How to Trace Your Roots
Many people are deeply curious about their family backgrounds. They want to know who their ancestors were, whether they did anything famous or infamous, and whether they were noble or peasant. Researching genealogy has long been a popular pastime. It's easier than ever to find ancestors now that the Internet and e-mail have made it possible to find documents or contact relatives with a click of a button.
Drawing a Family Tree
The first thing to do is assemble as much information about your ancestors as possible. You want to know names, places and dates of birth, marriage or death, occupation, and the names of other family members, if possible.
Start with your own parents and their parents; the easiest way to get this information is to ask the people themselves. Then look at any documents you have, such as birth, death, and marriage certificates; family Bibles; obituaries; or anything else that seems useful.
Record all this information in a pedigree chart or family group record (you can download these from the Internet). This will make it obvious what information you have and what you still need. If you want to fill in the gaps, then choose the ancestors whose research you want to complete and start working backward in time. It's always easier to research more recent events, if only because there might be more people alive who still remember them.
The Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter-Day Saints has an excellent body of genealogical information; the religion requires members to research their own ancestors and retrospectively baptize them as Mormons. The Mormons encourage other people to use these resources to research their own family histories. You can begin investigating at FamilySearch.org.
You should also see if someone else has already researched your family's history. There is a ton of genealogical information already assembled, available online or in libraries. Perhaps one of your relatives put together a family tree some years ago, or maybe there is a published family history online. That can be very helpful, even if it doesn't include all the information you want.
It can also help you determine whether you are looking at the right group of people; many Irish surnames are very common, but not all of the people who share a name are related to one another.
If you want to find more documents, you can search for them in libraries, government offices, or through genealogical services on the Internet. Every bit of information you find can help you complete the bigger picture.
Perhaps the easiest way to find one's ancestors is to hire a professional genealogist; there are many in Ireland. Genealogists can research the history of a surname, locate the counties where it is common, and do other research. They can also help you with your own search by assessing your information to see if it is adequate and suggesting places to look for more information.
Nobles in the Closet?
Wouldn't it be great to discover that you have noble ancestors who were chiefs or even kings of Ireland? Lots of people think so. Unfortunately, it can be very difficult to ascertain whether an ancestor was noble or not.
Sure you have noble Irish ancestors but can't prove it? You can still register a coat of arms with the Chief Herald of Ireland. This privilege is available to all citizens and residents of Ireland as well as to anyone with any significant links to Ireland.
The Old Irish chiefs lost most of their political and economic power when the Normans arrived. Some of them kept their names, passing them down through the generations; they were called chiefs of the name because they had no property or power, only a noble name.
The Irish Genealogical Office will give courtesy recognition to anyone who can prove satisfactorily that they are descended from a chief of the name, but almost no one has managed to prove such a claim since the practice began in 1944.