Deeds are wonderful sources for genealogists, but Irish deeds? One of the most voluminous collections of Irish records is also the most underappreciated and underutilized: more than 2,000 volumes of recorded “memorials” (detailed abstracts) of deeds, conveyances, and wills spanning more than 200 years can be found in the Irish Registry of Deeds (ROD). Like many others with Irish roots, I was long put off by the low likelihood of finding my poor rural landless ancestors among landlords and other people of means who had property and assets to protect in wills. Continue reading Irish deeds? Yes, indeed
Until recently, unless you were lucky enough to know the names of your immigrant Irish ancestors’ parents and/or the place(s) where they were born or resided in the Emerald Isle, such information was often difficult if not impossible to find in American records. That imposing brick wall remained unassailable for many seeking to pursue their ancestral connections in Ireland … until now. During 2015-2016 digitized troves of the two most significant sources for Irish family history – Catholic church registers and civil vital records – were released online, freely accessible on any internet-enabled device. Like the notorious Berlin Wall, that longstanding, insurmountable impediment to discovering Irish ancestry crumbled almost overnight. Continue reading Finding Irish relatives: Part Three
Part 1 of this series discussed how civil registration records can be used to locate the townlands and families of Irish immigrant ancestors, and how to use both civil records and church registers to trace their families backward and forward. While relying on civil vital records may succeed, the method can be time-consuming, especially for individuals like Michael Spellman who were born before civil registration commenced in 1864. As I learned the hard way, using church records is more likely to produce results, perhaps immediately. Continue reading Finding Irish relatives: Part Two
In a previous Vita Brevis piece, I discussed the challenges faced in finding the immigration record of my great-grandfather Gerardo Smaldone, who emigrated to New York City in 1887 from the town of Potenza, Italy. In retrospect, that was a cinch compared to the search for the immigration of my Irish grandfather John Joseph Ryan.
I did find him after a daunting and tedious search, earning an unexpected bonus: his Ellis Island record revealed that an older sister was already here: Winifred Ryan had married Michael H. Spellman and had six children, with another on the way, when John arrived in late 1904. Continue reading Finding Irish relatives: Part One
When I started researching family history more than twenty years ago, I was eager to find out about my great-grandfather Gerardo Smaldone, who emigrated from Italy to America. Where did he come from? When did he emigrate? Did other members of his family come too? I hoped immigration records would answer these questions. Unfortunately, before the twentieth century, passenger lists did not provide much information, but at least one could glean a passenger’s age, occupation, marital status, native country, destination, whether he or she was in transit or intending to stay in the U.S., what compartment they stayed in, and how much baggage accompanied them. Genealogists likely pay close attention to most of these details, but why care about baggage?! Amazingly, in Gerardo’s case, such trivial information was to prove decisive in determining when he immigrated to America. Continue reading No detail too small
A recent Vita Brevis post (October 28) discussed my discovery and correction of an error in the baptismal records of the parish church in Coli (Piacenza), Italy. I attributed that error to an absentminded priest who wrote the wrong family name for Domenica Plate when recording her baptism in the register on 4 July 1750. As my research continued, I uncovered another irregularity in the records, this time while trying to identify all the children of one set of great-great-great-great-great-great-great-grandparents, Giovanni Peveri (c. 1690-1745) and Lucia (maiden name unknown), who resided in Villa Fontana. The 13 January 1725 record in question named Giovanni Peveri and Lucia of Villa Fontana as the parents, and Cristoforo Grassi and Maria Zavattoni as godparents, but left a blank space for the name of the baptized infant girl! (see illustration). Continue reading Finding Giovanna
This is a tale of how curiosity, knowledge of local Italian sources and conditions, and focused research strategies uncovered an error in church records and solved a genealogical mystery. Last year I finally discovered that my immigrant great-great-grandfather Antonio Pugni (1840-1913) was from the village of Coli in Piacenza, Italy. Fortunately, Coli parish church records of baptisms, marriages, and deaths date to 1718, and in some instances to the 1690s, and can be accessed directly on FamilySearch.org. Civil registration records of births, marriages, and deaths begin in 1806 and are also online at FamilySearch, but images can be viewed only at any of the 5,000+ Family History Centers worldwide. Continue reading The absentminded priest