I ended last week’s blog with a comment about the importance of searching ALL of the family members. Elizabeth Shown Mills’ principle of identifying your ancestor’s FAN club (friends, associates and neighbors) can be key in solving your brick wall of a location in Ireland. In her QuickLesson 11: Identity Problems & the FAN Principle she uses the example of identifying an unknown female through her husband’s FAN club.1 The same principles can be applied to finding the origins of your Irish ancestor through their FAN club. (Check out Elizabeth’s Historical Biographer’s Guide to Cluster Research (The FAN Principle): Quicksheet (Evidence).
Many have searched for years for the elusive place of origin without success. I hear constantly “I’ve searched everywhere for my ancestor’s place of birth.” Sometimes when I ask about siblings or parents I get a blank look and a response of “I don’t know who they are.” Maybe it’s time to change the research question. Instead of “Where was my ancestor born in Ireland?” maybe the question should be “Who are the parents and siblings of my ancestor?” One place to start looking for this information is in church records. Yes, I know they are not online…not everything is, and sometimes you need to write to, or visit the location where your ancestor lived. Was this their original place of settlement in the US or did they migrate from another area? Work your way back. Were they married in Ireland or in the US? Have you identified the witnesses to the marriage and the sponsors for their children’s baptisms? Who were those people? Research them as if they were your own ancestor. Witnesses and sponsors tend to be a family member or close friend (possibly from the same place in Ireland). A surname you don’t recognize could be the sister of your ancestor.
Once you find a sibling or other relative, research them thoroughly. I’ve written a couple of times about only knowing that my husband’s grandfather, Michael Daly came from Irishtown (26 “official” Irishtowns in 12 counties). It wasn’t until I found the obituary of his half brother that I learned that the family was from County Mayo. It also turned out that Irishtown was not an official name in Mayo. It was through an interview with an aunt that I got another piece of the puzzle, Crimlon (which turned to be Crumlin) and was able to identify the correct Daly family.
Have you found your ancestor in every census for which they were living? In the earliest one, who were their neighbors? Were any of them born in Ireland? Are there any other people in the neighborhood with the same surname? Yes, research them! Your ancestor didn’t throw a dart at a map when he decided to emigrate…he went to a place where he knew someone. Always watch for people with the same or even a different surname who appear living in the household of your ancestor. The Irish (in particular after the Famine) practiced chain migration…one person would emigrate and send money home to bring the next person. Was it a cousin, a nephew or niece who emigrated later? They likely came from the same general area. Immigration records after 1892 and naturalization records after 1906 are typically have the name of a place in Ireland (could be the parish, townland or Poor Law Union). Again, research those people as if they were your ancestor.
For those of you who had very early immigrants, those who arrived in the 1700 and early 1800s pay special attention to the methodology that Elizabeth demonstrates. You should look for the FAN club of your ancestor, then look at the people who lived around them. Unlike the later Irish, the early, typically Scots-Irish immigrants tended to travel in groups.
1 Elizabeth Shown Mills, “QuickLesson 11: Identity Problems & the FAN Principle,” Evidence Explained: Historical Analysis, Citation & Source Usage (https://www.evidenceexplained.com/content/quicklesson-11-identity-problems-fan-principle : 12 Mar 2017).