Results
are stupidly broken into pages of 20
occupiers at a time. To view Original Page or Map View, right click on
icon and select "Open Link in New Tab".
Some people evaded Griffith's publication by moving at inappropriate times.
Try lining up the OSi maps, Griffith maps and Google Street View -
The most important repositories for records not yet available online are:
The latest state-of-the-art tool for identifying
long-lost cousins and shared ancestors is DNA comparison, now available
for as little as USD69 (approximately EUR57).
- Local Studies Centre, Ennis
- General Register Office, Werburgh Street, Dublin - for BMD
records not yet online
- Valuation Office, Irish Life Centre, Abbey Street, Dublin -
for revisions of Griffith's Valuation.
The latest DNA-based technology can be used to explore Clare
surname origins (Y-DNA) as well as to find long-lost cousins (autosomal DNA).
Where does our DNA come from?
- When a sperm fertilises an egg, each brings DNA, which is
replicated in every cell of the resulting person.
|22 paternal autosomes
|22 maternal autosomes
is short for autosomal chromosome.
Autosomal DNA comparison will find:
- Y chromosome
- Only males have a Y chromosome.
The Y chromosome comes down the patrilineal line - from father,
father's father, father's father's father, etc.
This is the same inheritance path as followed by surnames, grants of
arms, peerages, etc.
- X chromosome
- Males have one X chromosome, females have two.
X DNA may come through any ancestral line that does not contain two
Blaine Bettinger's nice colour-coded blank fan-style pedigree
charts show the
ancestors from whom men and women can potentially inherit
- Exactly 50% of autosomal DNA comes from the father and
exactly 50% comes from the mother.
Due to recombination, on
average 25% comes from each
grandparent, on average
12.5% comes from each greatgrandparent, and so
Siblings each inherit 50% of their parents'
autosomal DNA, but not the same 50% (except for identical twins).
Similarly, siblings each inherit 50% of their mother's X DNA, but not
the same 50% (except for identical twins).
Sisters each inherit 100% of their father's X DNA.
- Everyone has mitochondrial DNA.
- Mitochondrial DNA comes down the matrilineal line - from
mother, mother's mother, mother's mother's mother, etc.
The surname typically changes with every generation in this line.
- all those closer than third cousins in the DNA database;
- about half of all fourth cousins in the database;
- about 10% of all fifth cousins in the database; and
- small proportions of the very many more distant relatives
in the database.
The Autosomal DNA and Genetic Genealogy Websites
To find your long lost cousins, link your DNA
match list and
your pedigree chart
and share them on the three major autosomal DNA comparison websites:
Keanes of Kilkee (work in progress)
- greatgrandson of Mary Kean (m.
Kilkee parish, 4 March 1859)
- greatgrandsons of Catherine Keane
(m. Kilkee parish, 28 February 1862)
- Both marriages took place the Friday before Shrove Tuesday
- The greatgrandsons have 114 and 123 shared centiMorgans
- DNA implies
2nd cousin-4th cousin
- If Mary Kean and Catherine Keane were sisters, then they are third
- But Kilkee parish is full of Keans, Keanes, and other variant spellings.
- My Family Finder results are dated 15 Nov 2013.
- My paternal and maternal first cousin's results are dated
- Paternal first cousin's closest match had an e-mail in a Texas
- I mentioned this to his Limerick namesake on 2 Sep 2014 and
discovered that they were the same person!
- We compared what we knew and found that we both had
ancestors in Ballybrown and were both somehow related to John Smith
(1849-1909) of Adare.
- My GGGGgrandfather John Keas (c1777-1845) farmed first in
Conigar (now part of the Irish Cement site) and then in Ballyveloge,
where he first leased a 145-acre farm in 1819 (Registry of Deeds, book
840 page 259 deed 563759).
- John Keas was grandfather of John Smith.
- The match's GGgrandparents John Ryan and Bridget O'Dea married in Ballybrown, Lurriga
& Patrickswell Catholic parish on 21 Feb 1821 (no. 469).
- John Smith (who married into the business in 1877) employed
the young Denis Ryan (1858-1928), grandson of John Ryan and Bridget
O'Dea, and is
reported to have later said to Denis Ryan: "Why didn't you tell me you
were related to me?"
- Lease of Ballyveloge "for and during and untill the full
end and term of the natural life and lives of Edward Keas, 2nd son, of
the said lessee and John Keas, 3rd son of said lessee and William Keas,
6th son of the said lessee" (Registry of Deeds, Book 858 page
327 deed 572827)
- Edward Keas remained in Conigar when the rest of the Keas
family moved around 1819 from a parish
with no surviving baptismal records today (Mungret) to an adjoining
parish with surviving baptismal records (Ballybrown, Lurriga &
- John Keas and John Keas Jnr., although apparently Catholic,
signed the minutes of a Vestry of
the Established Church
legally called and held at Kilkeedy Church (now in ruins) on 17 Dec
- William Keas was baptised
in Ballybrown, Lurriga & Patrickswell on 31 Oct 1821
"ex Joanne Keas et Maria O'Dea".
- So John Smith and Denis Ryan each had an O'Dea grandmother!
- Were they sisters? Or is the age difference too large?
Maria's last child was born the year that Bridget married.
- Almost certainly both were daughters of Edward O'Dea, after
whom they named sons.
- A possible third sister was Anna O'Dea who married James Frost in
Patrickswell parish on 7 Jun 1825 and had children baptised in
Sixmilebridge parish between 1832 and 1844.
- But which of the many James Frosts in that parish was Anna's husband?
- Relationship diagram
- Autosomal matrix
- But whatever became of William Keas?
- PDF research paper
- Participants were kept waiting for years before it was explained to them
that the Royal College of Surgeons of Ireland deemed it unethical to
give them the raw data file extracted from their own DNA for use on the
- The objective was to enable more specific and more accurate ethnicity percentages to be calculated.
- Ethnicity percentages are heavily marketed and
poorly explained by AncestryDNA.
- Most Irish people are deemed by FamilyTreeDNA to be within the assumed margin of error of "100%
- Y-DNA results for 352 men in the Clare Roots project at FamilyTreeDNA.com (of which I am co-administrator)
- Clancy (Corcomroe?)
- Hanrahan (some)
- O'Brien (a few)
- Clancy (Tradaree?)
- Hanrahan (some)
- O'Brien (most)
- Estimated time to most recent common male line ancestor (DF13)
of both groups: 4300 ybp.
- Estimated time to most recent common male line ancestor (L226)
of Dalcassian group: 1450 ybp.
- Estimated time to most recent common male line ancestor of
Corcomroe group not yet available.
- The male line descending from most men alive 5000 years ago
is now extinct.
There are many online communities to which you can turn for help when you get stuck:
Clare Past Forum
Clare Ireland Genealogy group
- 4,034 people tracing their Clare
roots (as of 17 January 2018)
- Ireland Reaching Out
kits are available for anyone interested in exploring
the new technology.