The Irish potato famine is notorious even today because it killed one million people and prompted two million people to emigrate from Ireland. Signs of the famine can still be found in Ireland today, whether in the form of various ruins whose occupants had all perished or in the form of graves marked solely by rocks. Moreover, Irish emigration fluctuated so much that many voyages took place on coffin ships – small ships aptly named for the increased mortality rate onboard. Many immigrants were so desperate to leave their homeland that they booked inexpensive passage on ships that were small, overcrowded, and ravaged by disease and other unfavorable conditions. Based on these facts, arguably, many Americans with Irish ancestry can connect theirs to this event. Continue reading Coffin ships
Joe Smaldone’s recent three-part Finding Irish relatives provided some great information about using Irish Catholic church registers and civil vital records. That got me to thinking about one of my husband’s Irish family lines. I realized I could use the civil vital records transcribed on RootsIreland.ie to learn more about that family.
The family in question, William Moroney and Honora O’Grady, were married in 1871 in the Catholic parish of Glenroe and Ballyorgan in County Limerick. Continue reading The fate of William Moroney Jr.
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
As 2020, the year commemorating the four hundredth anniversary of the Mayflower landing in the New World, comes to a quiet end we can, with hopefulness, look forward in 2021 to making up for all the 2020 cancellations by commemorating the quadricentennial of many first-year Mayflower milestones. The “Winter of Death” and the death of the colony’s first governor, John Carver, were despairing events, but other milestones, including the treaty signed with Massasoit in March 1621, the first marriage in the Pilgrim village in May, and the harvest feast in late October lifted the colony’s hopes. The year 2021 should, in more ways than one, be recognized as the year of survival. Continue reading The ‘Magee storm’
All summer, I have been waiting for the release of the Digital Atlas of Dungarvan, a project spearheaded by the Royal Irish Academy. For more than 30 years, the Royal Irish Academy has published the Irish Historic Towns Atlas series, which visually records the growth of Irish cities and towns. The digital atlas of Dungarvan was released on August 18, joining prior digital publications for Derry and Galway. A published version will be released this fall. Continue reading Irish towns and atlases
We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.
T.S. Eliot, “Little Gidding”
My discovery of a letter, almost five decades ago, marked the starting point for exploring the Irish roots of my father’s maternal grandmother, Annie Flynn Cassidy (1856–1919). Annie and her sister Ellen Flynn emigrated to Fall River, Massachusetts, around 1881. On 16 December 1885, their father John Flynn wrote this letter from Cloonduane acknowledging money the sisters sent home and the news of Annie’s recent marriage to Patrick Cassidy. Presumably Cloonduane was near Castlebar, County Mayo, the town cited as Annie and Ellen’s birthplace in their obituaries from Fall River newspapers. Continue reading Return to Cloonduane
I love adding a bit of background to the places I’m researching. Recently I came across this entertaining story set in County Mayo, Ireland. I can hear the storyteller’s voice in the rhythm and words, and the humor brings a smile to my face.
“There once lived in Ballyglass a man named Patch Heskin who was a thatcher. One day Pat Heskin from Ballyrourke employed him thatching.
“At that time they used to stitch the thatch with rope. They used to have a big thatcher’s needle. The thatcher would have to be outside on the roof to put in the needle and another person inside to pull it in and put it out again. Continue reading ‘The Result of the Bad Dinner’
During St. Patrick’s Day week, when the NEHGS instagram account shared pictures of our Irish ancestors, I shared the picture at left of my great-great-grandfather Thomas Nelson Kelly (1853–1943) of Philadelphia. His parents, Joseph Kelly and Rebecca Nelson, both emigrated from Ireland in the 1840s and met and married in Philadelphia in 1850. Joseph and Rebecca are my only ancestors who arrived in the United States after 1776. I still do not know where in Ireland they came from (some family have said Belfast, some have said Donegal): I’m still searching!
However, my Kelly ancestors were Protestants, and known as “Orange Irish.” Joseph and Rebecca married at the Scots Presbyterian Church and their children were baptized Episcopalian. Continue reading Irish ancestors and the 1918 flu
We are not far removed from a time when parents, as a matter of course, endured the loss of one or more of their children. In fact, each of my grandparents had a sibling who died in infancy or early childhood. Some years ago, as part of a field study in a local cemetery, one of my students, obviously struck by the number of children’s graves, asked me: “Do you think parents back then just didn’t get attached to their children because they knew some of them would die?” My answer to this question has deepened over the years as I have listened to family stories and discerned poignant signs of remembrance. Continue reading Childhood mortality