A very small world

Burke 1 The Burkes of Oranmore

It’s a very, very small world.

Recently, I received some photos of my mother’s Irish ancestors from a cousin. Most of these photos featured the Burke family of Oranmore, Galway, and I was excited to learn that many of the photos had been labeled and dated.

Burke 2 Mary (Burke) Horan and her children

My great-great-grandmother, Mary Burke, arrived in the United States about 1890, and married my great-great-grandfather Thomas Henry Horan in 1892 in Newton, Massachusetts. Mary’s parents were Michael Burke and Margaret Rabbitt of Rinville (Oranmore).

I shared some of these images with my coworkers from Research Services, and was very surprised to learn that my office-mate, Katrina Fahy, also had Burke ancestors from Oranmore. What are the odds?! And the immigration stories of our ancestors could not have differed more. While my great-great-grandmother left Oranmore in 1890, Katrina’s father left Turloughmore in Lackagh Parish, County Galway, more than ninety years later in 1982.

Of course, as researchers do, we set out to learn if and how we were related. We roped in fellow researcher and Irish research expert Eileen Pironti, and pored over Oranmore church records.

Burke 3 Burke family members in Oranmore

We learned that my great-great-great-grandparents, Michael Burke and Margaret Rabbitt, married in Oranmore on 28 May 1857. Unfortunately, Michael’s parents were not listed on his marriage record, but after some digging, Eileen discovered that he died in 1869 at the age of 32, and was buried in the Oranmore Old Graveyard. This would place his birth year around 1837. Amongst Oranmore church records, we discovered two strong matches: a Michael Burke who was born to Martin Burke and Ann Hanly in 1836, and a Michael Burke was born to John Burke and Judith Hessian in 1838. But were either of these baptismal records for my Michael Burke?

As for Katrina’s family, we learned that her great-great-grandfather was John Burke of the townland of Glenascaul. A widower, he married Mary King in 1879 at the age of 44. According to his marriage record, his parents were Patrick Burke and Catherine Sheehan. We then searched for his baptismal record, and discovered that he was baptized 7 October 1833 in Oranmore. Yet there was no townland listed on his baptismal record, nor on any of the baptismal records of John’s siblings. Further complicating our search was the fact that the earliest Oranmore parish records begin in 1833, making it difficult to trace these families back to the eighteenth century.

Burke 4 The John Burke house in Glenascaul

To put things into perspective, the townlands of Rinville and Glenascaul are only about two miles from one another. So one could speculate that perhaps these Burkes families were connected in some way.

Going forward, we still have some digging to do, and Katrina plans to get a DNA test done, which should reveal whether or not we are cousins. For now, it serves as a reminder of just how small the world can be.

Sheilagh Doerfler

About Sheilagh Doerfler

Sheilagh, a native of Chelmsford, Massachusetts, received her B.A. in History and Communication from the University of Massachusetts-Amherst. Her research interests include New England, Norway, Sweden, Ireland, Westward Migration, and adoptions.View all posts by Sheilagh Doerfler