Success in Irish genealogy can never be guaranteed. The loss of so many records combined with poor record-keeping has made the task of searching out Irish forebears more difficult than in other parts of the British Isles. Nonetheless, as this website demonstrates, there are many sources that can be checked and which do have the potential to reveal much about your family history.
Having exhausted the resources at your immediate disposal, having asked all the pertinent questions of an elderly relative, and having copied the birth, marriage and death entries from the family Bible, what next? Here are some suggestions to help you kick-start your research into your Roe Valley ancestry.
1. Search the online records of the Irish Family History Foundation
The Irish Family History Foundation is the co-ordinating body for a network of county-based genealogical research centres in Ireland. These centres have computerised millions of Irish genealogical records, including church records, census returns and gravestone inscriptions. Centres are now making their records available online via an online research system which will allow you to search an index of records and pay to view a record. You can access these records at www.rootsireland.ie.
The records of Derry Genealogy Centre, which are among the most comprehensive of the records digitised by any of the genealogy centres across Ireland, are accessible via this website. These records comprise civil records of births and marriages, church registers of baptisms, marriages and burials, and gravestone inscriptions – in all, many thousands of records for Limavady Borough.
2. Search census returns online
As noted elsewhere on this website, the only two censuses which are available in their entirety for the island of Ireland date are those of 1901 and 1911. Through a joint initiative by the National Archives of Ireland and Library and Archives Canada, both the 1901 and 1911 census returns for the whole of Ireland have been digitised and made available for free online at www.census.nationalarchives.ie.
Although your ancestor may have left Ireland long before the 1901 census, other members of their immediate family may have stayed behind. Census returns may be a way of finding out more about them. Although ages given in census returns are frequently inaccurate, they can be a basis for searching for birth certificates.
3. Search Griffith’s Valuation online
After civil and church registers, probably the most important nineteenth-century source for researching Irish ancestors is Griffith’s Valuation of c.1860, the earliest truly comprehensive listing of property in Ireland. The website www.askaboutireland.ie provides a free search facility. You can search by surname and/or first name or limit your search by county or parish.
Not only does the website include scanned images of the original printed version of Griffith’s Valuation, it also includes the annotated valuation maps which allow you to pinpoint the precise location of properties recorded in Griffith’s. For those who are not certain where in Ireland their ancestors originated, Griffith’s Valuation can also be used to establish the geographical spread of a particular surname across the island.
4. Search the resources created by Bill Macafee
Bill Macafee, a retired university lecturer and school teacher, has created databases of numerous sources that relate to Limavady Borough and has made these available via his Family and Local History website (www.billmacafee.com). These sources include many from the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, such as the hearth money roll of 1663 and the religious census of 1766.
His CD, Researching Derry and Londonderry Ancestors: A Practical Guide for the Local and Family Historian (with contributions from Terry Eakin, Robert Forrest and Brian Mitchell), also includes these databases and, in addition, illuminating case studies of families and localities, several of which are in the Roe Valley. This CD can be ordered online from www.booksireland.org.uk or purchased from the Tourist Information Centre in Limavady or Glenshane Community Development Ltd in Dungiven.
5. Visit Limavady Borough and explore your family history for yourself
For most genealogists the high point of their explorations is being able to visit the place of origin of their ancestor, to stand at the site of the homestead, to visit the church where their forebear was baptised or married, and to find the ancestral burial place. The roots tourist is among the most intrepid of visitors and few are deterred by a muddy lane, a rusty barbed-wire fence or even our unpredictable weather.
Limavady Borough has much to offer the visitor, from stunning scenery to a rich history and heritage, and above all a warm welcome. For more on visiting the Borough, including things to do and places to stay, go to www.limavady.gov.uk/visiting.