I’m just back from a great Eastern Caribbean Genealogy Cruise, lecturing with Diana and Gary Smith and Dick Eastman. What a great way to relax, visit some wonderful locations, AND get great genealogical information. If you’re interested, next year’s cruise is April 15th-23rd 2018, so put it on your calendar and watch for details.
A number of my consultations this past week were about identifying a place in Ireland from which ancestors had emigrated. In order to be effective in researching in Ireland, you need to know both the place and the timeframe. All records are dependent on those two pieces of information. And, by the way, it’s the same no matter where your ancestors came from…in order to jump the pond you need the locality information. If that information exists, it is most likely in a record in the US or other country where your ancestor settled.
Since the beginning of the year, I discussed Creating a Strong Foundation, Evidence Analysis and Creating a Research Plan, and for the past three weeks, I've discussed Administrative Jurisdictions. Hopefully the blogs of the past few weeks have helped you to understand why the townland of origin is so important for Irish research and help you recognize the information when you come across it in records. This is usually the biggest stumbling block because our ancestors didn’t talk about Ireland. They frequently came from terrible conditions and the goal for them and their children was to be American. Whenever asked, the only answer that seemed to be required was “Ireland.” So where might you find the information?
Begin with any family sources or documents. My family didn’t save anything, so this was a dead end for me. Talk to any older relatives who might remember some family lore (don’t delay on this one...I put this off too long; I had an aunt who died before I had a chance to ask her questions).
For me, cemetery records and obituaries helped put some of the information together. I visited the cemeteries where grandparents, great grandparents, aunts and uncles were buried and took the dates from the headstones. Some headstones from the early to mid 19th century will give the location in Ireland. (If you’re not local, try FindAGrave or Billion Graves.) I then went to the library and looked up obituaries for each of these individuals. In one case, the obituary of a great half-uncle of my husband stated that he was from Mayo. At that time, all I knew about my husband’s grandfather was that he was from Irishtown, but by putting together this information I discovered that he was from the Irishtown in County Mayo. Another obituary provided the married name of a sister of a different grandfather still living (at the time of the obituary) in Westmeath. Sometimes there are bits in different documents that will help narrow down your search. Don’t only research your direct ancestors...the information you’re looking for may have been left by someone else in the family. If you don’t know the siblings of your ancestors, check baptismal or marriage records for the names of sponsors or witnesses.
You may think I’m fixated on death records, but they really can provide the critical information you’re seeking. My strategy when starting research on an individual is to begin with the death records. That would include vital and religious, cemetery, probate and obituaries. Although my family didn’t save much, my mother-in-law had a huge collection of funeral cards (which I caught my sister-in-law trying to throw out). She had them for both friends and family and if a person died and she couldn’t get to the funeral, someone would send a card, including relatives in Ireland. The Irish funeral cards usually contain a picture of the deceased, as well as all of their vital information including location. Initially, I couldn’t make a connection on some of the funeral cards, but additional research has allowed me to now identify some of the people.
When requesting church records (especially Roman Catholic records which are considered private) explain what you’re looking for and request that any information in the register be provided. The Catholic church usually sends a transcript of a baptism or marriage on a pre-printed form and if additional information was in the register with no place for it on the form, you might not get it. Some priests required proof of baptism prior to a marriage and may have made notes in the margins of the register. In one case when requesting information from a church in New York City, I obtained a copy of a letter from the parish priest in Ireland giving names of the parents, the place of baptism and names of the sponsors. This was tucked into the register page with the marriage record. The announcement earlier this year that the Archdiocese of Boston was working with the New England Historic Genealogical Society (AmericanAncestors) and that New York, Philadelphia and Baltimore have agreed to work with FindMyPast to make their registers available is good news indeed!
If your ancestors immigrated before 1891 you will not learn much about them from the manifests, however after 1891 you will get additional information, including the name of the person (relative?) they are joining in the US If they arrived after 1906, you’ll learn the place of their birth, and after 1907, the name of their closest relative in Ireland. Let me encourage you again, to check all family members. The Irish practiced chain migration…sending money back to bring the next relative over…so even if your ancestor immigrated early, you may get the information you’re looking for from a relative who arrived later. Watch census records for nieces, nephews or cousins who appear in the household. Their later immigration and naturalization, may provide the information you’re looking for.
You might also find that your ancestor returned to Ireland at some point. My great grandmother visited Ireland in 1924 and on her return to the US as a citizen (having been naturalized through her husband) her passport number was listed. Don’t neglect to get this important record! Passports were not required until after World War I, however, immigrants who had been naturalized frequently obtained them when traveling abroad. Passport records are available at Ancestry.com.
Like immigration records, naturalizations that occurred after 1906 have a wealth of information. Remember to look for the Declaration of Intent (First papers) as well as the Petition for Naturalization (Second or Final papers). If among your family papers you have the Certificate of Naturalization, it contains the information you need to obtain the earlier documents. The Certificate was given to the new citizen, so if it is not in your family papers, you will not find a copy of it, although the Declaration and Petition may be found. Naturalizations before 1906 could be in any court, so look for court records (dockets) to see if they mention additional information.
These are just some of the sources I’ve used to determine a place of origin. Other sources include, court and probate records, newspaper articles, county histories and biographies, military records, voter records and land records. I can’t overstate the importance of searching ALL family members. I once found the information on the place of origin in Ireland on a collateral line of a client, four generations removed from the immigrant.
My recently published Quick Reference Guide, Preparing for Success in Irish Records Research gives you additional ideas for finding that all important locality.