Your Wild Irish Roots
4/1/2003
You don't need the luck of the Irish to find your ancestors on the auld sod — just our quick guide to researching your Emerald Isle roots.

What does Irish mean?

The answer isn't as simple as you might think. This can be an emotional subject — and a confusing one. Many Americans have the perception that Irish means both Gaelic and Catholic, thus eliminating anyone who doesn't fit into those categories. But when we visit Irish festivals and genealogy gatherings around the United States, we find that at least half of the people have ancestors from Ireland who were Protestants rather than Catholics. We also find that many Irish Catholics and their children left the church in America. Does that mean they are no longer Irish?

In our search for the Irish in America, we have realized just how complicated the Irish-American experience is. We also have found that historians, for the sake of weaving together this complex history, have sometimes unknowingly contributed to its oversimplification. So we'll begin by dispelling a few myths and sharing some observations that have affected our genealogical research: