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Irish Genealogy:  Sources for Irish Origins

P Spratt-Mass Card

Funeral Card for Patrick Spratt of
Buttevant, Co. Cork, Ireland 

Hopefully the blogs of the past few weeks have helped you to understand why the townland of origin is so important for Irish research.  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.)  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.  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 (see the example above).  

When requesting church records (especially Roman Catholic which are private records) 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 there was additional information, but 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 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.

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 U.S.  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.   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. 

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 can be found.

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.

Happy Hunting!



© Donna M. Moughty 2007- 2013