Irish Family History Specialists

Category: Family History

Family History Book

Earlier in the year we worked on a very special project with Sarah. Her wish was to present her father with his family history for a special birthday. It was a beautiful and loving project as it involved connecting with several branches of her relatives to get photos and bits of information. With this in hand, we then undertook our research to weave it all together into a beautifully presented book of over 140 pages bringing to life their family history.
 
Her response?
 

“It was really fantastic!! So much my father didn’t know. Was quite emotional to watch him discover all the information you found. I will be in touch again as I want you to branch out further now on both sides.”

 

Sarah, China and Ireland

 
We cannot share Sarah’s book with you but can show you a booklet we did on Edward Smith. Edward had a difficult start in life as the “illegitimate” son of a single mother. Raised by his grandmother, he fought in The Great War, and became a successful policeman afterwards. You can download it via the link below the picture.

Edward Smith

Edward Smith Booklet

 
If you have a great story to tell about your ancestors, a family tree is not always be the best medium. A book(let) contains lots of detail, background information, pictures, newspaper clippings, etc. And of course all the genealogical information. It can focus on one particular ancestor – like Edward Smith – or several – like Sarah’s book.

Perhaps an idea for your next genealogy project or, like Sarah, you might want to give a book to a beloved family member or friend for a special occasion. Genealogy.ie will be happy to help!

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The Destruction of Irish Genealogical Records

The Four Courts fire of 1922

“The floor of the repository is piled 10 to 20 feet high with twisted ironwork and debris and entry is impossible . . . In the vaults were deed boxes on iron racks. The racks were evidently softened by the great heat, and the weight of the boxes has bent them and drawn them forward; the lids of the boxes have fallen in, and the contents have been reduced in every case to a little white ash.”

This was a contemporary description of what as left of the Four Courts records after the shelling in 1922 by the Free State troops to end the occupation by the anti-treaty forces.

The Four Courts were the main repository of all public records in those days. The fire caused by the fighting meant a lot of records were lost forever:

  • The Irish Censuses of 1821, 1831, 1841, and 1851
  • Approximately half of all Anglican Church of Ireland registers deposited there following the dis-establishment of the state church in 1869
  • Most wills and testamentary records that had been proved in Ireland (their indexes survived)
  • Legal documents from before 1900
  • Local government records from before 1900

However, there is also plenty that survived:

  • The Censuses of 1901 and 1911
  • Civil registration records
  • The other half of the Church of Ireland parish registers
  • Baptism, marriage and burial records for Roman Catholics, Presbyterians and Methodists
  • Griffiths Valuation

It does mean however that it is just that little more difficult to find your Irish ancestors. But not impossible. You will have to know however where to look and there are also alternative resources. Ever thought about checking the dog licence register?

You should start by looking through the resources that still survive. You can find advice on how to go about this on our website:
 

Advice on Genealogical Resources

 
And if you do hit the famous brick wall, please feel free to Contact Us

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Jillian van Turnhout published in Irish family history journal

The Irish Family History Society, established in 1984, is based in Ireland and has a worldwide membership. The Society is for those who are looking to trace their Irish roots. The IFHS is a voluntary, non profit making organisation. One of our objectives is to help members to do their own research through information and advice. You can visit their website here.

The IFHS is a constituent member of the Federation of Local History Societies and an associate member of the Federation of Family History Societies.

Every year the Society brings out a journal, full of informative articles. This year, in Volume 33, our own Jillian van Turnhout was asked to contribute an article. The title of the article – which has pride of place as the very first article – is:

John Fenton Hudson, 1932 Captain Royal Dublin Golf Club, The “Missing Photo” Challenge

In it, Jillian outlines the research she did on behalf of the Golf club to find a photograph of this previous Captain. All past Captains were remembered with a photo in a gallery at the club. However, John Fenton Hudson’s was missing. As he had been a life long bachelor, so there were no descendants to ask. After extensive investigations, Jillian was successful in finding a picture, which is now proudly hanging in the Captain’s gallery. You can read her entry here: “Missing Photo” Challenge

Read our other articles here

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Making sense of Irish administrative divisions

There are 32 counties in Ireland, 26 in the Republic and 6 in the North. We also often hear about the four provinces (Ulster, Leinster, Munster and Connaught), especially in sports like Rugby.

Irish administrative divisions for the genealogist are unfortunately a lot more complicated than than. This page tries to help you make some sense of it!

Republic or Ireland and Northern Ireland

The island of Ireland is split into two parts: the independent “Republic of Ireland” and “Northern Ireland”, which is part of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.  The island measures 84,421 km², of which the Republic has 70,273 km².  The latter has a population of 4,803,748; the North has 1,685,267 (2018 figures).

Dublin castle - seat of power in Ireland before independence

Dublin Castle, seat of power before Irish independence

The four provinces

The names of the four provinces of Ireland are derived from pre-Norman kingdoms. There were however a lot more than four kingdoms when the Normans invaded Ireland in 1171 under the leadership of Strongbow. This was really a private enterprise. The (Norman) kings of England followed quickly,  to prevent Strongbow becoming a threat.  They established four military districts, to aid the occupation. It was these that took the names of former kingdoms. The reason why we nowadays only hear about them in sports is because the provinces have no longer any official status.

The former royal houses of these four kingdoms were: Connacht in the West (O’Conor); Leinster in the East (MacMurrough); Munster in the South (O’Brien); and Ulster in the North (O’Neill).

The counties of the  province of Connacht are: Galway, Leitrim, Mayo, Roscommon and Sligo. Its flag shows an eagle and a sword.

The counties of the province of Leinster are: Carlow, Dublin, Kildare, Kilkenny, Laois, Longford, Louth, Meath, Offaly, Westmeath, Wexford and Wicklow. Its flag is a harp set on a green background.

The counties of the province of Munster are: Clare, Cork, Kerry, Limerick, Tipperary and Waterford. Its flag shows three gold crowns on a blue background.

The counties of the province of Ulster are  Antrim, Armagh, Cavan, Derry/Londonderry, Donegal, Down, Fermanagh, Monaghan and Tyrone. Its flag highlights a red hand on a shield set on a background of gold/orange with a red cross.

Antrim, Armagh, Derry (also called Londonderry), Down, Fermanagh and Tyrone are part of Northen Ireland, the other three are part of the Republic of Ireland.

Ruins of Cashel, old royal seat and later monastery

The 32 counties

As mentioned, there are 32 counties. In present day Ireland, it is these counties that most people identify themselves with.  The counties were also a Norman invention. The first county to be established was Dublin, always the center of the occupier’s power.  This was in the 12th Century, immediately following the invasion. The last county, Wicklow, was not established until 1606.

When doing your research, you should note that some counties have changed name over time. For obvious reasons Kings County (Offally) and Queens County (Laois) no longer have the names given to them by the English.

Baronies have been obsolete since 1898.  Up to then however, land and property valuations were organised according the barony, so it is worth being able to identify the barony in which an ancestor’s townland (see below) was located.

The Parish

There are ecclesiastical (church; and to make things more complicated,there are Catholic and Church of Ireland ones, both covering Ireland but of course with completely different boundaries) and civil parishes and they have nothing to do with each other. The civil parish is the one we deal with here. Each county is made up of a number of civil parishes. County Leitrim has only 17.  However, many others have over 100 civil parishes. In total there are ca. 2,500 civii parishes in Ireland. In the past they were responsible for the maintenance of Irish land and property taxes and records.

Dundrum parish church

Townlands

The townland is the smallest and  most fundamental of all Irish land divisions.   Townlands vary greatly in  size and population, but they are all fairly small  If you are able to find the townland from which your ancestors hail, you will get a pretty good idea of what life looked like for them.  Townlands were the basis of census returns from 1821. You should note that some of them no longer exist, and others in name only.

If you are confused, you are not the only one! Hopefully this short explanation helps. And as always, if you have any questions, please do not hesitate to contact us.

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Ellis Island Immigration Station

Castle Garden, the previous facility, was in New York itself.  The number of immigrants was rising, which meant a bigger facility was required. But there was also a wish to better contain the immigrants, who often arrived sick and unhealthy.

In 1890, Congress approved a budget of  $75,000 to build America’s first federal immigration station  on Ellis Island.

The size of the Island was doubled to six acres, using fill material from incoming ships’ ballast and from the construction of New York City’s subway tunnels.

Ellis Island, picture taken during our visit

The first building was a three-story wooden structure. It opened on 1st January 1892 and already on that first day, three large ships with 700 immigrants passed through. That year, it processed almost 450,000 immigrants .

A few years later,  on the 15th June 1897, a fire of unknown origin, completely destroyed the building.

Thankfully there was no loss of life reported. On the negative side, it meant that all immigration records going back to 1855 were destroyed.

Between opening and the fire, the station had processed 1.5 million people.

Ellis Island, picture taken during our visit

A new station was build, this time from stone. It opened on 17th December 1900. Almost immediately however, it turned out to be too small to handle the enormous numbers of immigrants. It was therefore quickly expanded.

When it closed on 12th November 1954 it has processed 12 million immigrants. Despite the fire, many records are still available and new collections have recently come on line. However, you should be aware that most records only contain basic information.

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The Irish in Canada

Early immigrants from Ireland were fishermen from Cork, Wexford and Waterford to the island of Newfoundland. This happened in 1536! The numbers were however very small.

Real Irish immigration to Canada only started late in the eighteenth century,  After the independence of the United States, the government of “British North America” wanted to ensure their survival vis-a-vis its much bigger southern neighbor.  It lifted any restrictions on Catholic immigration and even started offering free land to immigrants (with promises of 200 acres per family). This was helped by shipping companies looking for “cargo” for their journeys back from Europe, where they had delivered the foodstuffs that were the main export at that stage. Settlers fitted the bill nicely.

This turned out to be a big success, even before the Great Famine. The Famine did however, as in the United States, swell the numbers enormously.

Between 1825 and 1845, 60% of all immigrants to Canada were Irish, a total of approx. 600,000 people.

Most of them settled in Upper Canada (Ontario), Lower Canada (Quebec) and the maritime colonies of Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island and New Brunswick. Not all remained however, with  many using Canada as a staging post on their way to the United States.

Grosse Isle

A large number of Irish Catholics arrived in Grosse Isle, an island in Quebec in the St. Lawrence River, which housed the immigration reception station. It would become a source of a tragedy. In 1847 over 80,000 people (of all nationalities)  arrived here, more than double the number of the year before. 70% of these people were Irish. Many were sick after a long voyage on board of a so called “coffin ship”.  These got this name, because it is thought that almost 1 out of every 6 passengers died during or immediately after the trip, mostly of typhus.

Before 1847, these sick were housed for a quarantine period in sheds. However, because of the huge influx of that year, the facility was overwhelmed and soon thousands of people carrying the disease started to arrive in Montreal, spreading it to the local population (including – it is said – the mayor of the city).

For this reason, so-called fever sheds were set up at Windmill Point. To care for, but especially isolate the sick.  In 1847 and 1848 it is estimated that up to 6,000 Irish died here from “ship fever”. Their remains were discovered in 1859 by workers building the Victoria Bridge., who erected the Black Rock memorial in their honor. Its inscription reads:

“To preserve from desecration the remains of 6000 immigrants who died of ship fever A.D.1847-8 this stone is erected by the workmen of Messrs. Peto, Brassey and Betts employed in the construction of the Victoria Bridge A.D.1859.”
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The Irish in the United States

Over 40 million Americans can claim Irish ancestry. Some know their family roots into detail, but many others only have some vague family stories or perhaps even only their name to remind them.

Emigration from Ireland started in earnest in the second half of the seventeenth century. It is thought that of the early colonial settlers around half came from the Irish province of Ulster while the other half came from the other three provinces of Ireland.  Most of these were from families who had only a few generations before emigrated from Scotland and England to the new “plantations”.  According to some sources, only 20,000 of the 250,000 people who emigrated from Ireland to the colonies (i.e. before independence) were Catholics.

These plantations were initiated by the English government as a scheme to tighten their grip on Ireland. Although first conquered centuries before, English power in Ireland was often threatened by a hostile population and its leaders. The plantation schemes simply were about replacing the population by more loyal subjects from England and later Scotland.

The first such schemes date from the middle of the sixteenth century but were not a success. The Ulster scheme, from the start of the seventeenth, attracted more “settlers”.  Still, living among a hostile population did not turn out to be what the newcomers had dreamed about.

And then the new colonies of North America beckoned. Particular popular among these early Irish was New England, but groups also settled in the  the Appalachian Mountain region.

Ellis Island

Despite often appalling living conditions, Irish of old Irish ancestry did at this stage not emigrate in large numbers. Emigrating to another continent was not what it is now. It was a complete break from family, culture and language. And the possibility of death on the way. Not something that anyone would undertake without good reason.

Apart from this, emigration of Catholics to the colonies was actually outlawed by the English government. This only changed after independence when the colonies became the United States of America. In 1790, only a few years later, the USA’s Irish immigrant population numbered 447,000 and two-thirds originated from Ulster.

Catholic emigration only started to pick up after 1820. Part of the reason was the buoyant labour market in the USA, with plenty of work in in canal building, lumbering, and civil construction works in the Northeast.

However, as is well known, the pace really picked up as a result of the Great Famine. This famine was not caused by a food shortage. As a matter of fact, Ireland exported food, esp. grain, throughout the famine. The problem was that this grain was produced on large estates, owned by the English landlords, for export to England. Most Irish lived in abject poverty and survived almost completely on a very nutritious staple food: potatoes.

In the 1840’s there was however a recurring and increasingly severe failure of crops due to a potato decease, called blight. This disease caused the potato to rot before it could be harvested.

Massive numbers of Irish started to starve. At first there was no response from the English government, as they believed that they should not interfere with market forces. Only after a huge and worldwide outcry, and many private initiatives to give aid, did the English government belatedly start to help. But even then, it was based on a system where the Irish people were obliged to work for any assistance. This was the time that many desperate Irish emigrated, and also the time of the infamous coffin ships: by some estimated 1 out of every 6 passengers died during or shortly after the voyage.

Most of these immigrants arrived and stayed – at least initially – in the big cities of the Eastern United States.

The population of Ireland is thought to have numbered around 8 million before the Great Famine. This was almost halved by 1900. About a million people died between 1845 and 1849 as a direct result of the famine.  The rest emigrated.

What is not always understood is that these people did not always emigrate during the famine. Many did, with the UK and the USA being the most popular destinations. As a result, Irish communities were formed in these countries. And once these were formed, it became much easier for next generations to follow, which they continued and continue to do.

It is estimated that eight million people emigrated between 1801 and 1921. That is equal to the entire population before the famine! The majority of these – then and now – were between 18 and 30 years old.

Irish immigration to the United States (1820–2004)
Period Number of
immigrants
Period Number of
immigrants
1820–1830 54,338 1911–1920 146,181
1831–1840 207,381 1921–1930 211,234
1841–1850 780,719 1931–1940 10,973
1851–1860 914,119 1941–1950 19,789
1861–1870 435,778 1951–1960 48,362
1871–1880 436,871 1961–1970 32,996
1881–1890 655,482 1971–1980 11,940
1891–1900 388,416 1981–1990 31,969
1901–1910 399,065 1991–2004 62,447
Total : 4,787,580

As mentioned, the big Eastern cities were the main destinations for the Irish. However,  not all remained in these cities. Countless others were part of the westward expansion. of the United States. They were enticed by tales of gold, and by the increasing opportunities for work and land. Kansas City for example is one city that was built by Irish immigrants and a large number of its population today is of Irish descent.

The Irish were having a huge impact on America as a whole. In 1910, there were more people in New York City of Irish ancestry than Dublin’s whole population, and even today, many  cities still retain a substantial Irish American community.

During the mid-1900s Irish immigration to the United States began to decrease. However, to this day, the United States is a popular destination for Irish people seeking a better life somewhere else.

Want us to help find out about your Irish ancestry? Contact us!

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Genealogy.ie Published in Your Genealogy Today Magazine

 

Genealogy.ie has just been published for the second time in “Your Genealogy Today“, a leading genealogical magazine in North America.
 

 
“Your Genealogy Today” is a resource guide to successful genealogical research. Whether you are a beginner, or an experienced genealogist, each issue provides you with proven techniques and sources for discovering your ancestors. With regular columns on: “Genealogy Tourism”, “DNA & Your Genealogy”, and “Advice from the Pros”. In each case, the columns will be authored on a rotational basis by contributors who are experts in their respective fields. It is published six times a year.

It can be bought in Barnes & Noble and Books-A-Million in the USA and Chapters book stores in Canada.

Our article in the January/February issue is about “Avoiding Common Mistakes”. It gives advice on how to prevent research errors by using the guidelines of the Genealogical Proof Standard, that we in Genealogy.ie rigorously adhere to.

This article joins a growing collection of contributions that Genealogy.ie is making to various magazines in North America and Ireland. You can read about the periodicals and download our articles from our website, by clicking the button below. (Note: our latest article is not available for download yet as it is only just published).
 

Our Contributions to Genealogical Magazines

 

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HAPPY HOLIDAYS + a little Christmas treat

 

We would like to wish you a very Happy Christmas and hope you will find lots more long lost family members in 2018.

 
TRIP DOWN MEMORY LANE

Family stories can be found in many places. Ever looked in that box in the attic with old films? Super8 films can now be converted to digital format, as we did with this short video, which was taken by a relation when she visited Bath in 1965. Included in this video is the front of 58 Hungerford Road, 3 Wellington Place and 19 Camden Place (all homes of ancestors). By 1966, 3 Wellington Place no longer existed as it had fallen away. Of course, in the film you will also see the Assembly Rooms, Bath Cathedral and life at that time.

PRAISE FROM DOWN UNDER

Finally, we just completed work for Michael, all the way from Queensland in Australia. We were very chuffed with his feedback, which we are quite happy to share with you.
 


“Your work is perfect Jillian, thanks very much. I’m so pleased I commissioned you to research my family, it saved me countless hours of fruitless searching. Your final report is so detailed, professionally presented and easy to read. I really wasn’t expecting so much, information. Well done and again thank you, it was well worth it.”

 

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10 Most Popular Irish Surnames

 

Below you will find the 10 most popular Irish surnames, their crest and their meaning. If one of these is your family name, you are actually out of luck when it comes to family history research: there are so many Murphy’s, Kelly’s, O’Sullivan’s, etc. that is often very difficult to ascertain if a particular person in a genealogical record is your ancestor or just someone else with the same name! Your research will needs extra checks, additional proof, access to more sources, etc. Genealogy.ie is happy to assist.

Walsh

Irish surname meaning "foreigner"; brought to to Ireland after Norman invasion. Most common in counties Mayo and Kilkenny.

Murphy

Anglicized version of Irish personal name name Murchadh, which meant "sea-warrior" or "sea-battler"

O'Sullivan

Gaelic clan based in what is today County Cork and County Kerry. Before Anglo-Norman inviasion in County Tipperary.

O'Brien

Anglicized form of Gaelic Ó Briain 'descendant of Brian', a personal name probably meaning 'eminence' or 'exalted one'.

Kelly

Anglicized form of Gaelic Ó Ceallaigh 'descendant of Ceallach' meaning 'bright-headed'

Byrne

Anglicised from Irish 'Ó'Broin', meaning descendants of Bran, ("raven"). From Kildare, descendants of King of Leinster.

McGowan

Anglicized form of Gaelic Mac Gobhann (Scottish) and Mac Gabhann (Irish) meaning 'son of the smith'.

Ryan

Anglicised from Irish surname Ó Riain meaning "descendant of Rían", meaning "little king"

O'Connor

Anglicized form of Gaelic Ó Conchobhair 'descendant of Conchobhar', meaning 'lover of hounds'.

O'Neill

Anglicization of Gaelic Ua Néill, meaning descendant of Niall. Niall couild mean "cloud", "passionate" or "champion".

 

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