Irish Family History Specialists

Tag: tracing Irish roots

The National Famine Way

During the Great Famine in Ireland, many people had no choice but to go to workhouses when they ran out of food and money. These workhouses were set up earlier in the 19th century to provide for the poor. But as the Victorians did not believe in charity, people were given all kinds of jobs to do in return for meagre support. Also, families were split, rooms overcrowded and food scarce. They were places to avoid unless you had no other option.

The cost of running the workhouses was borne by those who did have funds: the landlords. When the number of people in the workhouses soared during the famine years, so did the cost. Some landlords found it was cheaper to assist their tenants in emigrating rather than paying towards the cost of the workhouse. And for those offered such assistance, emigration was considered a better option when compared to going into a workhouse.

So it was at the Strokestown estate, now home to the National Famine Museum. 1490 people set out by foot from Roscommon to Dublin for passage to the United States. Many did not make it.

The National Famine Way

The National Famine Way traces the footsteps of these famine emigrants. The trail provides a remarkable and poignant way to engage with their experience. It is a 165km way  walking and cycling trail. It starts at the memorial glass wall at Strokestown Park House and National Famine Museum and finishes at the “The Jeanie Johnston Famine Ship” and EPIC, The Irish Emigration Museum in Dublin’s Docklands.

It brings the walker or cyclist through country lanes, villages, towns and Dublin city mostly along the banks of the Royal Canal. If you choose to do the trail, you can do the entire trail or only sections of it.  The route is marked by over 30 pairs of bronze children’s shoes.

These shoes are modelled on shoes discovered by a local farmer, in the roof of a ruined nineteenth-century cottage. He donated them to the National Famine Museum at Strokestown Park.

According to local folklore, offerings in this manner were made  to invoke good luck.

The shoes symbolise the hope that our 1,490 emigrants had when they  embarked on their journey.  Two thirds of them were children.

Here is a link to the official website of the National Famine Way.



In 2024 the walk was preceded by the Canadian Wake evening event evoking the old tradition of an American wake before emigrants departed. This featured Marita Conlon-McKenna, author of the award-winning famine novel ‘Under the Hawthorn Tree’.

This year the National Famine Way Commemorative Walk took place over six days from Monday 20th to Saturday 25th May 2024. Walkers were joined by schools, traditional musicians, entertainment and costumed enthusiasts. One of those participating was the Irish ambassador to Canada, Eamonn McKee.

The National Famine Way App

As you follow the 165km self-guided trail on foot or by bike, using the National Famine Way app, the stories of these poor and hungry people are brought to life through the character of young Daniel Tighe who walked among them as a 12-year-old boy.

At the height of the Great Famine in 1847, Mary Tighe was left a widow with five children to feed. In a desperate attempt to save her family, she availed of the ‘Assisted Emigration Scheme’ offered by Major Denis Mahon in Strokestown. She succeeded in her mission to save her family, but paid a high price. Mary Tighe, her brother, and three of her children, lost their lives on board the Ship Naomi that sailed from Liverpool to Quebec.

Daniel, aged twelve and his nine-year-old sister, Catherine were the only family members who survived the transatlantic voyage on the Naomi. Daniel himself recounted the horror of watching the bodies of his mother and brothers being thrown overboard and buried at sea.

Taken into the care of the Coulomb family in Lotbiniere,  Quebec, these two small children found themselves on a 168 acre farm, a world away from a half acre in Lisonuffy and a world away from everything they had ever known or loved.

Walkers can also purchase an official passport to get stamped along the route.

Education Pack

Suitable for 8+ years, curriculum supportive of History, Sese, Arts, Pe and Ethics.

You can download it here.

New City Pictorial Directory

Most Irish family history researchers will be familiar with Thom’s Directories. In 1850, Henry Shaw tried to launch a competing publication, the New City Pictorial Directory. It was not a commercial success, and the 1850 edition was destined to be the only one. It provides a unique insight of the city in 1850 though because – as the title suggests – it was pictorial.

Henry Shaw had established himself as a newspaper publisher in 1848. He was not the only one to do so; thanks to technical advances of printing technology, a lot of newspapers were established in the nineteenth century. Many would only exist for a short time. Shaw’s The Commercial Journal and Family Herald existed from 1848 to 1872. The newspaper appears to have been off to a good start, claiming 9,000 subscribers (according to Shaw).

In 1850, as mentioned above, he published a city directory. This was possibly to expand his publishing business, or perhaps to promote his newspaper as subscribers to the full edition (there was a cheaper single sheet edition) received a free copy of the directory.

The directory contained:

  • Review of 1849
  • Calendar of 1850 events
  • List of government departments
  • Banking directory
  • Law directory
  • Street directory
  • Alphabetical list of nobility, gentry, merchants and traders

The unique part of the directory were the drawings. It displays many beautiful engravings of street frontages. Being a commercial publication however, many residential areas did not get such treatment and only those businesses who took out an advertisement received a detailed drawing of their premises, as opposed to just an outline. All main streets were included. But also, in some cases, smaller streets, if a business in such street would have taken out an ad. If this was not the case, no pictorial view of these smaller streets would be included.

If your ancestors owned a business in the city of Dublin in 1850, you might be lucky and a drawing of their premises might exist.

The National Library of Ireland and Marsh’s Library have a copy in their holdings. We have also seen second hand copies being offered on various websites. Articles was established in 2017 and in addition to research for our clients, we have been creating various content such as articles, posts, magazines, videos and news items right from the start. If you follow us on Facebook, Instagram or X (formerly Twitter), you will have seen our short messages about Ireland, genealogy, local history and more. Some are educational, some are informative, whilst others are just meant to entertain. Our magazine and blog offer short articles. We release the magazine twice a year, and in between, we publish blogs. You may subscribe to receive notifications for either of them. Almost 600 of you have already done so!

We also write longer articles that require extensive research. Typically, we write one article per year that we share with a specific publication. Our work has been featured in various family and local history magazines and journals, both in Ireland and North America.

Of course, a new article would always be the topic of a blog, and as a subscriber you would have been notified. But if you haven’t been a subscriber from the beginning, or you are just reading this blog post, did you know you can access all articles we have published via our website? You can download the articles we published until 2020 free from our website. After 2020 our policy changed: to support the publishing organisations, we provide links to their websites where you can purchase the magazine or journal where we are featured.

If you find yourself with some time on your hands during the upcoming Christmas break, why not have a look by clicking on the picture below? The very first article mentioned on the page is brand new, it was only published in November 2023.

Enjoy, and have a great Christmas and a fantastic 2024.

The team.

Accredited Genealogists Ireland

Since 1986, Accredited Genealogists Ireland (AGI) is an accrediting and representative body for professional genealogists in Ireland.

The role of the AGI is twofold:
1. Representing the interests of people who are professionally employed in the field of genealogy.
2. Monitoring the standard of their work on behalf of their clients.

Anyone wishing to become a member, must be a professional genealogist, living and working on the island of Ireland, research Irish sources and cannot be full-time employed outside the field of genealogy.

There is a strict process to become a member. The first step is to become an affiliate. This involves an application outlining the number of years active in genealogical research for a fee; research experience, experience in related fields, and courses attended. It should be noted that experience is a requirement; but courses are not. In addition, the applicant should submit a dissertation or essay of approximately 1,000 words to demonstrate their knowledge, ability and communication skills

The next step is to become a full member. Admission to membership is based on the recommendations of an independent Board of Assessors. This board will assess work completed by the applicant for a fee-paying client. If successful, the genealogist will be allowed to display the AGI membership badge as a credential of their professionalism and quality of work.

I am happy to report that my submission was successful and that I am now a fully accredited genealogist!

Book of Icelanders

Íslendingabók means “Book of Icelanders”. It is the title of a book, but in this post, we mean an online database created by the biotechnology company deCODE in Iceland. The aim of this Reykjavik-based company is to use population genetics studies to identify variations in the human genome associated with common diseases. So the purpose was medical. A large number of Icelanders participated in their research.

In 2003 the database the company had created was made available online but with limitations on who can see what. It very quickly became a very important genealogical database for Icelanders. To get access you must get a password, which you can only get if you have an Icelandic social security number. Users can see information on themselves, as well as all their ancestors, plus all descendants of their grandparents and great-grandparents. They can also see how they are related to anyone born after 1700 in Iceland.

The following information is available in the database:

  • Names, birth and death dates, and places of parents
  • Names, birth and death dates, and places of siblings
  • Names, birth and death dates, and places of partners
  • Names, birth and death dates, and places of children

In February 2020 the database held data on 904,000 people. The current population of Iceland is only around 400,000 and it is estimated that only about 1.8 million people ever lived on the island, since its settlement in the 9th Century. It holds information on 95% of all people born in Iceland since 1700!

The wide scope of people that users can see information on, meant that sometimes people found family members they did not know existed. Sometimes, that was a family secret or something that people had tried to hide. So not everyone was delighted with this resource!

Apart from family history research, the database also helps people check potential partners: Iceland has a very small population on a relatively remote island (at least it was before airplanes became widely used). And that means that many Icelanders are (closely) related to each other.

Christmas in Ireland

In Gaelic (Irish language), Christmas is “’Nollaig’” and Happy/Merry Christmas is ‘Nollaig Shona Dhuit’.

Christmas is celebrated in a big way in Ireland, with a large part of the country shutting down between Christmas Eve and New Year’s Day. It used to be even longer in days past: it was celebrated by Catholics until the Feast of Epiphany, sometimes called “Little Christmas” or “Women’s Christmas”, on 6th January!

Long before there were Black Fridays, Ireland had its own version for a while: in the second half of the last century, on the 8th of December, the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, people from all over the country would descend on Dublin for their Christmas shopping. With the spread of shopping centres around the county and the rise of e-commerce, this relatively modern tradition has however mostly died out.

In those days, the 8th also used to be the day that people started decorating their houses. Nowadays, some people start in November, while longer ago houses weren’t decorated until Christmas Eve.

Returning to modern days, in the run-up to Christmas children often go to “Pantos”, a shortening of Pantomine. They are a kind of musical comedy, performed on many stages and in theatres.
Christmas Eve is the day that traditionally people in Ireland use to travel to their families. There are still quite a few people who will put a candle in the window. This was originally done to welcome Mary and Joseph. Former President Robinson placed a candle in the window of the Áras an Uachtaráin – the official residence of the President of Ireland – to remember the Irish diaspora. But we are sure arriving family members appreciate it as well after an often long journey to celebrate Christmas with the family.

Christmas Masses used to be at midnight on Christmas Eve. Thankfully mass times nowadays are a bit more accommodating.

Some people, and we really mean some, partake in a swim in the sea on Christmas morning. As you can imagine, this is a pretty cold affair. It is mostly done for charity, but also for fun and to keep up the tradition.

On the 25th, people sit down with their families for the Christmas meal, usually starting late afternoon. For many it is not a Christmas dinner without turkey and cooked ham, preferably with carrots, brussels sprouts, and of course mashed potatoes and roasties. And for dessert a Christmas Pudding and/or rich Christmas Cake. In some areas, Cork for example, a portion of spiced beef is also a must. Often the turkey and ham leftovers are still being eaten cold on sandwiches for several days afterwards!

The day after Christmas is called “St. Stephen’s Day” and is an important day in the horse racing calendar. Those not attending, mostly use the day for relaxing.

Less widely celebrated now, but very popular in the past was the “Wren Boys Procession/Wren’s Day/Hunt of the Wren”. A wren is a small bird. If still celebrated now, a fake is used, but in the past, it was a real bird that was hunted, killed, and put on top of a pole or bush and paraded around, with the participants dressed up in all manner of costumes. Whilst going from house to house a song was sung:

The wren, the wren, the king of all birds
St Stephen’s Day was caught in the furze
Her clothes were all torn – her shoes were all worn
Up with the kettle and down with the pan
Give us a penny to bury the “wren”
If you haven’t a penny, a halfpenny will do
If you haven’t a halfpenny, God bless you!

This would later develop in carollers going from door to door, but that has now mostly stopped as well. But you will still hear carollers in shopping streets and centers, still collecting money. But as it is now for charity, hopefully, they get more than pennies.

The end of the Christmas celebrations was traditionally, as mentioned, on 6th January. It was called “Women’s Christmas” because that day the men are supposed to do the work in and around the house, giving the women a chance to meet and chat. In recent years, this tradition has had a bit of a revival with women meeting up for lunches, etc. on this day.

Jillian van Turnhout Guest Speaker at University of Toronto

Our Jillian van Turnhout has been invited to speak to the students of St. Michael’s College (which is part of the University of Toronto in Canada) as part of their Celtic Studies Speakers Series.

Who is your inspiration?

Before starting, I looked into my own family history for many years. During this research, I “discovered” an ancestor, who has since become one of my big inspirations: my Great Aunt Kathleen Hassett (born 7 February 1897, Limerick, Ireland; died 6 July 1985, Manchester, England).

In 1909, at age 12, Kathleen and her family moved back to the ancestral home in Knockanean, Co. Clare. At this time it was a very small house on a rural and hilly farm. She went to school here and in 1914 she achieved a first in Irish in her middle Intermediate Certificate. This earned her a scholarship, and from September 1915, Kathleen attended university at UCD (University College Dublin).

This university was founded in 1854 as a Catholic university by cardinal (now saint) John Henry Newman. It was located at St. Stephen’s Green, where three buildings, previously the homes of wealthy Dubliners, where purchased and converted. The university moved to the suburbs in the 1960s, but the original buildings are still owned by the institute and now house MoLi – the Museum of Literature Ireland.

Newman House, orginal home of UCD

Kathleen’s lecturers included Thomas MacDonagh (later one of the seven leaders of the Easter rising), Dr. Douglas Hyde (who would become the first President of Ireland), Mary Kate Ryan (who later married Sean T. O’Kelly, the second President), and Maurice Hayes (a top civil servant who would play a key role in bringing peace to Northern Ireland). And she bought her daily newspaper from Thomas Clarke, who would also be a leader of the Easter Rising.

In March of 1916, Proinnsias Ó Súilleabháin (a teacher and famous Irish language activist) got very interested in her plans for the Easter holiday period and encouraged her to go home to Clare for the break. Kathleen said she preferred to stay to study for her exams which were due to start on 3 June. As a result of this, she was an eyewitness to the events of Easter 1916 in Dublin.

Extract from Kathleen Hassett’s memoirs:

“Easter Sunday came and went, and Easter Monday was bright and clear. As we were taking our places in the dining-room, two fellow-boarders came in with sensational news – they had been going into the General Post Office in O’Connell Street when glass from the windows shattered and fell around them, and armed men began herding customers and counter hands into the street.”

Here is a link to a group of 1916-related postcards collected by my Great Aunt Ka. I organised for them to be donated to the Ephemera Collection of the National Library of Ireland.

US 1950 Census Records Released

The 1950 census records were released by the U.S. National Archives on April 1, 2022.

The official National Archives website provides full access to the 1950 census images, including population schedules, enumeration district maps, and enumeration district descriptions.

The collection contains:

  • Approximately 6.57 million population schedules
  • 33,360 Indian Reservation schedules
  • 9,634 enumeration district maps images
  • 234,447 enumeration district descriptions

You can explore the records by State, County/City, Name, Reservation, and Enumeration District.

Click the button below to start searching:

US 1950 Census

Here is an 8-year-old Robert A. Zimmerman. He would later change his name to Bob Dylan.

Who will you find? published in “Irish Family History Journal” – 2021

The Irish Family History Society (IFHS) is a voluntary non-profit making organisation, established in 1984. It is based in Ireland, but open to anyone who is interested in looking to trace their Irish roots, wherever in the world they are based. Every year the Society brings out a journal, full of informative articles. In Volume 37, our Michael van Turnhout contributed an article.

The article is about “Massy’s Estate and Killakee House”. Massy’s Estate is now an “urban forest”, but once was the location of a 36-room mansion with lavish gardens. The article traces its history and the histories of the various families associated with it, including successful businessmen, politicians, and nobility. And it even contains a murder!

You can buy a copy of the journal directly from the Irish Family History Society, via their online shop. The link below brings you to their website.

IFHS Online Shop


Jillian van Turnhout, Member of AGI

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