A very small world

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

10 thoughts on “A very small world

  1. Very interesting! By the way, my grandmother was a Sheehan, her father was Patrick Sheehan but I’m pretty sure he came from County Cork.
    Judi Garner

  2. It would be most interested if Katrina’s father who ” left Turloughmore in Lackagh Parish, County Galway, more than ninety years later in 1982″ could be interviewed to get his opinion of the current political climate of the United States. Most recent British and Irish immigrants are rather horrified by it all and as well our insistence on holding on to a very antiquated and largely unworkable constitution. His “push” from County Galway was done assuming because of the ” pull” of a better life in the United States for himself and his daughter.

  3. I have a friend of of a friend of Greek ancestry and I started researching to see what I could find about that. Sadly, not much. But her paternal grandmother was of German descent and I was actually able to discover a great deal about that lineage. The long and short of it, it ended up that we are fifth cousins, twice removed. Who knew?

  4. I found this really interesting, as my great grandmother was a Burke, born in Canada, but from a Northern Ireland Burke line, and I’ve hit a brick wall with this line. Could be the folks in the picture are cousins!

  5. Sheilagh, I have no doubt you and your co-workers will locate a common Irish ancestor, something my friend Glenda, whom I met on the internet in the late 1990s, have never been able to do despite having dozens of verified common relatives *by marriage*. Without going into the myriad details, her Morrises “habitually” married into my Cupps, Denhams and Watsons (to name a few), unions that took place over 100 years or so as they all moved west from PA along the Migration Trail, and ended up in KS. After 4 years thoroughly researching the connections between our respective mothers’ ancestors, the world became even smaller when Janet, one of my McClellan 4th cousins discovered that her husband was a distant cousin of Glenda’s husband, whose tree I was only vaguely familiar with, but familiar enough to whoop with joy at a name farther down in the descendency chart Janet had sent. Turns out Glenda’s husband and my *father* were 4th cousins zero removes through my paternal grandmother. This makes Glenda related to ALL of us, but again ONLY by marriage, NOT by blood. G & I feel we DO have a common ancestor somewhere, but so far all out efforts to locate verification documentation have been in vain. We’ve not tried DNA, though, which of course we should.

  6. I am related to the Furey family of Gurrane, Oranmore, County Galway. I see a couple of Burke family members listed in my charts.

  7. Dear Sheilagh Doerfler,

    I love your name, you sound like a very sweet Irish-French flower!
    Small world indeed! I was very close to my Irish Uncle and his wife—my mother’s sister who was Swedish and Irish!

    I am pretty sure my Dooleys from Newtonville must have known your Horans from Newton Corner! They would have attended the same parish church (Our Lady’s) and their children would have been the same age and if I’m not mistaken one of yours was in the army in WWII and I had a Dooley cousin in the army, also.

    My Thomas Joseph Dooley came over in 1881 and settled on Prescott St and then Minot Place in N’ville. He was a chauffeur–first driving horse drawn hacks and then chauffering early automobiles. He became private chauffeur to wealthy people in Chestnut Hill
    Your Horans lived in Newton Corner I believe, just down from Newtonville.

    My Great Uncle Thomas by marriage married Lizzy Lally at Our Lady’s Church. They had my Uncle Jack Dooley a Newton fireman and Edward who owned Dooley’s Drugstore in Newtonville.

    The Dooleys came from Woodford, Co Galway fairly close to where your Horans came from.

    Sooo—greetings “friend and neighbor!”
    Judy FordU

  8. Dear Sheilagh, I just somehow stumbled upon this. Mary Burke was my great-grandmother! Her daughter, Rose Horan Murphy, was my grandmother; Rose’s son, Jim was my dad. Can you send me your email address? I would love to connect with you; finding this today was a gift.

  9. John Burke and Mary King were my great Grandparents. I attended a Burke and King Reunion in Galway July 2018. Also some Fahy there. The house pictured I visited and is the house my grandfather was born in. I found out by doing an AncestryDNA test. My Irish family contacted me. My grandfather was Thomas Burke who immigrated to Washington DC. tell Katrina hello from her cousin!

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