This is a great question and one that puzzles both raw recruits to the genealogy game and those who have been dipping in and out of their research and finding the usual ‘brick walls’. Don’t worry – ‘brick walls’ can crop up at any time even for the seasoned researcher.
The most important advice I can give, is to start with what you know and work backwards. Notice that I have emphasised ‘what you know’. This vital piece of the jigsaw must be backed up with copy birth, baptism or marriage certificates so that you will start on a sound basis. It may also be a record of your family from the 1901 Irish Census or 1911 Census if they lived in Ireland during those years. ‘What you know’ is not vague family references to ‘cousins’, ‘connections’ and nicknames of the more prominent of those whom your Aunt would sincerely hope was a family relative. How many people have I come across who tell me that the family believes they are related to Michael Collins or Daniel O’Connell or even The Wild Colonial Boy! If your grandparents lived in the U.S., Australia or the UK, you can also verify their existence by local Census lists in those areas.
Look at all the information, on the Irish Census, how many in the house, were they all family? Maybe a nephew or niece was staying, how many could read and write? Note their ages, but don’t take these as gospel. Most Irish people had no interest or idea of when exactly they were born at this time. (They only got interested when the Old Age Pension was introduced in 1908) On the Irish Census, don’t forget House & Building Return (Form B.1) that will give you full information on their housing, on their outhouses even.
Once you have solid groundwork – your grandparents and then their parents, you are now on a targeted and well evidence based path to find out more. From here you can go back through land (Tithe Applotments & Griffiths Valuation) through the civil and religious records to early 1800s in most cases in Kerry. I will go through each of these steps in coming weeks.
My next piece of advice, before you start investing in any genealogical charts or such is to log what you know on Microsoft OneNote. This is free, you can access it across all your online devices, you can have a page for each ancestor that you find, Copy and paste any online information that you acquire. Don’t forget to say where you found the information or a link if it is online. Don’t just stick with dates – yes they are the foundation of a person’s life, but also jot down where they lived, what it was like to live in that area at that time. All these pieces of information are available online now and it will open your mind to other possibilities.