Whilst carrying out family history research, we all encounter brick walls. One particularly stubborn one that I revisit every few years is the question of who the parents of my Great Grandfather Michael Foley were.
As I am a professional genealogist, you would think I would have my own family tree done. But take it from me, you are never finished. That is why I always keep an eye on new records becoming available. I got a flutter when I heard new records of the parish where my great grandparents hailed form had become available. I couldn’t resist and immediately looked… but first, let me give you the background story.
When I started working on my family tree, I quickly found the marriage certificate of my Grandfather, Michael Foley to Julia Cronin on 23 April 1898. The certificate informed me that Michael Foley was a teacher living in Cromane, Killorglin, County Kerry, and that his late father, John Foley, was a farmer. As a child, I spent many a happy summer holiday in Cromane in the former home of my Grandmother and my Great Grandparents.
To put a face to the name in this story, Michael Foley is on the left in the photograph, he is the man with the fantastic moustache. I can only imagine the scene, my Grandfather John Francis Hassett took a photo of his wife, his then five children, and her parents. My father, Michael Hassett, is the child sitting in the centre on his Grandmother’s lap. It took me some time to realise it was my Dad as I saw a ‘child in a dress’. I soon learned it was not unusual for young boys at the time, around 1940, to be dressed in this way.
This photo is very special to me as by 1945, both of my Great Grandparents Michael Foley and Julia Cronin, and my Grandparents John Francis Hassett and Mary Foley had all died. And this is one of the few pictures I have of them.
Since my childhood, I have always known my Great Grandfather was a school teacher and was the first ‘Master’ in Cromane near Killorglin. Through family history research, I established that Master Foley was the first headmaster of the newly built school in Cromane in 1886. I have visited the site of the old school and, with sincerest thanks to the current headmaster, I have been able to view and take photographs of the old school registers.
I discovered that his grandchildren, including my father, regularly came from their then home in Cork for a long summer to Cromane. They would arrive around March and leave around October – thus enrolling in school for a few months and then returning to school in Cork. On occasion, they would even spend a full year in Cromane living with their grandparents.
I visited the Killorglin library and read an article from the 1980s published in a local history publication entitled “COIS LEAMNTHA”. A local oral historian had interviewed William Griffin, who was born in Cromane Upper in about 1894 and attended the school in the late 1890s / early 1900s.
From other information available to me, I know Michael Foley taught at Cromane National Boys School from 1886 to 1918, when Stephen Coffey succeeded him as Head.
Michael Foley had four children: Helen Maria Foley (1900 to 1980), John Laurence Foley (1904 to 1933), Mary Catherine Foley (1904 to 1944), and Catherine Mary Foley (1907 to 1909).
Helen Maria Foley was my Godmother and I was very lucky to have her in my early life. She encouraged me to explore the world. I didn’t realise until I started working on my family history that she had been a customs officer and that that was the reason why she was so informed about countries around the globe, bringing to life in her bedtime stories their sights and smells.
Mary Catherine Foley was my Grandmother. She sadly died when my father was only eight.
John Laurence Foley was also a customs officer and died at the young age of 29 of TB, still very common in those days. The write-ups in the newspaper articles I found were very moving.
It was only when I visited the cemetery where my family was buried, in Killorglin, I found evidence of a fourth child, Catherine Mary Foley, who died at age two.
However, despite finding all of this information, I could never find out more about my Great Grandfather John Foley. From the wedding certificate of his son Michael Foley in 1898 I could see he had been a farmer and had died before his son married. I searched all deaths of all John Foleys before 1898 in the area (and wider area) in the records available but without success. My search was made more complicated, because, at that stage, I didn’t even know if my Grandfather Master Michael Foley was born in the area. I only knew that in 1886 he was the first schoolmaster. Also, Foley is not an uncommon name in the area.
Through a newspaper article on the death Michael Foley’s son, John Laurence, in 1933, I was able to confirm that Michael Foley had a sister: the newspaper article listed the mourners and this list included an Aunt Joanna Conway. She married a Francis Conway. Joanna Foley was also a school teacher. This information would prove to be important, as you will see later.
Then, a few years ago, the National Archives shared a gem of record set: the ‘List of Teachers Employed by the Commissioners of National Education on 31 March 1905’ went online. With this list, I was able to establish the month and year my Grandfather was born and where he went to primary and secondary school. I now knew he did grow up in the area. I doubled down and tried DNA, but it didn’t open any obvious doors. The wall seemed to be getting higher.
Every year, I would dip in again and see if any new information would become available. And it finally paid off when I looked at the new parish records mentioned at the start of this article. The 1898 Marriage register of my Grandparents Michael Foley and Julia Cronin had the names of the father and the mother of each of my Grandparents. The parents of Michael Foley are John Foley and Ellen Murphy. My great-grandmother’s name was there right in front of me. It almost seemed too easy. I admit to doing a little dance.
And if any more proof was needed, I also found the baptism record of Joanna Foley with her parents John Foley and Ellen Murphy, and the dates matched.
Next, I looked for the marriage of John Foley and Ellen Murphy and found a transcription on RootsIreland of the marriage of John Foley and Ellen Murphy on 2 March 1840 in Killarney, County Kerry. The transcription stated John Foley lived at Coolcorcoran, near Killarney. The witnesses were Timothy Murphy and David Foley.
So, I then searched land records available for Coolcorcoran and could find that a Timothy Murphy was a tenant and could find baptism records for an Ellen Murphy and her siblings and a marriage record in 1803 for Timothy Murphy and Hannah Sullivan.
However, there was no sign of any Foley’s living at Coolcorcoran. As a genealogist, I was of course now itching to see the original marriage register. On Ancestry.com, I found the original page on the register from Killarney Parish Register. And as you can see, it was Ellen Murphy who was from Coolcorcoran.
In a short few hours, I was now back two further generations. And have many new doors open to examine and explore. I wish you equal success with your brick walls.
At Genealogy.ie we love when we come across the work of previous genealogists. In this regard, we hail Dr. Francis Crosslé and his son Philip Crosslé (1875-1953) who created the Crosslé Genealogical abstracts in the 19th century. Their work is now available online, and for one of our clients, it helped us break through a brick wall.
The Crosslé Genealogical abstracts are a miscellaneous collection of more than 657,000 detailed abstracts dates from 1620 to 1804. Many records are transcriptions from prerogative wills subsequently destroyed in the fire at the Public Record Office in Dublin in 1922. Crosslé also provides a wealth of material for those tracing military ancestors, including yearly Army returns from 1767 to 1816. A large proportion of the material comes from the Northwest of Ireland.
In the Crosslé Genealogical abstracts, we came across this great quote from Philip Crosslé when he was writing to a potential client:
“The fees for search and matching of abstracts of records are 3/ per hour, but when one is experienced a good deal may be done in a short time”.
In the past year, we have seen an increasing number of records becoming available online. If you have a brick wall, perhaps the time is now to relook at the information you know and to see if there are any new resources to help you find out more about your ancestor.
If you need help to find out more about an ancestor, explore a line on your family tree, or build your family tree, contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can check out our customer testimonials on our website:
As the Covid19 pandemic continues, why not take some time to interview your older relatives or answer these questions yourself to leave for future generations? While you may not be able to be physically together, you could phone or use online software to meet your relative? Take the time over the coming weeks to share and engage?
Remember, this should be a conversation and not a memory test; here are some suggestions for conversation starters. It is best to keep your questions as open-ended as possible and to let the interview flow naturally.
1. What is your full name? Do you know why that name was selected for you?
2. Where and when were you born?
3. Where did you live growing up?
4. Were there other family members in the area? Who?
5. Who’s the oldest relative you remember (and what do you remember about him or her)?
6. Were there any special items in the house that you remember?
7. What was your favourite thing to do for fun (playing ball, going to the movies, etc.)?
8. What is your earliest childhood memory?
9. Describe the personalities of your family members.
10. Were you ever mentioned in a newspaper?
11. How were holidays (birthdays, Christmas, etc.) celebrated in your family? Did your family have special traditions?
12. Describe a typical family dinner. Did you all eat together as a family? Who did the cooking? What were your favourite foods?
13. Are there any special heirlooms, photos, bibles, or other memorabilia that have been passed down in your family?
14. What stories have come down to you about your parents? Grandparents? More distant ancestors?
15. What did your family enjoy doing together?
16. What was your profession and how did you choose it?
17. Of all the things you learned from your parents, what do you feel was the most valuable?
18. What accomplishments are you most proud of?
19. What is the one thing you most want people to remember about you?
20. What haven’t we talked about that you would like to discuss in the time we have left?
Ensure you record (with permission) or transcribe your notes afterwards to keep an accurate record of this rich and valuable information you have gathered.
The oldest possible epidemic in Ireland dates back to the sixth century. We actually don’t know if there was an epidemic – it is believed there was one because many monasteries were founded in the sixth century. The thinking is that a plague epidemic caused a rise in religious fervour. Unlike Covid-19, which is a virus, the plague is caused by bacteria. The bacteria are spread by fleas.
We know there was an epidemic, known as the yellow plague, active in Ireland from 664 to 668 and again from 683 to 684. The second one was especially deadly for children, as a lot of adults had gained immunity during the first outbreak.
It wasn’t just plagues. We have descriptions of outbreaks of fever in Ireland since the 12th century. Fever would be endemic in Ireland, with the disease still around in the 19th century.
In the mid-fourteenth century, it was again the plague which wreaked havoc. This would be the most famous outbreak of the disease. It is thought that the “Black Death” as it was called, killed 30-60% of the European population. During the outbreak, it was believed rats were spreading the disease (bacteria were still unknown). This led to rats being hunted down and killed in great numbers. Causing the fleas that were living on the rats to spread and infect even more people! There were further outbreaks of this terrible pestilence until the early eighteenth century.
Another disease that is spread by lice is typhus. During the Famine, hunger was already having a devastating impact on many of the poor. They often had to leave their homestead, expelled by landlords for not paying rent or leaving to find food. In the hospitals, workhouses and on the ships to North America they huddled together for warmth and lack of space. This formed ideal circumstances for the spread of lice and with them the disease. It started in 1846 in the West of Ireland. It reached Ulster in the winter of that year. It is thought 20% of people in Belfast were infected. Although widespread among the poor, still more prevalent was the aforementioned fever, which also became epidemic during the famine. Interestingly it was among the higher social classes that typhus – more deadly than fever, mortality if untreated can be as high as 60% – was more widespread. It is thought it was contracted by those exposed to the disease (clergymen, doctors, member of relief committees) and then spread to their families, etc.
The famine was accompanied by several other diseases such as dysentery and smallpox. Like fever, these had also long been endemic in Ireland but swept the country epidemically during these years. And then in 1848-1849 Asiatic cholera became pandemic.
Dysentery is spread by flies, by direct contact, or by pollution of the water by faeces infected with the bacteria. Like typhus, it became widespread in Ireland during the terrible winter of 1846-47. It was especially the area of West Cork that was badly affected.
Smallpox is no longer active thankfully. Like COVID it is a viral disease transmitted by airborne droplets. Attacks would last for approximately 6 weeks and would work its way through a family. So, it would often afflict families for months. This would often mean even more poverty for already impoverished people, as they lost their earning power for a prolonged period.
Even in the 20th century, Ireland has had epidemics. Tuberculosis was one. Its common name was consumption as the patient was “consumed” by weight loss and breathlessness. According to research by the Irish Red Cross Journal, 12,000 young Irish adults died of TB in 1904. Mortality remained high in the 1920s and 1930s, especially among children. Despite years of non-stop efforts, it was not until the 1950s that TB started to decline and only by the 1970s it had all but vanished from our shores.
Another one was polio. This is again a viral disease, spread through person-to-person or faecal-oral contact. Its mortality is between 5 and 10%, but in some outbreaks mortality of over 25% has been reported. Unlike COVID, it especially affects children under 5. There is no cure but can be prevented with vaccines. In Ireland, vaccines were introduced in 1957, after several bad outbreaks. Ireland had its first registered epidemic of this disease in 1942. There were further waves in 1947, 1950 and 1953 and in 1956 in Cork. Advice from authorities might sound familiar: closure of swimming pools and schools, advice on handwashing and on general hygiene, warnings against unnecessary travel into or out of communities where the disease was prevalent. And for the vulnerable, in this case, children, to avoid crowded places and gatherings of other children. Circus, swimming and tennis tournaments and GAA activities were either postponed or abandoned. Social and commercial life was badly affected. The epidemic was over around May 1957. It was not completely gone but had returned to “normal” levels.
Like the rest of the world, Ireland is now suffering from the outbreak of the COVID 19 pandemic. The whole country now sees restrictions even more severe than those in Cork in 1956. History shows the importance of adhering to these restrictions: many epidemics/pandemics have seen several waves and high levels of mortality, esp. among the vulnerable. By social distancing, working from home, not having large gatherings, festivals, etc. we should be able to minimise the impact. And nowadays many can work from home and we can stay into contact via social media. So there are no excuses. And the good news: many vaccines have been developed and most of the diseases mentioned have been eradicated or their prevalence has been drastically reduced.
Stay safe, stay healthy, stay firm!
The third and final installment of our posts on genealogical resources.
If you are researching the period before civil registration started, your only source is the Parish registers. You do need to know in what County and Parish your ancestor(s) lived. If you don’t know, a good starting point is to look at where your family lived in the Census, as a lot of families would continue to live in a Parish for many generations.
Most Parish Registers only started round 1830, and for many counties even decades later. Also, over time, many have been lost. You should also consider that errors – both in the original entry and in transcription – are not uncommon. Names were also often misspelled: priests would write down what they thought the name was and many of the parishioners could not check it as many could not read or write.
The three main sources for the Parish records are:
The second of three posts on Irish genealogy resources: the Civil registrations of Irish births, marriages, and deaths. This was started in 1864, although Non-Catholic marriages were registered from 1845. If you are looking for records from before these dates, you will have to rely on the Parish records, of which more in our third post. You should also be aware that a significant portion of births, marriage, and even deaths were never registered and thus go unrecorded.
The main resources for these records are the following two free databases:
We recommend you search BOTH databases, because they are not identical.
On Irish Genealogy you will find the indexes for
The index often contain a link to the original registration, which you can download for free. But if not, the record will need to be ordered. If you require help with obtaining a record, please feel free to contact us.
When searching, be aware that you might have to try different variations and spellings of the names you are looking for. Also, you will be asked for the “Registration District”. There were usually 3 to 6 registration districts in each county, and some districts crossed county borders. If you don’t know, it can be quite a puzzle to find out. Again, we would be happy to help. Finally, be aware that people were not always born, married or died in the same area they lived in.
Family Search, Ancestry (paid) and FindMyPast (paid) also offer Irish civil registration indexes up to 1958 (excluding records from Northern Ireland after 1922). However these are indexes only, and it often hard to be sure that you are looking at “your” ancestor or someone else’s.
For Northern Ireland after 1922 you will need to go to GRONI This contains the records for births over 100 years old, marriages over 75 years and deaths over 50 years. You can search and view the original registrations for this period but you do need to sign up and purchase credits to undertake a search.
This is the first in a series of posts to help you discover your Irish roots. This first installment you will probably be familiar with, but we hope our tips might still be useful.
This should really be your first port of call for your research into your Irish roots. Unfortunately, during the Civil War which followed the War of Independence most censuses were destroyed. Only the 1901 and 19011 remain, although there is a list at the National Archives from people who applied for a copy of their entry in the 1841 or 1851 Census to prove that they were old enough to claim a pension when this was introduced.
The 1901/1911 censuses contain:
Both can be searched free online. The surname requires exact spelling so you might try a number of variations, and I have seen cases of misspelling which makes it very hard to find someone. You should also note that ages can be wrong; these were often estimated, or people lied about their age to be older (for a job or pension entitlements) or younger. Unless you are lucky enough to have a very uncommon surname, you will need a townland as well. Alternatively, you might consider searching for a townland and review all occupants. It is possible to refine the search with additional data, but unless you are very sure about your information, it is best to start wide and narrow it down until you get a reasonable number of records. These you review record by record. Make sure to tick the “Show All Information” box. The database contains both a transcription and images of the original census form. The latter also contains a description of the buildings occupied by the household (Form B1).
As you will have noted, it is important to know the townland where your ancestors lived to search the census. The townland is the smallest unit of administration and often only contains a small number of families. Above the townland sits the civil Parish (not to be confused with the ecclesiastical parishes, which were entirely separate). Next up were Baronies and finally Counties. Confusingly in the Census you will also find the DED (District Electoral Division) which was for the administration of the vote. If you don’t know the townland, you might consider asking us for help.
As we approach the Christmas season, we urge you to try and make time to share memories with your family, look at old photos to see if you can uncover any new gems. We take this opportunity to look back to Christmas in Ireland over 100 years ago. Christmas was simpler, but like today, it was also a family affair. We found this gem in a family memoir box, written by Kathleen Hassett in the early 1980s. Her childhood was spent on a small rural farm Knockanean, near Ennis, Co. Clare, Ireland. The pictures show her as a girl and later in life.
Christmas in the 1900s, Kathleen Hassett (1897 to 1985)
I was born in the last few years of the reign of Queen Victoria, so I can say something of Christmas before the First, or Great War. It was a holy day rather than a holiday, but that did not mean we all wore long faces. Schools closed for almost a fortnight, as it does today; that in itself was a holiday; through as always had little tasks to perform – washing up, wiping up, dusting, shopping etc.
Each Christmas season the local grocer gave us a “Christmas Box” of a quarter stone of sugar, 1lb.tea, 1lb. each of currants, raisins and sultanas, and perhaps even half lb. of candied peel. Though the actual goods and the amounts varied from one business to another, the custom of giving Christmas boxes to customers was general, but it came to an end due to rationing during the 1914-18 war and was never renewed.
By Christmas Eve, we were excited – Father Christmas or Santa Claus would come during the night, but we had to be asleep. We hung up a stocking borrowed from an adult or used a pillowcase. We slept soundly and awoke bright and early to see what the great man had brought us. The toe of the stocking was usually filled with sweets, and an apple and an orange took up more room.
Each little girl got a doll usually beautifully dressed; my younger sister, born in 1908, was the first in the family to have a Teddy Bear from Father Christmas. Little boys usually got a game or a ball. Father Christmas was a wise man – if we had a doll, we did not usually get another. Dolly perhaps got a dolls house, or a tea-set, or some doll’s furniture. As we grew older, our gifts also grew older – we got a sewing-set or a book, which we found exciting.
Soon it was time to get washed and dressed and go to Church. The highlight of Christmas morning was to see the Crib where the Holy Child lay sleeping.
Dinner time brought fresh excitement, especially when the Christmas pudding appeared. We had all had to stir it, and we knew that silver 3d pieces and 6s pieces were there, and if one found a silver coin in your portion, you would have a year of good luck. Afterwards, we played games, or read until tea-time after which we were advised to get to bed early to sleep off the excitement of the great day.
At Genealogy.ie, we wish we could give each of you a big hug and hope this article will act as a virtual hug. We would like to wish all of our customers and friends a very Happy Christmas and a Peaceful New Year.
PS: If you are really stuck for a Christmas present, you might consider giving a Genealogy.ie. voucher. Contact us for more information.
The Kilmacud Stillorgan Historical Society has been publishing its annual journal, Obelisk, for 13 years. Since 2016 – for 4 years now – Genealogy.ie’s Michael van Turnhout has been contributing an article to it.
These articles are about local history, rather than family history. However, we believe local history is important to get a better understanding of the society your ancestors lived in. In this case, it gives you a picture of what kind of school your mid-nineteenth Irish ancestor would have gone to.
St. Mary’s National School, Sandyford, Dublin, Ireland
On our page dedicated to the growing list of articles that we have contributed to magazines and journals – including the respected Irish Family History Journal of the Irish Family History Society and North American Magazine Your Genealogy Today you will be able to download our article and follow a link to the Society’s website, if you are interested in purchasing a copy of the journal.
You can visit this page by following this link:
“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:
However, there is also plenty that survived:
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:
And if you do hit the famous brick wall, please feel free to Contact Us