How I finally found my long lost Irish ancestors


 So, be imaginative and flexible when you come across a “so-called” Irish spelling in English. Lastly, I learned that surveying the topographical features of the land, such as dips in the earth, may be genealogical clues waiting to be discovered. In Ireland I found that other topographical features, rivers and ravines for example, time and again assisted me in my research, particularly when cross-referencing archival plat maps from the Land Valuation Office in Dublin (which correspond to the Griffith’s Valuation) with current Discovery Series Maps. Roads can move, but rivers don’t.

My biggest mistake was in not bringing a good set of boots to help trudge across farmland, manure-filled pastures, fields, and creeks. I traipsed through them all, but with soggy feet the whole way.

With this newfound Minnesota cemetery information in hand, I wrote to the two Catholic churches in this area of Ireland and included with my request a small cash donation. I suggested that if one of parishioners had time to do some research, I would be most obliged.

Amazingly, I had the “luck of the Irish” with one of the two churches. Castlemaine’s Catholic Church had records dating back to 1820. The current parish priest didn’t have time to research this information, but one of the parishioners, a retired principal, generously accommodated my request.

According to her notes, a Father McCarthy had begun documenting baptisms very early, before it was required, and she not only found all of James T. Sullivan’s brothers’ baptisms, but also his mother’s maiden name. The family was listed in the baptismal entries as having been from Knockaneacoolteen, just a few miles east of Castlemaine. Our cousin’s entire family with baptismal dates was immediately living next door.

With the townland and baptismal records in hand, I referenced the Griffith’s Valuation (1848-1864), the Tithe Applotment Books (1823-1838), estate records, and ordered a plat map from the Land Valuation Office in Dublin. When I traveled to Knockaneacoolteen, Ireland, I knew the exact road to turn on and discovered my, to that moment unknown, cousins Donnie O’Sullivan and Anya Casey Meade, still living on the same road where my 3rd great grandmother, Elizabeth Daley Sullivan, had lived.

My Elizabeth lived on plot 4b; the cottage is unfortunately gone. Nevertheless, the neighbor, most likely her sister-in-law, lived on plot 4a, right next door, and Mrs. Meade still lives in this existing cottage.

Donnie O’Sullivan's physical features are amazingly similar to my deceased grandfather, Parnell Sullivan, even down to the blue eyes and gentle demeanor.
 It was a slightly sad yet joyous moment when we met, at least for me, as I could not but help remember my grandpa. Shortly thereafter, we laughed together when we realized that his dog and my cat at home had the same name, saying that this truly was a sign that we must be related.

After a cup of tea to fortify ourselves, he was gracious enough to guide me through the hill fort in his backyard, and to show me the ancient souterraine, an underground stone pit, that lay in the center of the hill fort.

I realized that I was walking, sliding, and crawling through the same primordial sludge that my Sullivan ancestors had crawled through, and perhaps had even built, centuries ago. Covered with muck and mud, I smiled thinking that all of my work at home had been worth the effort.

Rule 2: Talk to everyone, even the dogs

In Ireland, allow yourself time, even more time than you think you might need, to explore, to talk, and to listen. I am lucky enough to have inherited my father’s gift of gab and my mother’s red hair.

So, almost everyone that I met was willing to talk and/or help to investigate my family lines. The Irish love to talk and you never know what you might learn from even the most inconspicuous person. Real talking and listening take time.

Also, driving in Ireland is difficult at best. I rented a car for three weeks and chose to drive because my family’s townlands were literally “off the beaten path” and, after years of research, I wanted to stand on our terra firma.

My Shea side of the family was from Carragraigue, Drumtarriff Parish, Cork. This small townland lies in the Blackwater River Area of North Central Cork. I booked a rental cottage in the nearest town, Millstreet. On my first day in Millstreet, I spoke to a beautiful dog on the street while petting him. Well, the dog’s owner, the local veterinarian, walked up to me, and we started talking. She gave me wonderful directions to Carragraigue as she had driven all over the region for her work.