New to family history but ready, willing and able to learn, Niall Cullen can usually be found manning the helm of findmypast.ie’s online and offline marketing activities. In a series of blog posts, he will lead you through his own voyage of ancestral discovery.

In my first blog post I discussed how my family history journey began with speaking to my living relatives and just how rewarding and surprisingly painless that whole process was.  After equipping myself with first-hand knowledge from family members, my new colleagues and fellow family historians from findmypast.ie advised me that the next step in tracing my ancestors was to locate their census records and vital records (births, marriages and deaths) online.

So which should I look for first I thought? Turns out that question was irrelevant as the beauty of having these records on the internet is that you can spend an hour or two looking for them all at the same time. As long as you have the basic details like names and dates they shouldn’t be too hard to find.

The indexes to my ancestors’ births, marriages and deaths are on findmypast.ie and with the help of some of the dates I already had, the powerful findmypast search engine and some quick deducing, it wasn’t long before I had narrowed down my record search to one or two possibilities. Being able to do this online really took away the headache of making multiple trips to the General Register Office in Dublin, where Irish civil records are held. I was now armed with the index information that I needed for the GRO and could simply make a flying visit instead.

My trip to the General Register Office only took a couple of hours but proved very fruitful. I returned with copies of marriage certificates for all four sets of great-grandparents and two possible birth certificates for my paternal great grandfather. I later ruled both of the latter out after cross-referencing with other records.

During my first time searching the Census records online at the National Archives of Ireland website, I was able to find four of my eight great grandparents in the 1911 Census. Unfortunately for me, I have a family full of very common Irish surnames – Byrne, Ryan etc. Even worse, they lived in Dublin! This made it like looking for a needle in a haystack, even when I narrowed it down by their age and cross-referenced them with other records. In the case of my great-grandmother on my mother’s side, I could find no trace of her at all in either the 1911 or 1901 census. According to her marriage certificate, she was 18 in 1916, so should definitely be around. That one remained a mystery until I searched for possible aliases she could be found under. I later found out that she was listed as Dina, a nickname for Christina.

By searching for their life events and census returns, what I had now was a real insight into my ancestors’ lives. I had the names, ages and occupations of the people who are responsible for my very existence today. If you stop and think about that it is actually mind-blowing. Reading the records, you can’t help but build a picture in your mind of what these family members looked like and how they lived their lives.

I had well and truly caught the genealogical bug. Using these records as a basis for my research, what I needed now was to look to other types of historical records to really paint a picture of who my family were hundreds of years ago. In my next blog, I will disclose the amazing things I found out about my great-grandfather by searching through military records.