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Panning for Irish Genealogy Gold

Where did that saying come from anyway? You know the one, “Luck of the Irish.” I googled it. It comes from an old mining expression. Edward T. O’Donnell, an Associate Professor of History at Holy Cross College, wrote the book entitled 1001 Things Everyone Should Know About Irish American History. In this book, O’Donnell states that during the gold and silver rushes of the latter half of the 1800’s, some of the most successful miners were of Irish or Irish-American decent and so the expression “luck of the Irish” began.[1]

When I started researching genealogy in Ireland, I learned about the significant loss of census records. The census records for Ireland between the years of 1821-1851 were mostly lost in a fire in 1922.[2] Then, the censuses from 1861-1891 were destroyed by the government![3] This sure did not fit the definition of “lucky” in my book.

But it seems some Irish luck applies to family history research after all. is a fabulous resource to those searching for Irish records and census substitutes are just one of the many things you can find there.

RootsIreland is a subscription website. There are three subscription levels. In USD’s, the year subscription is $255.00/year. The 6 month subscription is $142.00 and the monthly subscription is an affordable $28.00.

If you have only a few ancestral lines that hail from Ireland, I would suggest doing thorough research of everything you can possibly find at and other genealogy websites you already subscribe to. You can then use RootsIreland to fill in the gaps.

Databases at RootsIreland include baptisms and births, marriages, burials and deaths, censuses, gravestones, passenger lists, and census substitutes. Searches can be done by name, date, and county.

It is important to note that the records are in index form only and digital images of the original records are not available there.

Once you have subscribed, you are ready to begin searching for records. On the general search page of RootsIreland, you need to enter a surname, a first name, and a year. These parameters will be applied to searching all the databases.

If I was interested in finding a marriage record, I could put in a suspected marriage year. The system automatically searches for records 5 years prior and 5 years after the year you enter.


In this case, I was looking for Margaret McGeogh who married in about 1857. The search results turned up 34 records in the baptismal and birth records and 12 records in the marriage records collection.

If I click on “View” to the left of the marriage records for Ireland, I will be taken to a list of possible marriage record matches.


If I knew Margaret had lived in County Louth, I would likely go straight to that record. If I didn’t know which county she had lived in, I could go one by one looking for clues that would indicate I found the “right” Margaret.

Remember, these marriage records are an index version and don’t have a lot of information. The marriage record does include date of marriage, parish or district name, bride and groom’s names, church affiliation, marital status, parents names’ if available, and names of witnesses.

If the record is a match for your ancestor, you can print out a copy of the indexed record or click “Add to My Records.”

The Census Substitutes

The census substitutes at RootsIreland are a collection derived from other sources such as Tithe Records, Poor Law Rate Books, Census Returns, Flax Grower’s Lists, Hearth Money Rolls, and others. Information on these records vary, but usually contain the name of the head of household.

In my search I used the name of Patrick Egan. Patrick had supposedly been living in County Tipperary in the 1860’s.

By searching for “Patrick Egan” of Tipperary in the census substitute collection, I was given only one match. It happened to be a North Tipperary Street Directory. This was a good find because I didn’t know if Patrick and his family had lived in North Tipperary or South Tipperary.

It is very difficult to determine if this is the “right” Patrick Egan. However, the information supplied included the parish name of “Thurles” and a parish name can be used for further research.

In this case, I was able to search all births and baptisms for an Egan child born about 1860 in Thurles Parish, County Tipperary. I was rewarded with the birth record of his child, Margaret Egan. The record included the date of birth, the family’s address (that matched the address in the directory,) the father’s occupation, the mother’s name (including her maiden name,) and the sponsors names’.

Step by step and record by record, I can piece together the story of Patrick Egan and his family. At some later time, it would be wise to see if the original records are available on microfilm from the Family History Center in Salt Lake City, Utah. It’s always best to consult the original records if available, but in the meantime, RootsIreland offers a great alternative.


I did not find gold or silver in the literal sense, but finding RootsIreland was a stroke of good luck. Using this website, in conjunction with other websites I already subscribed to, helped further the Irish family research I was doing.

I hope that many of you lads and lassies will try using RootsIreland and begin panning some Irish genealogy gold. Let us know if you strike it rich!


[1] Angela Tung, “Luck of the Irish is an Old Mining Expression,” 16 Mar 2012, Mental Floss ( : accessed 12 Jun 2015.)

[2] “Ireland Census,” FamilySearch ( : 12 Jun 2015.)

[3] Ibid.

Amie Bowser Tennant Amie Bowser Tennant

Amie Bowser Tennant has served as a volunteer at her local Family History Center for more than 10 years. She was awarded the National Genealogical Society Home Study Course Scholarship in American Genealogy in 2011. She also enjoyed the position as newsletter editor for Miami Meanderings, a local county genealogical publication, for two years. Now, she is a research genealogist, speaker, and writer.

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