You should begin by collecting basic facts about the individual or family you are interested in. Gather information from family sources including letters or official documents, such as passports, which can provide useful information about the spelling of a family name, maiden names of married women, what county, parish or townland the individual came from and when they left Ireland and where they emigrated to. Information about when a person left Ireland is vital to determining the kind of records they are likely to be found in. It is also useful for locating an individual who may have moved to a different part of the country. For further information see Researching family history.
National Archives provides a Free Genealogy Advisory Service Monday to Friday from 10.00 to 17.00, with a closure for lunch between 13.00 and 14.00. The Genealogist can provide advice on how to trace your family tree while general advice on collections is available from the Archivist on Duty in the reading room.
Many genealogy sources held by the National Archives have been digitised and are freely available on our Genealogy website. Further details about the collections found there and their usefulness for family history research can be found in Our sources for family & local history.
No. The National Archives does not charge a fee for access to any of its online resources.
National Archives holds many collections that are useful to both family and local history research. These include census returns, land valuation records, testamentary records (wills), workhouse records, transportation records, estate records and business records.
A number of collections, including the 1901 and 1911 census, have been digitised and made available online on our Genealogy website. The vast majority of collections will not be digitised, however, and must be consulted in person in the Reading Room of the National Archives.
Please consult Researching family history for more information, including what records we hold for family history and what records we do not hold.
Archival research can be difficult and time consuming. Further information on undertaking archival research and understanding how collections are arranged is available in Getting started with archival research.
A will is a document demonstrating the wishes of the deceased individual. Where a person with assets, such as land or property or possessions, dies intestate or without a will, applications are made to the High Court to obtain a grant of administration in order to fulfil legal requirements such as those set out in the laws of succession. A grant of probate or a grant of administration can only be issued where a person has died. For information on using legal sources, including wills see guides to legal sources in Legal records.
No. Certificates for civil births, deaths and marriages are held by the General Register Office, Werburgh Street, Dublin 8.
No. Some Catholic parish registers have been digitised by the National Library of Ireland and are available on their Catholic Parish Register website. The National Archives holds copies of some Church of Ireland parish registers, mostly on microfilm.
Students should begin their research by consulting secondary sources to contextualise the topic or event they are researching. It is also useful to consult bibliographies of existing publications to locate sources previously consulted, including the reference codes used. Archival research can be time consuming and it is advisable for researchers to undertake as much preparation in advance as possible before visiting the National Archives. For further information on beginning your research see Getting started with archival research.
The National Archives holds the records of the modern Irish state from its foundation to approximately 1987. Departmental records refer to all records created or received by all government departments, the courts and 61 bodies listed in the schedule to the National Archives Act, 1986.
We also hold records inherited from the Public Record Office of Ireland and the State Paper Office, which were amalgamated to form the National Archives. These bodies existed prior to the foundation of the State and their holdings contain material relating to the administration of Ireland by the British. The majority of these records date from the 19th and early 20th centuries, but some collections date back to the 17th and 18th centuries. The largest, and most important, of these collections is the Chief Secretary’s Office Registered Papers, which contains the administrative records of the representative of the British government in Dublin Castle. The collection dates from 1818 to 1923. For further information see the Chief Secretary’s Office Registered Papers.
The National Archives also accepts private collections that complement our existing holdings. These include private business records, hospital records, solicitors’ collections and landed estate collections. For further information on the holdings of the National Archives see Research guides & sources.
The National Archives does not hold records less than 30 years old. The National Archives Act, 1986 only applies to records of state over 30 years old.
We do not hold photographic or literary collections. These are generally found in the National Library of Ireland or local authority or university archives.
For information on searching online see the FAQ for the online catalogue.
Where departments have changed function, the records created in the course of that work will be transferred to the new section or department. This is more common for records created since the 1970s with the expansion of the number of government departments and public bodies. This can create difficulties for researchers in tracing relevant records.
It is useful to understand the government departments that may have had an input into the policy area in question, and to determine if the functions of particular departments have changed over time. This is possible by consulting various sources on the history of the Civil Service and the websites of current departments. It may also be useful to consult the Irish State Administration Database, a project developed by the Geary Institute at University College Dublin.
Where researchers are having difficulty locating records, it is useful to consult the archives of the Department of the Taoiseach, which has traditionally acted as a secretariat to government. All subject areas can be found in the central registry files of the Department of the Taoiseach. For further information see Getting started with archival research.
Private collections, particularly those of individuals directly involved in drafting policy, may be useful to researchers. Many university archives hold private collections of politicians, civil servants or organisations that may have been involved in contributing to particular policies. The archives of University College Dublin specialise in collecting the papers of political figures, but other collections may have been deposited in the National Library of Ireland or the alma mater of the individual in question. Irish History Online is a database of archival sources in Ireland and abroad compiled by the Royal Irish Academy. It is also worth noting that private papers may be retained by the individual’s family and access cannot be guaranteed.
Records of state are the official record of government created or received in the course of the work of Departments of State, the courts or public bodies listed in the schedule to the National Archives Act, 1986. These bodies are legally obliged to comply with the terms of the National Archives Act, 1986 in the management of their records and to transfer records older than 30 years to the National Archives that warrant permanent preservation as archives.
Private source is a term used to describe any collection not covered by legislation, but which is accepted by the National Archives for permanent preservation as it contributes significantly to the historical record and cultural identity of Ireland.
Private sources comprise a very broad range of collections and can include the papers of individuals, families, businesses, hospitals, solicitors or organisations. The private collections held by the National Archives include landed estate records, a number of major hospital collections, the archives of such organisations as trade unions and the Irish Girl Guides and the Business Records Survey, a national survey of business records that often provide valuable insight into the social and economic development of Ireland.
Access to some private collections is restricted and researchers are advised to contact the National Archives in advance or to speak to the Archivist on Duty in the reading room. For further information see Research guides & sources.
No. Departmental records are not digitised as a matter of course and it will be necessary for researchers to visit the National Archives to access these collections. The National Archives holds approximately 50 million items in its collections and the digitisation of such a large quantity of records would be impractical and of limited benefit compared to the scale and cost involved. Researchers may order copies of files for a fee. For further information see Obtain copies of archives.
All material transferred to the National Archives and listed in the online catalogue contains a unique three-part reference code. This reference code should be used when ordering material or when referencing material in theses or publications.
Where a three-part reference code has not been allocated to the records in question, a description of the record series, together with the archive creator should be given. This is generally the case in older material, particularly early court records, which were transferred before the current system of referencing records was implemented. For further information see Referencing archives.
To find out more about archival terminology see Glossary.
The type of information required depends on the case in question but the most basic information required includes the date on which the case was heard and the court in which the case was heard. Some cases begin in lower courts and progress through the system on appeal or on transfer, but other more serious cases, such as serious criminal cases or civil suits begin at Circuit Court level.
Court records are not arranged by the name of individuals. They are arranged by the level of court, i.e. District/Circuit/High/Supreme Court, and the date on which the court sat. It is also useful to be aware of changes in the courts system following the establishment of the Irish Free State in 1922. For higher level courts, these changes led to alterations in how records were organised. For further information, please see Court records held in the National Archives.
Traditionally, the Courts sit for four terms per year. These are known as Hilary (Winter), Easter (Spring), Trinity (Summer) and Michaelmas (Autumn). According to Order 118 of the Rules of the Superior Courts, these terms correspond to the following dates:
- Hilary term begins on the 11 January in any given year and ends of the Friday of the week preceding the Easter holiday.
- Easter term begins on the Monday of the week following the Easter holiday and ends on the Thursday preceding Whit Sunday.
- Trinity term begins on the Wednesday of the week following Whit Sunday and ends on the 31 July in any given year.
- Michaelmas term begins on the first Monday in October and ends of the 21 December in any given year.
For further information on court sittings please see the website of the Courts Service.
The National Archives holds records of all levels of courts, except the Special Criminal Court. For details of years and types of records held please see Court records held in the National Archives.
Yes. Court records held by the National Archives are public records and can be accessed by members of the public in possession of a valid Reader’s ticket. The exception to this is family law cases, which are held in camera.
Family law cases held by the National Archives are closed to the public and can only be accessed with the permission of the relevant County Registrar or through the Central Office of the High Court.
For further information on accessing court records please see Researching legal records.
The National Archives is responsible for the permanent preservation of records of state, including court records. Wills are records created by the Probate Office, which forms part of the High Court. This means testamentary material is subject to the terms of the National Archives Act, 1986. The National Archives holds wills that are at least 20 years old. The latest year held by the National Archives is 1991. For anything more recent, queries should be directed to the Probate Office. For further information see Testamentary records.
A plain copy is a copy required for information purposes only and holds no legal standing. A certified copy is accompanied by a letter and seal of authentication issued by the National Archives. Certified copies have legal standing and can be used for legal purposes.
For information on accessing court records see Researching legal records.
For court records not held by the National Archives it will be necessary to contact the relevant registrar for the court and district in question. For further information see the website of the Courts Service.
Please see Visit us for more information about visiting the National Archives.
The online catalogue is updated a number of times a year as work is completed on editing catalogues to new or existing collections. For further information see New in the online catalogue.
The National Archives Act, 1986 and Regulations, 1988 are the principle statutes applicable to the management of records of Departments of State, including their disposal or retention as archives.
The Act operates within a legal framework for the management of government records that may also include other statutes relating to areas such as Data Protection, Freedom of Information, and legislation relating to specific areas of work such as cultural heritage, social protection and tax collection, among others.
No legislation takes precedence over the National Archives Act, 1986 with regard to the management of public records, including the destruction, retention or withholding of records. Before destruction, retention or withholding of records can take place, the provisions as set out in the National Archives Act, 1986 must be adhered to.
A transferring body is the government department, court office or public body named in the schedule to the National Archives Act, 1986 that is legally obliged to transfer records more than 30 years old to the National Archives to facilitate long-term preservation and public access.
In the National Archives Act, 1986 1(2) the term ‘Department of State’ is interpreted to mean not only the head office of a Department and its sub-offices, but also the courts and the bodies listed in the schedule to the Act. The term, therefore, refers to almost all bodies staffed by civil servants, including the Defence Forces and An Garda Síochána.
The term departmental record is defined in the National Archives Act, 1986 2(2) as any record in any form made or received, and held in the course of its business, by a Department of State, or any body which is a committee, commission or tribunal of enquiry appointed by the Government. It does not include:
Instruments of title relating to property for the time being vested in the state, and any part of the permanent collection of a library, museum or gallery.
No. Destruction of records is a breach of the National Archives Act, 1986 unless authorisation for disposal is granted by the Director of the National Archives.
This applies to the destruction of both paper and electronic records, including files that were originally paper records but scanned for access or to reduce storage space and costs.
National Archives staff may need to undertake an assessment/appraisal of records before a Certificate for the Destruction of Departmental Records can be issued. Departments of State are required under the National Archives Act, 1986, 7(7) to facilitate this assessment.
No destruction of records must take place without first contacting the National Archives at [email protected].
No. Permission is not required to destroy duplicate records or printed material. Duplicate records are defined as exact copies without any alteration. Any annotations or changes to a document render it an original, even where substantially it corresponds to other records.
Applications for disposal on an ongoing basis must be received for the destruction of Parliamentary Questions and Freedom of Information requests.
Each department, or section within in a department, must apply to the National Archives, prior to the transfer of any records, for a unique number for each series of records. This number will correspond to the year in which the transfer was requested and the next available number within that year. This unique identifier is used by the National Archives to process the records once they have been transferred for public inspection, and forms the basis of the unique reference code that will apply to that series of records or files.
Training is provided to staff of Departments of State, including Courts, who wish to transfer records to the National Archives for permanent preservation as archives. This training generally takes place over a half day and can be provided onsite in the requesting Department or the National Archives as appropriate. For further information or to arrange training please contact Archive and Government Services by email to [email protected].
The National Archives is the official place of deposit for government records where members of the public can view original archives. To find out more see What we do.
The Reading Room of the National Archives is open Monday to Friday from 10.00 until 17.00 to members of the public in possession of a valid reader’s ticket. We currently close for lunch from 1pm-2pm when reader’s are required to vacate the Reading Room.
Documents and microfilms may be ordered by researchers from 10.00-12.45 and 14.00-16.00 daily. Archives ordered by a researcher in person which are held in off-site storage are produced as soon as they are delivered, at present delivery times are unfortunately variable. Advance orders by email will only be accepted for material held in off-site storage and for readers ticket holders only. For information about accessing material held off-site please see Ordering archives in advance.
Readers are advised to check the status of the archives they have ordered by contacting us in advance of their visit.
Any other closures will be announced on our website and social media. For further details please see Closures during 2023.
The National Archives is located on Bishop Street in Dublin City centre. See Map us for further details.
Our holdings include files from departments of state, the courts (including wills) and public bodies such as the Central Statistics Office, the Ordnance Survey and the Valuation Office, among others that are included in the schedule to the National Archives Act, 1986. We also hold many private collections, including family and estate papers, solicitors’ collections, hospital collections and business records.
No. The vast majority of archives are not digitised and must be consulted in person in the reading room of the National Archives.
To make the most of your visit, it is recommended you consult the online catalogue and guides to records held in the National Archives to have an idea of what you are looking for and to ensure it is present in our holdings. It is also useful to consult Getting started with archival research.
All researchers must apply for a reader’s ticket on their first visit. Photographic identification, such as a passport or driver’s licence, and proof of your permanent address, such as a recent utility bill, are required.
Existing researchers applying for a renewal of their ticket must also produce photographic identification and proof of address.
The tickets, which are free of charge, are issued for a period of three years and are valid only in the National Archives.
The reader’s ticket must be produced at the front desk on each visit to the National Archives. Researchers who fail to show their reader’s ticket at the front desk will be refused entry.
For further information see Readers’ tickets.
Archives are unique documents and need to be protected. The theft or defacing of archives is a criminal offence under section 18(1) of the National Archives Act, 1986. Any attempt to remove archival material from the reading room will be reported to An Garda Síochána.
No. Children under 16 years of age are not permitted to access the reading room unless prior approval has been given by the Head of Public Services. The reading room is a quiet place of study containing original archival documents and is unsuitable for children. Leaving certificate students may be admitted provided they apply for a reader’s ticket and follow the correct advice on accessing and preserving documents.
There are a small number of PCs available in the reading room for researchers to consult online sources. These are reserved for relevant research only. During busy periods, researchers may be requested to vacate the computer.
Power points have been installed at a number of tables to facilitate the use of laptops by researchers.
While researchers are permitted to bring laptops into the reading room with them, they are requested to leave laptop cases and covers in the lockers provided.
Free wi-fi is provided in the reading room. Terms of the National Archives acceptable usage policy.
Yes. The National Archives provides a copying service to researchers. Staff of the National Archives will copy material on behalf of researchers using specialised scanning equipment. No self-service copying facility is available. For further information see Obtain copies of archives.
Researchers may use a digital camera or similar device to copy material for their private research only. This service is provided free of charge. The National Archives retains the right to withhold permission to make digital copies of archives. Researchers must consult the Archivist on Duty in the reading room prior to commencing photography. For further information see Obtain copies of archives.
Images required for publication must be ordered from the National Archives. All material required for publication must undergo a conservation assessment and a fee for publication rights must be paid. The National Archives uses archival-standard scanning and photography equipment by specialist-trained staff. For further information see Obtain copies of archives.
Copyright is an intellectual property right which protects the owner’s creative skills and labour. Copyright is an intellectual right, therefore, ownership of copyright is separate to the ownership of the physical item. For further information see Obtain copies of archives.