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How To Trace Living Descendants of Your Ancestors by Nicola Morris - Part 1
Posted by IRISH ROOTS on Wednesday 5 August 2015

Locating Living Descendants By Nicola Morris - Part One

Issue No 93 Irish Roots magazine March 2015

I have met many people researching their family history who want to find out what happened to the siblings of their ancestors and locate long lost cousins who are alive today.  In some cases joining up with other branches of your family tree and sharing information can shed new light on your own research.  A collection of letters held by your fifth cousin in New Zealand may hold the key to a mystery that has impeded your research in Ireland.

Forward tracing can be a lot more difficult than researching earlier generations.  We cannot always anticipate where a person might have gone, when they married or died, whereas census returns and vital records often tell us when a person married or where they came from, making it easier to work backwards.  Of course there are plenty of websites that will connect people researching the same family, but in the absence of one of these connections, you will have to do the legwork yourself.

There are two research avenues that you can use to try and find out what happened to the siblings of your ancestors and their descendants.   You will most likely have to employ both methods, particularly if you want comprehensive results. 

The first method requires painstaking and methodical research and is usually what is employed in probate cases. You must first identify all of the siblings of your ancestor, their full names and dates and places of birth.  This information will be used to confirm whether you have found the correct individuals as your search progresses. Civil birth registrations, baptismal records and census returns should help you to identify the relevant persons.

Due to the high rate of infant mortality in 19th and early 20th century Ireland there is a strong possibility that some of the siblings of your ancestor died in infancy.  There is no point searching for the marriage or emigration of someone who died in childhood, so it would be sensible to first determine which of your ancestor’s siblings lived to adulthood.    If the child was born after 1864 a search can be made of the civil death register for the first 18 or 21 years of their life.  The civil death index recorded the age of the deceased which should correspond with their approximate year of birth, as should the registration district, unless the family had moved.    The death certificate should record the address of the child and the name of the informant, often a parent, which will help to confirm the correct record.   Unfortunately, not all deaths were registered and there is a possibility that you will fail to find death registrations for some of the siblings of your ancestor, even if they died in infancy.

Once the subjects of your search reached the age of 16 they either emigrated, married or died unmarried in Ireland.  You need to methodically check for evidence of these events in each of your surviving siblings’ lives.

It is sensible to start with a search for their marriage in Ireland. If they married they likely had issue and a new generation for you to pursue.  Although the legal age of marriage was 21, a marriage could have taken place with a child as young as 16, so start your search when the child was at least 16 years of age.  Although men may have married into their 60s or 70s, you can probably confine your search to a 30 year period and don’t just assume that women only married in their 20s.  As marriages usually took place in the parish of the bride, female marriages are most likely to have been registered locally, but of course this was not always the case.  If you are unsuccessful in your local registration district, you may have to extend your search nationwide. The Irish civil marriage index for 1864-1858 can be found online for free at, The later indexes are available in the General Register Office research room in Dublin.

If you locate a marriage record for one or more of your ancestor’s siblings, you can search for the children of that marriage, bringing you a generation closer to the present day.  From 1903 the Irish civil birth index recorded the mother’s maiden name.  If you are searching for a female relative with the surname Brady and you discover that she married a man named Clarke in 1906, the civil birth index should identify all Clarke children with a mother’s maiden name of Brady.    Unfortunately, this function does not included in any online indexes until the late 1930s.  For the earlier period you will have to check the index books at the General Register Office in Dublin.  You may also find that there were two couples with the same surnames having children at the same time.  Only copies of the registrations will confirm the correct birth records. 

If you fail to find a marriage record in Ireland, it is possible that the marriage was not registered or that your subject died unmarried.  Although tedious, a search should be made for the death of each unaccounted for relative during their adult life, bearing in mind that they could have lived to 100 years or possibly more.  While they may have died in your local registration district, it is also possible that they died elsewhere in the Republic of Ireland or even, after 1922, in Northern Ireland.  There are separate records for civil registration for Northern Ireland after 1922 at

The address recorded on a child’s birth certificate or the date of death of an unmarried relative may prove vital as your search progresses, so it is worth pursuing these items.

There are two reasons why you may not find evidence that your relative married or died in Ireland.  Either these events were not registered with the civil authorities or your relative emigrated.

There are numerous possibilities that must be considered when it comes to emigration.  The first of these is destination.  Traditionally Irish emigrants settled in England, Wales, Scotland, the United States, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and India.   You will need to methodically go through the records of each of these countries for evidence of your family.  This is not an easy task and requires familiarity with the type of records that are available for each country. 

You will need to tackle passenger lists, vital records and census returns for each location.  Many of these records are now available online, but before you sign up to any website, find out whether the collections are comprehensive.  Birth and marriage records for Massachusetts, Illinois, Quebec and New South Wales may be available online, but what about the other states in those countries.  The passenger records for Ellis Island are online, but what about the other ports where your relative might have arrived.  If the collections are not complete, you cannot always be sure that you have found the correct person, they could have settled in a state for which the records are not available.

It is sensible to start your search using the source that has the most coverage for the entire country you are looking at, usually, but not always, census returns.  This way you have a much better chance of identifying all possible candidates for your emigrant relatives. 

In issue 94 of Irish Roots magazine (June 2015 issue) I will tackle another, complementary method that can be used to find out what happened to the siblings of your ancestor and taking a closer look at records available outside of Ireland.

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