• Censuring Censuses!

    If you're a part of any family history forum or group, it's not unusual to find a genealogist bemoaning the spelling and handwriting, or casting aspersions on the intentions of a particular Census Enumerator. We recently shared this image on our Facebook page and our followers certainly appeared to see the veracity behind the humour:

    However, we then came across this poem which seems to lay at least some of the blame at the feet of our ancestors! 
    (Please note that this was published in 1881, and we haven't been able to see the original)

    The Enumerators Complaint

    The census may be good and right and useful to the human natur'
    But I can swear there's no delight
    In being an enumerator;
    For up and down six blessed streets,
    I've tramped it morning after morning,
    And the reception that one meets
    Should I serve as a most wholesome morning.

    This house, their writing isn't plain;
    That house, their language is exotic;
    And some describe themselves as sane,
    Who seem to me quite idiotic.
    Towns such as countess never knew
    Are given as the natal places;
    While you're supposed to find what's true,
    And to correct in faulty cases.

    Then ladies of a certain age
    Decline to make it clear by telling;
    And others fly into a rage,
    And oh, such awful slips and spelling!
    And some deduce - in humour bold -Their line from non-existent nations,
    And state they've grown uncommon old
    In most unheard of occupations.

    Here, you perceive that you intrude;
    And here, the party's an objector;
    And here, they are positively rude -They fancy you're the tax collector.
    So what with humbug and rebuff,
    And cutting many fruitless capers,
    I have already had enough,
    And cry - Confound these census papers!

    We complain about the enumerators; they pass the buck on to the public. It seems that in the taking of the census, the old adage needs updating:

    There can be three sides to a story!

  • Irish Family History: Extra Sources of Records

    In the previous post of the seriesNicola Morris explored the surviving Irish census returns. In this issue, she discusses the main 19th century census substitutes; what the records will tell us, where to find them online and how to best use them for research.

    NB: RootsIreland, Ancestry and Find My Past are free to search, but require subscriptions to view records.


    Once the records of civil registration, parish registers, census returns and land records have been fully explored for evidence of your ancestors, there are plenty of other sources that can supplement what has been established about your Irish family history.  Some of these sources will add colour and depth to your family story and others may contain clues that will progress your research to earlier generations.

    A miscellany of records follows, that might be worth exploring for evidence of your ancestors in Ireland.

    Valuation Office Books

    In the last post we looked at land records that are used as census substitutes, the primary of these being Griffith’s Valuation.  The Valuation Office Books are the precursor to Griffith’s Valuation. Compiled in the decades prior to Griffith’s Valuation the books are specific surveys of property organised into House Books, Field Books, Tenure Books and Quarto Books. The House and Tenure Books are probably the most useful for genealogical research.

    Valuation Office House Books
    The House Books are valuations of buildings.  Although the surveyors were only required to value buildings over £5, in many instances they valued every building in a townland.  The books record the occupier of the building, its description and dimensions and each building was assigned a quality number that indicated its age, repair and the materials used in its construction.  It is sometimes possible to identify the occupier of a building a decade or more prior to Griffith’s Valuation along with a description of their property, including farm buildings, which might be identified as stables, piggeries or coach houses.  Not all House Books survive and not all House Books record every building in a townland, but they are certainly worth exploring for earlier evidence of your ancestor’s family.

    Valuation Office Tenure Books
    The Tenure Books record details of the tenure of each occupier of property and record the amount of rent paid by the tenant, the terms of their tenure; whether they hold a lease or are tenants from year to year, as well as observations on the property and the occupier.  The Tenure Books can indicate the date when the occupier entered into a lease for their property and in some cases, if the lease was for a number of lives, the names of the lives on a lease, which can often be children of the tenant. The Tenure Books do not survive for every townland or parish, but are certainly worth exploring for evidence of your ancestor’s family.

    Valuation Office Field Books
    The Field Books are the least informative because they fail to record the occupiers of land holdings.  The Field Books record the lots of land in each townland with a description of each lot, however, these can be difficult to match with the lot numbers assigned in Griffith’s Valuation and without the name of the occupier are in many cases useless, unless the researcher wants a picture of the general quality of land in a particular townland.  Some Field Books record the names of the occupiers of houses that were valued in the corresponding House Books for that townland.

    The Valuation Office Books have largely been digitised and published online.  They are free to search on the National Archives of Ireland genealogy website: http://www.genealogy.nationalarchives.ie where you will find a link to Valuation Office Books.  The search engine requires exact spelling, so it may be sensible to use wild cards or just search for books relating to a specific parish or townland and then check all of the surnames listed.  There are detailed explanations of each source in this collection, as well as an explanation of the shorthand used for describing houses in the House Books.

    The same collection is also published online at www.findmypast.ie in the Land and Estates collection, which has a better search engine.  I tend to use both sites to make sure I have picked up everything relevant.

    Occupational Records

    The range of occupational records available for research in Ireland is vast.  Many occupational records can contain vital clues for family history research.  

    Royal Irish Constabulary

    If your ancestor was described on a census return or birth, marriage or death certificate as a policeman, constable or R.I.C. or even R.I.C. Pensioner, there should be a record of their police service.  The service records for men serving in the Irish Constabulary date from 1816 to 1922.

    Irish constabulary service records record the name of the recruit, their age, and physical description, county of birth, religion, date of marriage and county of  birth of wife, occupation prior to service, date of enlistment and the name of the person who recommended them. The service record also indicates when the recruit was promoted, reprimanded and retired, died or departed the service.  Many Irish policemen emigrated and joined police forces overseas in places like Manchester, New Zealand and South Africa. If your ancestor was a policeman in one of these places, he may have also served in Ireland prior to emigration.

    Three important clues in a service record are county of birth, date and place of marriage and the name of the person who recommended the recruit.  Constables did not serve in their county of birth, which means the place where they married and lived is not usually their place of birth. Marriages usually took place in the parish of the bride, if the county of birth of the bride is identified your search for their marriage can focus on that county.   If the county of birth of the police recruit is not enough to locate their family, the name of the person who recommended them can be used to narrow your search. This person was usually a landlord, Justice of the Peace, Police Inspector or parish priest or minister. By identifying where this individual was located at the time of your ancestor’s enlistment, you can determine that your ancestor probably lived in the same area.  The location of this individual can usually be established using land records or directories or even a newspaper search.

    The Royal Irish Constabulary (RIC) service records have been published online at www.findmypast.ie but it might be sensible to first use the index or list of men who served in the RIC which is published online at www.ancestry.co.uk.  The index will identify the service number of the recruit.  Searching the service records at Findmypast using a service number is much more practical.  The Findmypast collection also includes pension records and directories. The Irish constabulary also turn up in the Petty Session Court records published at Findmypast, where they took cases against the local population.    A search of these court records can place your police ancestor in a specific jurisdiction at a particular time.

    Service records for the British Army and Navy can also record the enlisted’s place of birth and occupation prior to enlistment.  Bearing in mind that large number of Irish men that served in the British army in the 19th century, surviving service records document a large portion of the Irish population.



    Another example of valuable occupational records relate to education.  Unfortunately, it can be difficult to find evidence of children attending school in 19th century Ireland, but teachers are much better documented.

    1905 List
    The National Archives of Ireland hold a list of all National School teachers in the country in 1905.  The value of this list is that it records the schools where the teacher was taught. As most children attended a National School close to their home, identifying their local school can lead to locating their place of residence or birth.  This list is available in the reading room of the National Archives of Ireland.

    Department of Education Files
    The Department of Education files for 19th century Ireland are held in the National Archives of Ireland and include teacher salary books as well as registers relating to the administration of the school, which include inspectors’ comments on the quality of the teaching and the departure, transfer or appointment of teachers to a particular school.

    British Parliamentary Papers
    In an appendix to a British Parliamentary Commissioners Report on the state of Education in Ireland in 1826 is a list of teachers organised by county, barony, parish and then townland.  This list includes hedge school teachers and private school teachers and a description of the school. British Parliamentary Papers can be accessed online at most libraries and archives and the appendix can be searched for a surname or townland or parish.

    These are just two examples of the type of occupational records available for research in Ireland.  John Grenham, in his book Tracing Your Irish Ancestors and on his website: https://www.johngrenham.com/records/jobs_in.php#records presents a list of surviving records that document certain occupations.  Some of these sources are published, some online but many are only available in archives and repositories in Ireland.

    Crime and Poverty

    In recent years Findmypast have published a large collection of surviving court, prison and workhouse registers for Ireland.   The mainstay of this collection are the Petty Session Court records. The Petty Session Court was the lowest court in the country, hearing cases of petty crime.  In many instances the crimes were nothing more than being drunk and disorderly, allowing livestock to wander or driving a cart without lights on a public road after dark.  Frequently family disputes or feuds with neighbours appear in the Petty Session Court records. This means that these records can identify quite a large number of the population for the areas and time frames for which the records survive.  The defendants were usually recorded with their townland address, making it easy to identify relevant ancestors.

    More serious crimes were heard in the Quarter Sessions or Assize Courts and the best place for finding evidence of cases in these courts are newspapers.  Irish newspapers reported on the local quarter sessions, often with verbatim transcripts of the cases heard.

    Irish Newspapers
    Irish newspapers have been published online on two different websites.  The British Newspaper Library holds a copy of every Irish newspaper published from 1826, as well as an extensive collection of pre 1826 Irish papers.  This collection is being slowly digitised as part of the British Newspaper Library’s online collection and is replicated at www.findmypast.ie  A separate collection of Irish newspapers can be found online at www.irishnewsarchive.com Both sites are subscription websites and although there is some duplication, their collections are largely different.  The best means to search these vast collections for relevant reports on your family is to search using their townland address, an almost unique search term, which, when coupled with your family surname, should locate articles relevant to your family.  

    While it can be fun undertaking broad newspaper searches for any reference to your family, if you wish to undertake a more targeted search for a specific event, such as a court appearance, birth, marriage or death notice it might be sensible to start your search by identifying the newspapers most relevant to where your ancestors came from.

    The National Library of Ireland website hosts a Newspaper Database (https://www.nli.ie/en/catalogues-and-databases-printed-newspapers.aspx).  This is not a collection of digitised Irish newspapers, it is a listing of all surviving newspapers for Ireland.  It is possible to search the list by town or county of publication. Your ancestor is much more likely to appear in a newspaper published in the area in which they lived.  By identifying relevant newspapers and then determining whether the paper has been digitised and published online you can target your search to a specific publication. If the newspaper has not been published online it may be necessary to undertake a manual search at the British Library, the National Library of Ireland or at a local library or archive.

    Transportation and Prison Registers
    If your ancestors were transported to Australia they should appear in the Transportation Register, a collection created from Irish and Australian records and published on the website of the National Archives of Ireland (http://findingaids.nationalarchives.ie/index.php?category=18&subcategory=147)  The database, which can be searched by name, should indicate the date and place of the trial and date of transportation.  The trial may have been reported in local newspapers which may contain more details of the crime or the origins of the convict.  The Transportation Register will also include references to additional files found in the National Archives, such as the CRF, (Convict Reference File).  The CRF, if one exists, can contain letters from the family of the convict pleading for clemency.

    Surviving Prison Registers held in the National Archives of Ireland have been digitised and published online at www.findmypast.ie.  Although these are far from complete and do not cover the entire country, if a relevant entry is found it can be illuminating.  Prison registers often recorded the age, description, religion and birth place of the convict, which can lead to birth or baptismal records and other family information.

    Dublin Workhouse Records
    The Admission and Discharge Registers for the two Dublin City workhouses have also been published on www.findmypast.ie.  For families from Dublin city it is certainly worth exploring this collection.  The poverty that the majority of the inhabitants of the city lived in often led to brief spells in the workhouse.  Women used the workhouse for maternity service and the elderly and sick also used the workhouse for medical care. Along with the Admission and Discharge Registers are the Minutes of the Board of Guardians for both Dublin Unions, North and South.  The minute books can contain reports from inspectors on children who were boarded out (fostered). If you are trying to find ancestors who might have been orphaned or abandoned in Dublin this is an excellent source for information relating to their care.

    Estate Records

    The importance of land records as a census substitute was illustrated in the last post.  In addition to the countrywide land surveys of Griffith’s Valuation and the Tithe Applotment Books, it is sometimes possible to locate records relating to the estate on which your ancestors lived.  

    If your ancestor was a tenant of a large well administered landed estate in Ireland there may be surviving rent rolls, lease books and other records that document the tenantry.  Rent rolls and lease books can sometimes document tenants paying rent back into the late 18th century.  Leases, if found, can sometimes name the children of the leaseholder as lives on the lease. Tenant application books can contain requests from tenants for money to emigrate or to make improvements to their holding or even for intervention in a dispute between neighbours.  Employment records can detail the labourers, carpenters, masons, surveyors and many others employed on an estate, how much they were paid and the hours that they worked.

    The first step to locating estate records is to identify the owner of the estate, bearing in mind that a great deal of land in Ireland changed hands in the 1850s and 1860s.  The landlord is recorded as the immediate lessor in Griffith’s Valuation.

    Once the owner of the estate has been identified a search can be carried out for surviving estate records.   The Landed Estate Database at www.landedestates.ie can be searched for the estate owner and should list surviving records relating to the estate and the location of the records.  However, this is not a comprehensive database.

    Estate records identified as part of the cataloguing of Irish manuscripts in repositories in Ireland and around the world during the 20th century have been listed at the National Library of Ireland website: www.sources.nli.ie where you can search for a reference to the estate owner.  This site lists collections in numerous repositories including the National Library of Ireland, the National Archives of Ireland (Public Record Office) and the Public Record Office of Northern Ireland, as well as some British and French repositories.  The Main Catalogue of the National Library of Ireland has also integrated their own manuscript collections, so should also be checked for estate records or collection lists relating to Irish landed estates.

    John Grenham’s website www.johngrenham.com also lists estate records by parish, although this is not a comprehensive record.

    The records themselves are not going to be available online and will require a visit to the repository where they are held or commissioning a researcher to inspect these records on your behalf.

    The sources listed above are only a taste of what is available.  At www.johngrenham.com you will find many additional sources listed for each parish in Ireland.  If you identify a manuscript source that has not been published online you can use the Timeline Genealogy Clerk service to request a copy or a search of a document found in an Irish repository (http://timeline.ie/irish-genea...) or commission a professional genealogist in Dublin or Belfast to access the material on your behalf.

    Genealogical research should always be systematic, working methodically back from one generation to the previous.  Gather as much documentation for each ancestor as you can find, as each source may contain a valuable clue that will assist further research.  Always save every document you find; label it and make a note of the source. This will save you coming back years later to try and find a document that you once saw but cannot remember where.  Keep your research organised, you never know what future generations will be relying on your work when their interest in family history is suddenly piqued.


    Nicola Morris M.A.G.I is a professional genealogist and member of Accredited Genealogists Ireland. She is the director of Timeline Research Ltd, one of Ireland’s leading genealogical research companies. Nicola has undertaken the Irish research for WDYTYA? in the UK and US and has appeared in numerous episodes. She was also the presenter of the first series of the Genealogy Roadshow broadcast in Ireland in 2011.

  • Irish Family History: Census Substitutes

    In the previous post of the seriesNicola Morris explored the surviving Irish census returns. In this issue, she discusses the main 19th century census substitutes; what the records will tell us, where to find them online and how to best use them for research.

    NB: Ancestry and Find My Past are free to search, but require subscriptions to view records.


    I may have already mentioned that almost the entire collection of 19th century census returns for Ireland were destroyed by 1922.  Genealogists have spent the last one hundred years finding so called census substitutes: sources that document the population that can be used instead of the destroyed census returns.

    There are two very important census substitutes for Irish genealogical research, namely Griffith’s Valuation and the Tithe Applotment Books.

    Griffith’s Valuation

    The most well-known Irish census substitute is Griffith’s Valuation, also known as the Primary Valuation of Ireland.  Griffith’s Valuation was a nationwide survey of property undertaken between 1847 and 1864 to value property for the purpose of taxation.  The taxation was levied on property for the support of the local Poor Law Union. Nearly every single property in Ireland was surveyed and valued, from a small cottage valued at 2s. to large houses and extensive farms, making it the most comprehensive record of households in the country for the mid-19th century.

    Griffith’s Valuation recorded the head of the household, who was the person responsible for paying the tax on the property, the name of the immediate lessor (landlord) and the type, size and value of the property.

    What this means is that Griffith’s Valuation is a record of nearly every single household in the country, although only the name of the head of the household is recorded.   Why is this important? Well, in the absence of the 1851 census, Griffith’s Valuation might be the only way to establish an address for your Irish ancestors.

    Let’s say you have found a marriage certificate for your ancestor in the 1870s or 1880s. The marriage certificate should record the name of your ancestor’s father, as well as his occupation.  If your ancestor was born in the 1830s, 1840s or early 1850s in Ireland, we would expect to find his father in Griffith’s Valuation, if he was still alive.

    A search of Griffith’s Valuation for all households headed by men of that name will identify potential family addresses.  It is important to bear in mind that you are searching for the head of the household in the 1850s. This may be your ancestor’s father, or even his grandfather.  If your ancestor’s father was deceased, the property may have been headed by his widow or one of his older sons. Don’t search for someone who would have been a child in the 1850s, they will not be the recorded head of household.

    Griffith’s Valuation will identify the lot number of the property, the townland, the civil parish and the county in which the name appears.  This will help you to establish the exact location of the family holding and the corresponding Roman Catholic parish in which your ancestor might have been baptised.

    Sir Richard John Griffith was an Irish geologist, mining engineer and chairman of the Board of Works of Ireland, who completed the first complete geological map of Ireland and authored the valuation of Ireland – known ever since as Griffith's Valuation.

    Of course families with common names can be more difficult to find and you may have to focus your search on a specific county or even a specific parish.  On John Grenham’s website www.johngrenham.com the name search uses Griffith’s Valuation to plot the appearance of surnames around the country.  This function will give you an overview of where particular surnames appear in the Valuation, which can be broken down by county and then by parish.  There is also a function to search for a second surname. This will illustrate where two surnames appear together in a particular parish. This can be helpful if you know the maiden name of your ancestor’s mother or his wife, as most people married within the population of their home parish.

    Griffith’s Valuation will also describe the type of holding that was valued.  Most holdings consist of a house, offices (farm buildings) and land. If the ancestor who was head of household at the time of Griffith’s Valuation was a farmer, you are searching for someone leasing a house and land rather than just a house in an urban area.  If your ancestor was a blacksmith, you are looking for someone who leased a forge or smithy. Some individuals leased more than one holding. They may have leased a house, offices and land as well as several plots of land. Your ancestor’s residence will be where a house is recorded.

    The only group that might be absent from Griffith’s Valuation are the inhabitants of tenement dwellings in large urban areas.  In the case of these buildings the occupiers of rooms were not recorded, only the person who paid the tax on the property. Also absent in some cases are herds who were given a house on land where they were employed.  While Griffith’s Valuation is not entirely comprehensive, it is the best record that we have of the population in the mid-19th century.  If you don’t know where in Ireland your ancestors lived in mid-19th century Ireland, Griffith’s Valuation is the best source for establishing their townland and civil parish address.

    Where to Find Griffith’s Valuation Online
    Griffith’s Valuation is available online at a number of different websites.  It is freely available for research at http://www.askaboutireland.ie/... however, the search engine is not very flexible and usually requires a specific spelling of the surname.  Griffith’s Valuation is also available at www.findmypast.iewith much broader surname variants.  On both sites you can also search Griffith’s Valuation for a particular townland and the listed occupiers of that townland at the time of the valuation.  John Grenham (Tithe Applotment Books) links each townland to Griffith’s Valuation on the www.askaboutireland.ie website, which is a quick and easy way to get to the townland you are interested in.

    Griffith’s Valuation also identifies the immediate lessor (landlord) of each property.  In some cases the immediate lessor will be a ‘middleman’ who leased the property from someone else and then sublet it to tenants.  In other cases the Valuation will identify the land owner. This can be a useful way to determine whether there are surviving estate papers, like rent rolls or leases, which might document an earlier generation of your ancestors in Ireland.  If you find your ancestor on the estate of the Earl of Powerscourt in Wicklow or the Earls of Bantry in Cork and Kerry, there may be a great deal more records for these estates in the National Library of Ireland or the Boole Library in University College Cork.  

    Valuation Office Revision Books

    It is also possible to trace the occupancy of a property found in Griffith’s Valuation forward using the Valuation Office Revision Books.  The Valuation Office Revision Books are updated versions of Griffith’s Valuation that record any changes to the occupancy, ownership, size and value of a property.  

    The Valuation Office Revision Books are manuscript note books in which the original valuation has been transcribed.  When the property was revisited and changes were notified, the changes were recorded in coloured ink, with the date recorded in the margin in the same colour ink.  When the notebook was filled, a new notebook was started. Each notebook can cover a period of anything from 5 to 20 years. Using these books it is possible to trace the occupancy of a house forward from 1850 to the 1970s, when the valuation of residential properties ceased in Ireland.  The Revision Books will demonstrate when a property passed from the original occupier to his widow or sons following his death. They will also demonstrate when a property was divided between two or three sons or if a property was transferred from the original occupier to his son-in-law. In some cases the emigration of a family is written in the margin, indicating the date by which they had left their property.

    Unfortunately, the Valuation Office Revision Books for the Republic of Ireland have not been published online and can only be accessed by visiting the Valuation Office in the Irish Life Centre in Dublin City.  Timeline Research offer a copying service for the Valuation Office Revision Books and orders can be placed here: http://timeline.ie/irish-genea....

    The Valuation Office Revision Books for Northern Ireland are freely available for research on the website of the Public Records Office of Northern Ireland (https://www.nidirect.gov.uk/in...).

    Accompanying the Valuation Office Revision Books are the Union or Revision Maps, these are maps that show the boundaries of each land holding and were created in the 1880s and 1890s.  These maps have been published on the www.askaboutireland.ie website with Griffith’s Valuation and are labelled as Griffith’s Maps.  However, it should be noted that these colour maps actually date from the 1880s and do not always correspond with the lot numbers set out in Griffith’s Valuation.  These maps should be used with the Valuation Office Revision Books from the 1880s and 1880s for an accurate record of who occupied each numbered lot of land.

    Tithe Applotment Books

    Another similar census substitute are the Tithe Applotment Books.  The Tithe Applotment Books were compiled between 1823 and 1838 for the purpose of assessing the rate of the Tithe.  The Tithe was a religious tax which was levied for the upkeep of the established Church, the Church of Ireland. Needless to say the Tithe was an unpopular tax and was abolished in 1838 after much civil unrest.

    The Tithe was only levied on certain types of agricultural land, which means that this was not a comprehensive survey, but it is the best national record of land holdings in Ireland from the early 19th century.

    If you locate your ancestor’s family in Griffith’s Valuation and have established their townland and civil parish address, you can now search for an earlier generation of the same family leasing agricultural land in the same townland in the 1820s and 1830s.  This may identify the father of the person you found in Griffith’s Valuation.

    Tithe Applotment Books Online
    The Tithe Applotment Books have been digitised and freely published online at http://titheapplotmentbooks.na... but before you go rushing off to check this collection there are some serious problems with this publication that should be taken into consideration.

    Numerous errors in the spelling of surname, first names and placenames were made when this collection was transcribed.  Searching for your ancestors under their surname may be fruitless, if their name has been incorrectly transcribed. Equally, townlands and parishes have been indexed in the wrong counties.  This makes the search function of this site unreliable. However, it is possible to use the site to browse copies of the Tithe Applotment Books. If you know the parish and townland in which your ancestors were living you can click through to the relevant, county, parish and then townland and inspect the original pages for that area and determine for yourself whether there are any relevant entries.  If you do need to use the search engine, try using wild cards. Rather than searching for Loughlin, search for L*l*n to see what turns up, you can always narrow your search, depending on the volume of results.

    The Tithe Applotment Books for most of Northern Ireland have been indexed online at www.rootsireland.ie which is a subscription website.  The index only records the name of the head of the house and the townland address and year of the book.  The details of the land holding are not included.

    The Tithe Applotment Books were compiled prior to the first Ordnance Survey of Ireland.  The Ordnance Survey of Ireland standardised the spelling of Irish placenames. Prior to the survey sources like the Tithe Applotment Books would have used variant spellings of townland names.  The books also included sub divisions of townlands, which were dispensed with by the Ordnance Survey. This means that the Tithe Applotment Books can often be the only record of a locally used placename.  If you find a placename on a civil certificate or in a parish register, that you cannot find in the Index of Townlands or in Griffith’s Valuation, it is worth checking the list of townland names for a specific parish in the Tithe Applotment Books, where you may find a reference to the local name.

    Although Griffith’s Valuation and the Tithe Applotment Books only record the names of the head of the household, they are the only surviving national census substitutes and are a very important resource for establishing a family address in the first half of the 19th century. A family address can lead to parish registers, estate records and other local census substitutes that might document your family further.


    Nicola Morris M.A.G.I is a professional genealogist and member of Accredited Genealogists Ireland. She is the director of Timeline Research Ltd, one of Ireland’s leading genealogical research companies. Nicola has undertaken the Irish research for WDYTYA? in the UK and US and has appeared in numerous episodes. She was also the presenter of the first series of the Genealogy Roadshow broadcast in Ireland in 2011.

  • International Women's Day 2018

    Today is, perhaps, the perfect day to focus on your female ancestors, who are so often under-represented in the records we use to trace our genealogy.

    It’s no secret that sourcing women in the records is often more problematic than finding men. Women are born with one surname and, if they marry, die with another whilst women in the past often didn’t receive automatic guardianship of the children or inheritance of their father or husband’s estate and finances, meaning they often disappear from legal paperwork or other important documents. 

    Perhaps unfortunately, one of the most important aspects of researching a female ancestor is fully documenting her male counterpart: be it a husband, brother, father or son. Hidden clues about the women connected to a male ancestor emerge in many places, including census reports, marriage certificates and other legal documents. 

    Read on to discover some tips for researching your female ancestors, and share your female ancestor’s stories with us over on Facebook and Twitter!

    • Finding a maiden name is essential to further research on a female ancestor. The best place to locate a maiden name is on a marriage record, but it may also be found on the birth certificates of a women’s children, her (or her husband’s) death certificate and some children’s baptismal records. However, if the records prove elusive there are some other strategies to consider.
    • Census returns can list visitors that are members of the matriarch's family. The example in the image below shows that Mary Fosbrook's maiden name was Swindle. Note the different surnames of people in the household for future reference; even if they are unknown now, they may provide clues later on. Visit FreeCEN for open access to over 330 million individuals transcribed from census data.

      Census excerpt; contains public sector information licensed under the Open Government Licence v3.0.

      • Make use of the ‘Witness Search’ feature on FreeREG; you may find surnames of extended family.
      • Over on FreeBMD, you will find the mother's maiden name in the birth index from July 1911, and spouse's surname in the marriage index from January 1912. Also, the GRO search now gives details of the mother's maiden name going back to 1837.
      • Look at the middle names of your ancestor’s children as some women used their maiden name as the middle name for their children.
      • Did your female ancestor serve in the military? The records of the Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps (1917-1929), the Women’s Royal Air Force Service Records (1918-1920) and the Office Files & Service Registers for the Women’s Royal Naval Reserve are all available online (via pay-site findmypast.com).
      Members of the Women's Army Auxiliary Corps, playing hockey, France

      Members of the Women's Army Auxiliary Corps, playing hockey, France. No known copyright restrictions.

      • If a female ancestor is proving elusive in your search of the records, try researching her under her husband’s name with the ‘Mrs’ prefix. For example, ‘Mrs Edward Brown’.
      • Census records may show older people with a different surname  living in the same household - these may be the woman’s parents, so their surname would be her maiden name.
      • Check the military pensions records. War widows often had to provide details about their life when applying for a military pension after their husband’s death. If a male ancestor served in the military in the 19th or early 20th century, details about his female dependents may be contained in the pension records.
      • Do you have a suffragette in your family tree? The personal records of suffragettes and suffragists are now published online at the National Archives, and include arrest records, parliamentary papers, watch lists, personal statements, reports of force-feeding and transcripts of speeches.