UK civil registration records began in 1837 and there are good census records back to 1841. Prior to this date one needs to rely on the surviving parish records. In Ireland, civil registration of births, marriages and deaths did not start fully until 1864 and, unfortunately, most Irish census records and parish records prior to 1900 have not survived. However, there are often other alternatives, including DNA testing. The following is a list of the main sources of family history data that the author has found useful.
UK Telephone Directory
If you know the town and county that your ancestors came from, this is a quick way to check if any descendants still live there. Of course, not all telephones numbers are listed. Don't forget to click the "Find a Person" tab before you start the search.
Rootsweb Discussion Board (free)
A popular discussion board (supported by Ancestry.com) where you can search for messages by family name or country and county, and post your own inquiries for free.
GENUKI, UK & Ireland Genealogy
Non-commercial reference library of genealogical information, maintained by a charitable trust and a group of volunteers.
Genes Reunited(online searchable database)
Searchable UK web site with over 500 million names where you can post your family tree. It includes mainly British and Irish families. Free to post your family tree and to search, but you pay a fee (six-month fee was £15 in 2014) to contact the owners of other family trees.
UK census records 1841 - 1911 (paid)
The National Archives lists the main commercial sites for searching UK census data. They are usually free to search, but there is a fee to view the records.
Ancestry.com and Ancestry.co.uk
One of the most comprehensive collections of family history records, including Irish. One month's subscription starts from about £14 per month (2016 prices).
Find My Past
Search family history records, subscription is £10 per month (2016 prices).
UK Census Online
Includes 1841-1911 census data and BMDs (1837-2005), subscription is £7 - £20 per month (2016 prices).
If you can't find the necessary records, then a simple DNA test might help. By comparing your DNA (from saliva or a cheek swab) with a genealogical database, it may be possible to determine if you share a recent common ancestor with another person in the database, and it is possible to get an indication of how closely related you are. DNA tests can also be used to determine your ethnic origins.
There are three types of DNA test that can be useful for genealogy:
1) Autosomal DNA tests have the advantage that they track all your ancestral lines (both male & female). However, unlike Y-DNA tests, they are limited in range to only a few generations as autosomal DNA gets diluted by 50% at each generation. The current tests (as of 2016) record about 1 million SNPs which allows comparisons to about 6 generations back (i.e. fourth-cousins). The main autosomal DNA testing companies charge from $99 to $199 (plus shipping) for their tests (2016 prices). A comparison of autosomal DNA testing companies is posted here.
The test fee normally includes access a list of your nearest DNA relatives that tested with the same company (providing the individual permits contact). Additionally, you can download your results and then upload them to the free website, gedmatch.com, where you can compare your results with those from other DNA testing companies (for free), so increasing your number of potential DNA relatives.
Autosomal DNA test results of descendants of many of the familes recorded on this website have tested with 23andme.com, and results are also posted at gedmatch.com.
2) Y-DNA is passed through the direct male lineage only, almost unchanged over many generations, and is used to trace male (surname) lineage. Females need to test Y-DNA from a close male relative such as a brother, father or paternal uncle. One of the most widely used genealogical tests is the Y-chromosome 37 STR marker (Y-DNA37) which starts from about $149 USD (as of 2016). Both the Gallagher and de Courcy families posted on this web site have submitted Y-DNA37 test results to their respective name projects: Gallagher Y-DNA Project, de Courcy Y-DNA Project.
3) mtDNA (mitochondrial DNA) is passed down virtually unchanged through the direct female line only. Males inherit their mother's mtDNA but do not pass it on to their children. Males and females can use their own mtDNA to track their maternal lineage, but Autosomal or Y-DNA tests are usually more useful for genealogy.
A free version of Legacy Family Tree is available for download. There is also a paid version with extra features. The free version seems adequate for most users and was used to create the descendant charts, etc. on this web site.
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