"Chasing" your Irish ancestry is about a lot more than historical documents it's about real-life people and their incredible stories. Here's our exciting tale on discovering our families in Ireland and their journeys.
Genealogy can be simply defined “as the study of tracing lines of descent for one’s ancestors”, but we hope to convince you that “chasing” your ancestors in Ireland is about much more than the dates and records you will find. Yes, you will be searching for baptism, marriage, death, census and land valuation records. However, the “chase” should really be about finding out how your ancestors lived, why they left the beautiful Emerald Isle, who was left behind, how they traveled to their new homelands, and the discrimination and challenges they faced when they arrived in the U.S.
Some of Kate’s Irish ancestors came to America believing that the streets were indeed “paved in gold”. It must have been a rude awakening when they landed in New York harbor. Like most nationalities, many of the Irish who arrived in New York City in the mid to late 1800s fled poverty at home only to face dirt and disease in overcrowded tenements. Fortunately, Kate’s ancestors made their way to Albany, NY where the Irish were welcomed. The city was going through a tremendous growth spurt and thousands of laborers were needed. The City of Albany and Catholic Diocese of Albany partnered to bring in Irish laborers and their families to fill the labor void.
Mike’s Irish ancestors emigrated to the U.S. just before, during or shortly after the potato famine in the mid 1800s. They ended up in northwestern New York near the St. Lawrence River and entered the U.S. through New York City, Boston and Canada. They brought with them their skills as farmers and laborers. The Irish indeed benefited from chain migration. Wave by wave, the Irish came to the U.S., saved their money and sent it back to Ireland so more family members could come in the next wave.
We have set the stage to help you “chase” your Irish ancestors back to their roots in Ireland. Hopefully, you have determined the names and approximate dates of birth for your immigrant ancestors, as well as the names of their parents and/or siblings. If so, then you have a good chance to find the townlands in Ireland where they lived. We will provide you with search sites and share with you our own experiences connecting with “long lost cousins” on the Emerald Isle.
There are several free Ireland search websites that are a must for anyone “chasing” Irish ancestors. They include: Tithe Applotment Books (1823-37), Griffith’s Valuation (1846-1864), Catholic Parish Registers (National Library of Ireland), Census of Ireland 1901/1911 (National Archives), Irish Genealogy (Dublin, Kerry, and part of Cork counties), County Family History Centers, and Ireland Reaching Out. Family Search (free) also houses tons of Irish records. Three excellent subscription websites are Roots Ireland, Findmypast and Ancestry.com. We will show you examples of records found on several of these sites as we tell you more about our own Irish ancestors.
Kate’s great grandfather Edward Regan was an immigrant and the patriarch of her Regan and Harney ancestors. Roots Ireland records show that he was baptized on January 7, 1841 in Parish Kill, Co. Waterford. His parents were James Regan and Catherine Walsh. Griffith’s Valuation shows James Regan living in Ballydurn in 1850. He lived next door to Margaret Walsh Harney who was Catherine’s aunt. The Tithe Applotment Books show Harneys living in Ballydurn in 1827.
In the 1860s James, his wife Catherine, and seven of their children all emigrated to Albany, NY. Nearly 200 years of Kate’s family history are held within these records. James was a tenant farmer who had a house with no land. Like most Irish farmers in the mid 1800s, James worked the land owned by his landlord while he and Catherine raised their children during the famine years. We have visited Ballydurn on four of our trips to Ireland to walk the land where Kate’s second great grand parents lived and to spend time with two of Kate’s distant cousins.
Mike’s second great grandmother Mary Whelan arrived in northern New York in 1856 with her children Matthew, Mary, and Bridget. Matthew fought in the U.S. Civil War and his pension documents state that he was from Littermore, Co. Wexford. Griffith’s Valuation shows a Mary Whelan residing in townland Litterbeg bordering townland Littermore.
Women appearing as heads of households in Griffith’s Valuation were almost always widows. Her only refuge may have been to emigrate to the U.S. with her children. We will make our second trip to Littermore this coming May.
Mary Waters, Kate’s great grandmother, was baptized in Templemore (address Pig Foot Lane), Co. Tipperary on March 8, 1831 as per findmypast. On our first of three visits to Templemore, we stopped into Town Hall to ask where Pig Foot Lane was located over 180 years ago. A most gracious town employee ushered us into a records room where we looked at land maps from the early 1800s.
He then left Town Hall and walked with us to unmarked Pig Foot Lane to see the ruins of the stone hovels that lined the lane in the 1800s. He was like an angel put into our path by Mary herself. Mary emigrated to Albany, NY in the early 1840s and married Irish immigrant William Fitzpatrick.
Richard Laide and his wife Johanna Sullivan, Mike’s third great grandparents, emigrated from Dromatoor, Parish Ballyheige, Co. Kerry between 1845 and 1849 with seven children. They emigrated to Franklin County, New York and eventually found their way to Wisconsin. The 1901 Irish Census includes John Laide, his wife Johanna, and five children living in Dromatoor. John and his family were undoubtedly long lost relatives of Mike. We have visited Ballyheige on one occasion and were delighted to find gravestones for Laide relatives.
According to records held at St. Mary’ Church in Enniskerry, Co. Wicklow, Kate’s third great grandmother Mary McGuirk married Patt Byrne in 1825. They lived in townland Cloon where they raised six children before emigrating to New York harbor in 1854. Some of their children came to the Albany, NY area with them while at least one son emigrated to Australia. We have visited townland Cloon on four of our trips to Ireland and have spent time on each trip with the church historian who may well be a distant cousin to Kate.
According to his family bible, Mike’s third great grandfather William Kennedy was born in Dunganstown, Co. Wexford circa 1826 and died in Pitcairn, NY in 1900. His death certificate names his parents as James and Mary Kennedy. Patrick Kennedy, the great grandfather of President John F. Kennedy, was born in Dunganstown in 1823. William Kennedy was either the brother or cousin of JFK’s great grandfather Patrick. We have been to the Whitechurch Graveyard and Kennedy Homestead twice and visited with Mike’s distant cousin Patrick Grennan.
Each time we travel to Ireland and walk the land of our ancestors, we wonder just how bad things must have been for them to leave their beautiful homeland. We are at once sad for their parting Ireland, yet glad they found prosperous lives in America.
You are now ready to “chase” your own Irish ancestors using the websites described in this story. Once you find the townlands where your Irish ancestors lived, then book yourself a flight to Ireland and soak in your own family history. We always start each day in Ireland with a simple prayer to our ancestors asking them to teach and show us what we need to know. And if you do the same, you will be amazed how your ancestors will guide you on your travels. We absolutely believe that those souls who have been lost in time want to be found and will open doors for you.
* Kate and Mike Lancor live in Moultonborough, NH and enjoy “chasing” their own Irish ancestors as well as helping others “chase” theirs. They run a genealogy search business and can be reached by emailing email@example.com or on their Old Friends Genealogy Facebook page. They have travelled to Ireland six times and especially enjoy “chasing” Irish ancestors for their clients. If you have “hit a brick wall” or simply don’t have time to “chase” your ancestors, then send them an email to see if they can help.
This article was submitted to the IrishCentral contributors network by a member of the global Irish community. To become an IrishCentral contributor click here.