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Researching Irish Ancestors
Last year for St Patrick’s Day I wrote a blog Letters Home – My Irish Families (6 Mar 2010). It reunited me with three distant lines of my Jeffers family of Portadown, Ireland which was exciting for all of us. This year my tribute to St Patrick’s Day will be sharing some of my favourite Irish websites and resources.
For anyone who is just starting their family history, I have an article How Do I Start Tracing My Family History: A Brief Introduction which readers might find useful.
One of the hardest things I’ve found in tracing my own Irish ancestors is trying to establish where they actually came from in Ireland. For example, with my gg grandfather Adam Johnston I ended up buying all of his children’s birth certificates so that I could pinpoint where he was from. Listed below is a table showing each child, Adam’s surname and place of birth as listed on each certificate. Note the variations in spelling of each.
James 1865 & Sarah Jane 1867 - Adam Johnston, Co Cavan Ireland
William 1868 – Adam Johnston Coy Cavan Ireland
Margaret 1873 – Adam Johnson, Cavan Ulster Ireland
Margaret 1876 – Ballyborough Cavan Ireland
Elizabeth 1879 & Maria 1882 - Adam Johnston, Kenningstown/Keningstown, County Cavan, Ireland
Adam John 1884 – Adam Johnston, Cavan, Ireland
Adam’s death certificate 1900 had Caragn, Ireland and from his siblings’ certificates I also picked up Knockbride, Cavan. His brothers Thomas, William and James and sister Elizabeth all came out to Queensland as well so sometimes if you can’t find the information on your direct line, it can be worthwhile to follow siblings as well.
From this I knew it was County Cavan, with particular places Ballyborough, Kenningstown/Keningstown and Knockbride. Looking at a map soon revealed that the places were really Bailieborough, Canningstown and Knockbride all close together in County Cavan. But without the evidence from the certificates I might have had a hard time narrowing down a common surname like Johnson/Johnston/Johnstone. Variations in the surname were found on all lines of the family in Queensland.
When I first started looking for my Irish families in 1977, it was very hard with lots of letter writing but with the Internet and Google, it can be a lot easier. More and more records are being indexed and placed online, often for a fee, so I still live in hope that I will be able to progress some of my Irish lines further back.
For example, I know little about my Finn and Fegan families from County Wicklow. John Finn (son of Francis Finn and Rosa Beakey) was born ca 1856 at Ballygannon, County Wicklow and married Sarah Fegan in Rathdrum, Wicklow on 29 May 1879. Sarah (daughter of Robert Fegan and Sarah Kane?) was born ca 1862 at Glasnarget, County Wicklow. They arrived in Queensland, Australia in 1882 with their son Robert Finn born 1880 and another son James Joseph Finn born on board the Mairi Bhan during the voyage. Nothing is known about my Finn family in Ireland apart from these brief facts.
I advertise my research interests and an Australian site is the Online Irish Names Research Directory maintained by Graham Jaunay. He also maintains lists for other countries and I like to advertise widely as you just never know who will see your listing.
Another very useful Australian site is the National Library of Australia and in particular its eResources. This is a free service available to all Australians who register for an eResources card. Of particular interest to those with Irish ancestors is free access at home to the Irish Newspapers Archive via the eResources card. This is the largest online database of Irish newspapers in the world and dates from 1763 to the present including out of print titles. There are too many titles to list here but definitely worth a look.
To assist others I have listed some of my favourite Irish websites. They are listed in no particular order as some may be more relevant to your research than others.
Genuki UK and Ireland Genealogy
Census of Ireland 1901 & 1911 (online free)
Council of Irish Genealogical Organisations (CIGO) – gateway site to many other Irish sites
I encourage everyone to take the time to explore them as there is lots of advice and research tips on all of them. There are many other websites that can be useful for Irish research but the above are some of the sites I use on a regular basis. If readers have a particular Irish favourite not listed here, please share – who knows one of them might just have my Irish ancestors lurking on them!