Ireland’s Public Records Office: Beyond 2022

What’s this? A post about Irish records on an English genealogy blog?!
Back in 2016 Irish Central ran an article reporting that, according to DNA test results, the average British person is one fifth Irish. In England, northern regions generally have the highest rates of Irishness, although London isn’t far behind. However, Wales, and particularly Scotland have higher average Irish ethnicity than England, with as high as 46.6% for Scots close to the border with England. In Ulster, on the other hand, the average person’s Irish DNA is just 51.9%. This is explained by not only the proximity of Scotland to Northern Ireland, but also the deliberate colonisation which took place in the late 16th and early 17th centuries.

My own largely northern England DNA bears out all of the above. According to Ancestry’s Ethnicity Estimate I have 29% Irish DNA and 12% Scottish. Much of the Irish comes from two 2x great grandparents who were born in County Mayo and migrated to England around the time of the famine. The rest of the Irish, and I believe all of the Scottish, comes from a 3x great grandfather from the Belfast/Antrim area, plus a different line where both 3x great grandparents are from either Derry/Londonderry or Newry (a mystery caused by a census enumerator’s inability to decipher with certainty the place of origin). There is also another 3x great grandmother whose origins are simply ‘Ireland’. I know nothing more than that. I do think these percentages are skewed a little by the Irish diaspora, and the fact that many more people in North America and Australia have tested than people within the United Kingdom. I suspect these percentages for me should be a little lower, but the general thrust of the results does tie in with my documented family tree.

Since you’re reading this blog about English ancestry, there’s a pretty good chance that you, too, may have some Irish ancestry. Even if you don’t, read on anyway, for the sheer wonder of what I’m going to tell you!

The tragedy of Ireland’s lost records
If you do have Irish ancestors and have tried to trace them back in the old country you’ll know how difficult it is. For all my Irish ancestors, once they arrive in England I have a great deal of information about each of them; but as to their origins – even the parish or township where each was born – I have nothing at all.

The reason is largely this:
On 30th June 1922, in the opening engagement of the Irish Civil War, Dublin’s enviable Public Records Office was destroyed by explosion and subsequent fire. Along with the buildings, most of seven centuries’ worth of archived records were lost. These included censuses and parish registers.

What comes next owes much to the dilligence of a certain Herbert Wood. At the time of the explosion and fire he was Deputy Keeper of the Public Record Office. Very fortunately, three years earlier he had published’ A Guide to the Records Deposited in the Public Record Office of Ireland’. This publication gave the precise location of every single item in the archives.

Beyond 2022
For the past few years a number of Irish historians and archivists have been working on a project to create a virtual 3D reconstruction of that former Public Record Office. A collaboration between the National Archives of Ireland, National Archives UK, Public Records Office of Northern Ireland, Irish Manuscripts Commission, and the Library of Trinity College, Dublin, plus over 40 other institutions in Ireland, Britain and the USA, the goal was to recover as much as possible of what was lost. And thanks to Herbert Wood they knew exactly what they were looking for. Their work has involved identifying surviving material and surrogate copies or substitutes available in various repositories in Ireland and worldwide.

The short video below (2 mins 44 secs) was published four years ago and gives more information about the aims of this truly extraordinary project.

Here’s another more recent short video (3 mins 2 secs) from 2020. It has some of the same information but different images, and by this time they had already worked out the structure of the website. I think it’s amazing.

The wait is over
This week, exactly one hundred years after that devastating fire, the virtual archive went live. You’ll find it [here] and it’s entirely free to use, no matter where in the world you are.

I’ve been delaying any further attempts at work on my Irish lines until the launch of the website. It also seems like a good time to use this as a springboard to start to learn more about what Irish records are available.

So far I’ve only had time for a quick click around, but based on the second of those videos above, I’m itching to do more. If you have Irish ancestry and find you can use this fantastic new resource to bring about a breakthough in your research, please do share in the comments.

Wishing you comfort and joy

Digital scrapbook page featuring golden retriever dog wearing Father Christmas hat.

Earlier this year I was thinking about how we could preserve our visual legacies in ways more likely to spark the interest of those who follow us. One of the ideas I wrote about was digital scrapbooking. It was back in August and September that I was tidying up and reorganising my digital photo archives, and making a start on digitising old family photos. I can report that progress has been good but there’s still a long way to go.

Alongside digitising the old photos I realised I could use my existing photo editing software for digital scrapbooking, and I’ve had lots of fun making digital scrapbook pages using some of the old photos. My brother’s birthday card this year was made this way and I’m so happy with how it turned out.

Today I’m combining this new-found digital scrapbooking interest with one of my personal Christmas traditions, which is that every year I’m compelled to try to photograph our four-legged family members wearing Christmas hats. I have to say that I enjoy this far more than the said four-legged family members, but George here does love posing for a photo and is prepared, up to a point, to accept the ignominy of wearing a hat if it means he can be the centre of attention.

Zoë Ball was asking about family Christmas traditions recently on BBC Radio 2. One listener shared that her mother buys a new toilet brush every year at Christmas time and on Christmas Day, before she puts it to use in the bathroom, the family holds a competition to see who can toss the new toilet brush into its holder… Makes my tradition of photographing the animals seem very tame! What about you? Do you have any special traditions that will be passed on? Are there any older family members with stories to tell about how they used to celebrate Christmas?

Whatever you’ll be doing over the remainder of 2021, whether you celebrate or not, and whether by the time Christmas arrives the latest COVID variant will yet again make family gatherings inadvisable, I wish you comfort, joy, peace and good health, now and in the year to come.

I’ll be back with my next post on 15th January 2022.


Digital scrapbooking supplies used are from Life Chronicled: Christmas by Connie Prince; and Joyful by Ginny Whitcomb. Both sets were purchased from ScrapGirls. I have no connection to this store but terms of use require that I acknowledge the designers when posting online.

DNA: GEDmatch

This is the last post in my 3-part mini-series about using chromosome browsers in genetic genealogy.  You’ll find links to all my previous DNA posts [here].

Today we’re talking about GEDmatch: an online service that allows you to upload your autosomal DNA data files from any of the testing companies and compare with people who have tested with different companies.  In other words, you’re not restricted to just comparing your Ancestry results with other Ancestry matches or your MyHeritage results with others who tested there: you can compare common matches with all the testing companies in one go.

Alongside this they also have a number of tools to help with analysis of these comparisons. The basic package of tools is free to use.  These include a chromosome browser, which is particularly useful if you tested with Ancestry, since they don’t provide one.  There are more advanced tools (called ‘Tier 1’), but there is a monthly fee to use them, currently US$10 per month.  You can subscribe just for one month at a time when you know you’ll have plenty of time to explore. 

GEDmatch doesn’t itself offer DNA tests.  They state that when you upload your data, the information is encoded, and the raw file deleted.  Even so, we should all always check Terms & Conditions when we upload our DNA data to any site, and be sure we’re happy.

Often people who upload to GEDmatch don’t know what to do next; and I know both from personal experience, and from discussion with my own DNA cousins, that at first sight it all seems pretty daunting.  So in this post I’ll talk you through what I consider to be the essential basic tools.  Once you’ve uploaded your DNA files you’ll find links to all these on your home page at GEDmatch, in the right hand sidebar:

Screen grab of GEDmatch sidebar showing package of free basic tools

All you need to make use of these tools is the kit number you’ll see on the left hand side under ‘Your DNA Resources’.  It starts with one or more letters followed by some numbers.  Copy that and then follow these links:

One-to-many DNA comparison
Click on the second ‘One-To-Many’ option, and on the new page that appears, paste your kit number in the box and click to display your results.  What you’ll get is a list of everyone on GEDmatch who matches you.  They are arranged in descending order of the size of your match.

Looking from left to right you’ll see your matches’ kit number, name or pseudonym, email, largest segment and total cM (this is the field by which the matches are arranged in decending order), likely number of generations to Most Recent Common Ancestor (MRCA) and some other information.  You might already recognise some of these people and be able to place them on your tree, together with your MRCA.

Screen grab of GEDmatch One to Many list, showing detail of matches to a number of other testers

Now we’ll move onto finding out more about some of these matches.  So pick the top one or another one near the top, and copy their kit number.  Then back at your GEDmatch home page, click on:

One-to-one Autosomal Comparison
Paste your own kit number in box 1 and your selected match’s kit number in box 2.  (Hint: after you’ve pasted your own number once you can bring it up again by double clicking on box 1, so on subsequent searches you’ll only need to input your match’s kit number.)

For these early searches leave the rest of this form in the default settings.  You can play around with them and learn more later.  Click compare.

What you’ll get on the next page is a chromosome browser showing exactly where you and this person match.  For every chromosome with a matching segment you’ll also see a little box, showing start and end position of the segment and number of centimorgans (cM).  The image below shows just part of one of my match comparisons – Chromosomes 11 to 15.  As you can see, this person and I have a matching segment on Chromosome 14.

Screen grab from GEDmatch showing part of a One to One comparison in the chromosome browser

If you’re painting to DNA Painter, as described in my last post, this text in the little box is the information you need to paste to ‘paint’ the segments.  If you match on more than one chromosome you can go back to the input form and change ‘Graphics and Positions’ to ‘Position’ only.  This will remove the chromosome browser from the results and simply provide you with several little boxes of information that you can then copy all in one go.

Now, keeping those same two kit numbers, return to the home page and click on:

People who match both, or 1 of 2 kits
Again, enter your own number for kit 1 and your match’s for kit 2.
What you get this time is three lists:

  • people who match BOTH of you
  • people who match just you
  • people who match just kit 2, and not you.

It’s the list of people matching both of you that’s most obviously helpful.  If you can already place any of these shared matches this may help you to narrow down the part of your tree where you and this person have common ancestors.  However, thinking back to my previous post on chromosome browsers, matching a third person does not necessarily mean you all ‘triangulate’.  Certainly you share a common ancestor with each one, but it’s possible that the common ancestor they share with each other might be on a different line, not related to you at all.

If you’ve read my previous DNA posts or if you’ve already been using MyHeritage, you’ll see that this basic package of tools on GEDmatch is not dissimilar to the tools on there.  The One-to Many comparison equates to the MyHeritage DNA match list; The One-to-One autosomal comparison equates to MyHeritage’s chromosome browser; and the People who match both, or 1 of 2 kits roughly equates to the shared matches you see when you click to Review any of your matches.  The advantage of GEDmatch is that there is no fee to use these tools.  There is also the availability of the more powerful ‘Tier 1′ tools when you want to make use of them.  MyHeritage, on the other hand, combines all of their tools with availability of matches’ trees that you can compare with your own.  Plus they have the triangulation tool discussed two posts back.  In terms of enjoyment of use I would have to say I prefer MyHeritage’s DNA offering above all others, but GEDmatch is a powerful additional tool in your DNA toolkit, not least because not everyone has tested with/ uploaded their data to MyHeritage, and because of the availability of the Tier 1 when you feel ready to move on.


My DNA posts are intended as a beginners’ guide, building up the information in order, in bite-sized chunks.  Click [here] to see them all in the order of publication.

Generations, pedigree collapse and mind-blowing stuff

Here’s something that’s quite obvious when you think about it, but perhaps you’ve never had much reason to do so.  We each have:

  • 4 x grandparents
  • 8 x G grandparents
  • 16 x 2G grandparents
  • 32 x 3G grandparents
  • 64 x 4G grandparents
  • 128 x 5G grandparents
  • 256 x 6G grandparents
  • 512 x 7G grandparents
  • 1024 x 8G grandparents
  • 2048 x 9G grandparents
  • 4096 x 10G grandparents

In other words, the number of grandparents doubles with every generation.

Since the earliest parish records start at 1538 (and most of them later than that), unless you have aristocratic lineage, you won’t be able to get back much further than 10xG grandparents.  But look how many there are for you to find!  Surely a lifetime’s dedicated work to track down the 8190 direct ancestors across all generations from you to your 10xG grandparents.  That puts our results into perspective doesn’t it!

But there’s another important point to come out of all this: something referred to as pedigree collapse:

Continuing the doubling up of direct ancestors and going back just a few more generations, we each have 4,194,304 x 20G grandparents and 67,108,864 x 25G grandparents; and after that my calculator runs out of spaces for the required numbers, but people with better calculators (or brains!) have worked out that after thirty generations, which brings us to the Middle Ages, we each have roughly a billion ancestors – an impossibly high figure because this is greater than the total world population at that time.  (See the Wikipedia entry on Pedigree Collapse here.)

The only explanation is that some of our ancestors are related to each other.  Sometimes this is quite obvious.  For example, a marriage between cousins (which has always been permissible in the UK) means their offspring will have six rather than the usual eight G grandparents, and therefore 12 GG grandparents, 24 GGG grandparents, and so on…

But what about less obvious connections?  I’ve found that a member of my family and his wife (and me!) are descended from the same 9xG grandparents, making them 10th cousins.  I’m also on the hunt for a connection between my paternal grandparents who seem to be related at around 8th cousin or earlier, their ancestors having moved off in different directions before reuniting in Leeds in the 20th century.  I’ll probably never know their most recent common ancestors, since their connection may be just before records began, but I know the surname and I know whereabouts they lived.  And although I love this idea and will never cease to be delighted at finding such connections, bearing in mind all of the above it seems this is to be expected rather than the wonderful coincidence it seems to be.

It’s even suggested that every single one of us is related to every other person on Earth as 50th cousin or closer.  Go back far enough and we are all family!