Share This:

Behind every Irish family name, there's a good woman with an equally important maiden name and a personal story that got you to where you are today.

Keep reading to find some tips on researching your female ancestors!


Irish grandmother standing in front of her rural house

Researching Irish ancestry becomes more challenging when tracing the maternal branches of our family tree. The good news is, we can help each other out by sharing what we know about our maternal line. 

We invite you to create a free memorial page in your maternal ancestor's honour, telling us:

  • her maiden name (before marriage)
  • her marriage surname
  • where she came from (if known) 
  • where in the world her descendants are today!

To ensure married female ancestors appear in search filters for both family names, DO include their maiden name in brackets i.e. (née ...) followed by her husband's.

For example Margaret (nee Doherty) Pender

For remarried widows, use "formerly ..." for any former marital surnames.

For example Margretta McGahan (formerly O'Reilly)

The spelling of many of our Irish surnames changed over time and you can add any other aliases to the body of your post. 

Researching Irish Maiden Names

Don't know your maternal Irish ancestor's last name before she married? When researching Irish parish church registers bear in mind that Irish women were recorded by their maiden name, regardless of marital status. Vital clues can be found in Roman Catholic records, in particular, where the female sponsor/witness is concerned.  A godmother could be a sister or the wife of a maternal brother – and checking out this sponsor's own marriage and baptismal records could reveal a previously unknown maternal line. 

Did she leave clues in the way she named her children?  LEARN MORE  Irish Naming & Baptism Traditions

Women & Irish Emigration

Did you know that Irish women emigrated in greater numbers than Irish men?  In the 19th century, women were in the majority of those emigrating from Ireland to North America. They bravely reached many other shores too; some willingly, and others having little choice. 

 SEE ALSO Irish Famine Orphan Girls

The emigration of Irish women continued to outnumber men well into the next century. In fact, the only time men emigrated in greater numbers was during wartime (see Military Ancestors. The majority of Irish women emigrating in the 20th century went to Britain. (In 1950 – a century after the famine – 57% of all Irish emigrants were women).

While many left to escape poverty, their departure was also driven by the huge impact the Great Irish Famine (1845-51) had on their role in Irish society. Marriage and inheritance practices changed utterly in the famine aftershock:

  • Gone was the tradition of equal subdivision of land among sons and daughters as soon as they came of age.

  • Gone was the spontaneous marriage and a house "thrown up" overnight for young newlyweds.

  • In came the dowry system and matchmaking in rural Ireland like never seen before.

  • With inheritance now being withheld until the death of a parent, her "match" was often a man 30 years her senior (ineligible for marriage without land of his own before that).

  • With no hope of being afforded a dowry, many emigrated to save up their own dowry in the hope of returning home.

  • In the early 1900s, it was the experience of many to see their hard-earned dowry clear her spouse's inheritance debts (incurred by Land Act Purchase loans from the British Government).

  • Others joined the convent, but there too a dowry made a huge difference to the life of a nun. 

READ MORE Domestic Servants & Housemaids from Ireland

Your Irish Granny's Story of Immigration

When did your Irish female ancestor emigrate? Where did she immigrate to? And what did she endure to survive? 

Margaret Haughery's family left Co. Leitrim for a better life in America. Blown off course in a storm, they were at sea for 6 months and nearly starved.  By the time they reached Baltimore, it was too late for her baby sister. Margaret then found herself orphaned at the age of 9 when both parents succumbed to Yellow Fever. Further tragedy struck when her husband and only child died young. Having no formal education she committed the rest of her life to save the orphans of New Orleans and became known as the 'The Angel of the Delta'. A statue of her stands in New Orleans today

Where in the world are her descendants today?

Sharing what we know helps researchers on both sides of the pond connect the dots. Help us help you #BringTheirMemoryHome to Ireland. 

As soon as the details you share are published (by our moderator) your ancestor becomes discoverable to others searching for a match on the worldwide web (including local volunteers and long-lost cousins!) Here's how it works

BROWSE  Irish Ancestors Database

FAQ #1 How do I share my Ancestor's details?

WATCH Our webinar on how to add your ancestor to our roll-call here:

FAQ #2 I don't know where in Ireland my Maternal Ancestor came from ... help!

You don't need to know what county your ancestor was from in order to add her/him to our Ancestor Chronicles.

  • Just type "Ireland XO" instead of a county or parish when prompted.

BROWSE  Irish Ancestors Database

FAQ #3 I have already added my ancestor. What next?

Did you tag where your ancestor immigrated to? Our new "Place of Migration" filter can help you search for possible relatives by destination (as well as in Ireland).

So if it's been a while, be sure to update it as follows:


Ready to add your Maternal Ancestor?

To add your Ancestor to our database now, click the button below:

Add an ancestor

  • If you're not already a member, click GET-STARTED to join us... it's FREE!



We hope you have found the information we have shared helpful. While you are here, we have a small favour to ask. Ireland Reaching Out is a non-profit organisation that relies on public funding and donations to ensure a completely free family history advisory service to anyone of Irish heritage who needs help connecting with their Irish place of origin. If you would like to support our mission, please click on the donate button and make a contribution. Any amount, big or small, is appreciated and makes a difference. 

Donate Now