How I finally found my long lost Irish ancestors


Although, when you realize that most Irish immigrants couldn’t read or write, and that they had a limited idea of how large geographically the country was or the population density of the U.S. cities, and that many states had not even achieved statehood at the printing of the ads, you can begin to understand all the barriers these new immigrants faced.

I found my O’Halloran family in one of The Search for Missing Friends volumes. Thankfully, each volume has an index. A cousin placed the ad, and it was so specific that I knew it had to connect to my O’Halloran family. The ad, placed on January 16th, 1858, was searching for John, Patrick and Denis. Oral stories in our family always said that there were three brothers who came over together but separated in Ohio.

The ad read: "Left Courtlandt Co., NY for Minnesota about 3 years ago," and it was placed by their cousin, Patrick O'Connor of Milford, County Cork. Minnesota became a state in 1858, so these Halloran immigrated to Minnesota very early. I found John Halloran listed on the 1857 Minnesota Territorial Census.

 There were no other Hallorans in the state at that time. So, I had the townland in Ireland: Milford. Another clue linking Milford directly to John came from his gravestone. The stone states that he was born in Mallo[w], Cork. After looking at a map, it is easy to see why this is so. Milford is a small village just a few miles northeast of Mallow. When I do my research, if I have to rely on an assumption or educated guess, I try to find additional sources of information to test my hypothesis.

 Once I find three sources confirming a lead, i.e., a trifecta, I feel fairly confident in the conclusion. Genealogy is not an exact science, and I am continually editing my information. My third genealogical source of information for this family transpired during my trip to Milford.

I couldn’t find the O’Hallorans listed in Milford, County Cork on the Griffith’s Valuation. Nonetheless, I traveled there with information, and laptop, in hand. Again, I spoke to everyone I could, but the town was rather small and did not have a library. I did, however, run into an elderly woman who remembered there being an O’Halloran store in Dromcollogher’s town square. Dromcollogher, County Limerick, lies not 3 miles to the west of Milford.

 I drove, rather hurriedly, to Dromcollogher, but no O’Halloran store existed. Unlike Milford, they did have a library and that was my first stop. The librarian was extremely helpful, and as it turned out, noted that one of the previous librarians had been an O’Halloran.

 She even went so far as ring up a local man whose mother had been an O’Halloran. At first I think he was reluctant to meet me. Mostly, I believe, based upon my not very Irish sounding surname. Once he saw my curly red hair though, he laughed, commenting that as I walked up his sidewalk he thought that it was his daughter coming to see him. That was how I met David O’Brien, my wonderfully fun-loving cousin.

David’s ancestors, I discovered during the trip, had been baptized in Milford. According to the two townland’s baptismal records, the O’Halloran clan moved to Dromcollogher sometime between 1865-1868.

If I had not met David, I would not have known his and his wife’s generosity, nor would I have progressed to the next substantial genealogical clue. David remembered that years ago someone had called him about a gravestone that had fallen over in the cemetery west of town.

I had looked in Dromcollogher’s cemetery for old O’Halloran markers but would never have thought to look even further to the west. With cleaning supplies, David and I headed out. We walked up to the first fallen stone, and, God bless him, David scrubbed and scrubbed.

 What we found was our common ancestor. David’s ancestor, Martin, had erected the stone upon the death of his father John. My ancestor, John as well, was the first son in the family. In summary, Martin and my John, the American immigrant, were brothers, and this find was their father’s stone. Without the librarian’s initiative and interest perhaps none of this would have happened!

Rule 4: Start locally first

Most of the priests in Ireland were very accommodating. As I found out quite quickly, it pays to schedule, via telephone, a visit. Not all the priests have e-mail, nor do they check it daily. WIFI, as of last summer, is not readily available either.

Priests have busy schedules but being politely persistent is the key. Envision the Boston terrier. I recommend buying a cell phone in Ireland upon arrival. American cell phones don’t always work in Europe, and today the cost of a phone is reasonable.