Discover your ancestry with Leitrim Genealogy Centre

Staff members at the Leitrim Genealogy Centre, Ballinamore from left, Mary McTeague, Researcher, Joseph Keaney, Community Employment Participant, Mary Conefrey, Secretary Genealogy Centre Board of Directors, John Canning, Manager, Maureen McGovern, Researcher and Sean Denison, Community Employm,ent Participant. Photos by Willie Donnellan.
Do you know who you are? Have you any idea of the struggles and achievements of your ancestors?

Do you know who you are? Have you any idea of the struggles and achievements of your ancestors?

With this being the Year of the Gathering, more and more people are turning their thoughts towards their ancestors and their unknown relatives living here and abroad. While all of us would love to know our family tree, to be able to research our ancestors and follow their movements through history, many believe it is just too much hard work.

Researching your family history is not easy, but Leitrim Genealogy Centre using their extensive local database have a huge success rate in tracing family histories and linking the present with the past.

Leitrim Genealogy Centre, located in Ballinamore behind the old Courthouse was set up in 1986 in response to the increasing demand of people seeking to trace their Leitrim ancestors. They deal with up to 500 enquiries each year and while not all will result in sufficient finds, the centre has a great success rate and has been involved in some superb stories recently. The centre has helped thousands of people from all over the world to discover their past since they opened their doors. The largest number of enquiries come from North America/ Canada, followed by Ireland and then the UK and Australia.

The centre managed by John Canning and staffed with four part time workers has easy access to all church and state records throughout the county. The centre has spent years gathering this information from it’s scattered sources and now have a searchable database, they currently have 1,500,000 people indexed in Leitrim.

The work involved in tracing ancestors is very labour intensive (to complete a comprehensive Family History Report takes approx 12 weeks) so the full cost of the process is subsidised and you only get charged if they get results. The prices are tailored to your enquiry and could cost something from €40 for a single enquiry up to €395 for a book on your full paternal or maternal family line, which would include local maps, background and history of the area.

The centre is part of the Irish Family History Foundation which links all the genealogy centres in every county. Records for all counties can be found on, files can be viewed online for a fee.

While people can research their family history themselves, it does involve a large time commitment. John Canning said many obstacles can emerge for individuals including reading church records written in Latin, gaps in record keeping, different spelling of surnames and a lack of local history.

In Leitrim, areas such as Cloonclare have Church of Ireland Baptism records from 1816 and yet in Ballinaglera Roman Catholic Church records only began in 1883. John Canning said for the majority of researchers if they can get back to the Famine they have done extremely well. State records did not begin until 1864.

John Canning said the centre is delighted to promote roots tourism in the county, he said for people researching families from abroad, once they get the information, their next step is to return to Leitrim. He said the people who return to their ancestors home place feel like they have “completed the journey for their ancestor.” It is from this that the Leitrim Roots Festival began. This successful festival was first held in 2006 and returns this September 20-28th as part of The Gathering programme.

To begin a search John Canning said it is important to have an ancestor, their date of birth and a general area of where they came from. He said the 1830s, 1860s and 1870s are big dates for Leitrim emigrants. Of course the first place to start your family research is with the eldest members of your family, you should also seek out letters or any documents there could be. Leitrim Genealogy Centre also works with neighbouring counties to deal with half parishes.

The centre stocks local history books on parishes and towns in the county as well as school reunion books, which hold valuable information on an area and crafts people.

The Genealogy Centre would like to acknowledge the support they receive from Leitrim Development Company through the Rural Social Scheme. This support has been crucial to the Centre and has allowed a high level of service to be provided to the public over the years. Sean O’Suilleabháin, former County Librarian, was one of the founder members of the Genealogy Centre and worked tirelessly over the years to promote and develop the Centre into the important service it is today to Leitrim exiles and those researching their Leitrim ancestors.

Contact the Genealogy Centre on or (07)1 9644012 or

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