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Using US Records to Find the Place of Origin

   We all know that US Census records only give the birthplace of our Irish ancestors as Ireland…or do they?  Sometimes you might get lucky and get the name of the county.   I came across this record for Abraham Crater in the 1870 census in Pennsylvania with the place of birth as Donegaul [sic], Ireland. 


    It got me to thinking about how frequently there might be more information, so I did a search on “Donegal, Ireland” and came up with a number of hits.  Without selecting “Exact” I also had hits for Tyrone, Belfast, Derry and most other counties.  I then put in Cork and made it “Exact” and got a few hundred hits.  The results were not in one location, they were all over, so it wasn’t just one census taker.  

   Perhaps you haven’t found this on your relatives, but it’s one reason that it is important to search in every census for which you had family living.  Don’t limit your search just to your direct ancestor, because maybe a sibling, cousin, niece, nephew, aunt or uncle left the information.  

   Another way to use census records is to identify other individuals in the household.  The Irish frequently practiced chain migration, with one individual emigrating, then sending money back to bring the next family member over.  Here’s an example of a 1900 Census record for Michael Owens.  

Michael was born in 1848, prior to Civil Registration, and emigrated in 1873 when manifests listed only name, age, sex, occupation and Ireland as the country.   But the last person listed in the household is Bridget Baxter, identified as a cousin of Michael Owens, who emigrated in 1898 and was born in 1880, after Civil Registration.  Chances are, she is from the same area as Michael.  So let’s look at her records.


Her emigration (from states she is from Ballyconnell.  There is also a civil registration for a Bridget Baxter in the Registration District of Cavan (from 

Checking for Ballyconnell in Cavan in the Index of Townlands confirms the location.

Now we have a possible location to look for church records…the civil parish of Tomregan which converts to the Roman Catholic Parish of Kildallan and Tomregan (from Irish Records: Sources for Family & Local History by James Ryan).  Check A New Genealogical Atlas of Ireland  by Brian Mitchell to determine the surrounding parishes.  Our ancestors may have given the name of the nearest large town rather than their small townland and that could affect the jurisdiction for records.  Patrick Moughty said he was from Mullingar in Westmeath, when he was actually from the townland of Aughnaboy about 8 miles away.  But Mullingar was in the parish of Mullingar, whereas Aughnaboy was in the  parish of Piercetown.  With a common surname that would make a big difference!

   Most of the time you will not find a direct source of locality information and you must piece together information from multiple sources.  Other sources might include gravestones, cemetery records, obituaries, family stories or traditions, funeral cards, church records, draft registrations, pensions, land records or probate.  Do an Exhaustive Search (first principle of the Genealogical Proof Standard) for all records your ancestor left.   If you don’t find the information for your direct ancestor, start all over with family, associates and neighbors.  Make sure you have the names of witnesses for baptisms, marriages, naturalizations, deeds, etc., and research them.  Think about why your family settled in a particular area…likely because they knew someone there, so look at neighbors who emigrated from Ireland.  

   Happy Hunting!

Check out my links for Irish Research.  Also visit my Store for Irish Research books mentioned here.

© Donna M. Moughty 2007- 2018