Genealogist & Family Historian
Cecilia L. Fabos-Becker
Genealogist & Family Historian
How to trace your Celtic Ancestors (Starting in the U.S.)
If you are reading this article, we can assume that you are interested in tracing your ancestors through the records they left behind. It is very important to bear in mind that Genealogy/Family History is NOT an exact science. Good sites' researchers/contributors try to find and analyze all the primary and secondary source records available for families and individuals and the general histories of the areas in which they lived and put it all together in a logical manner. However, many areas have suffered fires, wars, floods, etc. and not all the records that once were made of individuals and families still exist. The same is true of family records. Additionally, mistakes were made by the persons recording events, whether they were family members recording something some years after it actually happened, or a county clerk, or minister who made a spelling mistake, or even a factual mistake and didn't want to go and correct it. Allegations in court cases are not the same as testimony and actual evidence. The reason for trials is to prove or disprove allegations including those of relationships. Hearsay is not the same as first hand observation for any event, trials or otherwise.
Census records are not all microfilms of original pages. Some, particularly those in neat alphabetic order are reworkings of the original records often done shortly afterward, but those reworkings are already interpreting another person's handwriting and spelling. Parts of the censes for 1790, 1800 and 1810 for several states are missing because they were burned when the British set fire to Washington DC in the War of 1812, and "reconstructions" of some of these missing census records have been made from a combination of land and tax records and voter registration lists and are used in place of actual census records. Unfortunately, a person could own land and be taxed for it in several counties and states and only actually reside in one so use of these years' records have their limitations.
Then there is the content of records and what's missing. Until 1850, for instance, the census records only had the name of the head of the household, NOT his wife nor his children, and age was expressed in terms of range of years, with the numbers of members of the family in those ranges. Also census takers were not always allowed to ask women their ages but asked the husband for information instead, or the oldest male in the household, or instead guessed at them, if the head of household did not volunteer an exact age or know it (husbands, then, were as notorious as now for not remembering birth dates and ages of wives and children) or was a widow with small children. Also until the middle of the 1800's not many individuals had middle names or initials, and even when they did, sometimes the census taker didn't indicate them. Certain names were very common and it is possible to find family groups with a large number of the same names, first and last, and ages. This causes the reader-researcher to interpret the records in one way or another. Analysis and interpretation, which are parts of all historical presentations, are subjective, based on all the foregoing.
Using Ancestry.com, Rootsweb-genweb, and Family Search to Find Family Records.
There are now four main research services that have quantities of records that are very helpful to people looking for actual family records that can take the researcher back to the early 1800's or earlier. One is a paid subscription service, Ancestry.com, which is very useful for census records and some states' marriage records, death records, and more.
However, there is a big catch to using the ancestry.com census records, that most researchers figure out over time, but not all family researchers discover right away.
Do NOT do a shotgun search by clicking on just "census records," or "U.S. census records." First click on 'census records' under 'search,' THEN use the next menu to select ONLY U.S. census records. This brings up a scroll of DECADES of the census records below the large main search box. Now, select your choice of decades, one at a time. Then in the related large search box enter the last name and check the box beneath that for exact spelling and sounds like. Do something of the same with the first name, such as checking a box for exact name and initial. If you know the state in which they were born, or resided in the appropriate boxes, enter the state and check the box beneath that for either exact state or this state and neighboring states.
You can also get a narrower search if you have county and state for birth and residence, and just check on the box to see adjacent counties, not the broader adjacent states.
The reason the census search is done this way is because the index seems to be different for the shotgun search of multiple decades from the individual decades search. Too many people, myself included, have discovered that when you click on the census search or the U.S. Census Records search and expect a list of all census records in which an ancestor actually was, the full list doesn't happen. You'll be missing some decades. However, when you search for exactly the same individual decade by decade, surprise-suddenly they are in the records that didn't appear in the wider all decades search. There is a big bug in the ancestry.com search and indexing. The bug has been there since Ancestry.com was created and since the company is being sold to another owner that has said it largely intends to just maintain the site, there is no assurance this situation will ever change.
As for county death records, most states didn't start requiring the counties to record deaths and send to the capitol for a statewide registry, the death records, or copies of them, until sometime in the 20th century. A number of the 20th century statewide records are available through Ancestry.com or "Family Search". For 19th century records, try "family search." You may find that they've been grouped under states but offer a choice to search all the counties or select counties, if you have an idea where your ancestor died. This is a mostly free service. Also look for will/administration records for the family under "family search county records" under the counties' names. Other family members may show up in these, such as brothers and sisters which may help identify a family better.
Rootsweb-genweb, sometimes under "genweb archives" which is sorted by states then counties, often has obituaries or some obituaries, some marriage indexes, some deeds, and sometimes county death records. This is also a free service, supported by volunteers, though contributions to the sites have declined in the last decade. Still some materials are here that can be found, as yet nowhere else.
Next, the county library, the central one in the county seat, if there are several branches, is often the library that has historical and genealogical society files in some alcove or room. There often is a librarian or reference librarian who can do a few look ups in items they have, such as the old newspapers, for an obituary. Sometimes this will be a free service, sometimes there will be a modest charge of a few dollars. It's a good service, either way, and often the only affordable help to be found in less populated, older, eastern counties.
Last, don't forget "Find a Grave." This is a free, volunteer-supported service to transcribe and upload all the still existing, readable headstones in all the still existing, known cemeteries and graveyards. You can search for people by names, counties, states, and individual cemeteries. This is a search service still in development. Not all the largest cemeteries in many states and counties have been completely transcribed, as yet. Some cemeteries have thousands of graves and some of the cemetery management companies, to deter vandalism have limits on visits, and individuals, even groups ranging through the cemeteries.
The family trees and postulations as to what happened to whom and when, what probably happened, what most likely happened (I hope I didn't use "undoubtedly" anywhere) are based on the availability of records at the time the last entries were made and analysis based on those records. As more records become available, and a greater body of records leans more in different directions, there may be changes in family trees and analytical essays and notes.
I welcome additional contributions of documented facts and especially the copies or full transcriptions of primary and many secondary source documents and records. Bear in mind, though, that any changes in trees depend upon not only the strength of those records but how consistent they are with other strong primary source records and documents. Any items that are scanned in as attachments to emails or for which I've been given permission to scan in from snail mail communications will show who contributed them.
I am hoping to turn this part of the AmeriCeltic website into a real net eventually for others to put trees that link to what's here, and more pictures and documents, if they don't have their own sites that they wish to link. For communications regarding the information in this site and contributions to this site please send me an email: email@example.com
This site has several related webpages found in the drop-down menus. There are documents and pictures sorted by family and time period. There are also special documents that connect a number of families to special events, such as "The Early Settlers of the Borden Grant," "The Early History of Greenbrier County," and some court cases. There are family trees that go by main family names of a more recent descendant and will have a list of additional related family lines and more (indexing).
What are REAL Primary Sources?
What sources are"Fake," in Family History Research
by Cecilia Fabos-Becker published 2017-08-04
This past few weeks I was confronted again by an issue I had hoped was receding. Instead, it seems to be getting worse, again showing the ignorance, poor education and sloppiness of far too many American researchers. It also says nothing good about public education in the U.S., including some states' junior colleges, as some of the worst offenders, I've seen lately, indicate on their profiles they have "some college education,", or "junior college." It also continues to support the expressed opinion of many college history professors that family history is not real history.
Accurate, documented family history depends on valid primary and secondary sources. What are they? A valid primary source is an eyewitness account of an event, set down in writing at the time, or near to the time it happened. Examples are family Bible records where individuals write down, within days, their own live events, such as marriages, the births and deaths of children, the deaths of siblings and parents. A county recording of a marriage license, death record, probate record, or deed are other examples of primary sources, as the counties required such registrations within a very short period of time around an event. Obituaries are another primary source, because newspapers also had requirements for timely announcements for items to be current and noteworthy. Cemetery register records and headstones are also primary sources. All of these have either full dates, or a month and year of the event.
Family Bible records become also a valid secondary source for the individual owners/keepers parents', and uncles' and aunts', data when the individuals ask their parents about themselves, and their siblings, and write down the responses, such as where and when their parents believe they were born, and when and where they were married and the names and data of their own parents' and siblings as they knew them. However, there are limitations on the data on the parents' generation. No one remembers his or her own birth; children's memories that last to adulthood don't start until about age 3 for some people, and age 4 or 5 for many more. So, if a child was born in one state and brought to another before age 5 and his or her parents arrived in the new state with other relatives, without the child asking where he or she was born, the assumption will be that he or she was born in the state where the earliest memories are and where he or she was raised and married. If the grandparents are not alive to confirm what parents are telling their children, then some data could be wrong. This is also true for the responses to "where were you born" and "where were your parents born" in the census records.
For Bible records accuracy, it also depends WHEN the child was interviewing his or her parents for setting up his or her own Bible record going forward, and how old the parents were at the time of the interview. Even in the 18th and 19th centuries, there was senile dementia, and alcoholism, or untreated diabetes (sometimes called "the sweet sickness") and they sometimes went hand in hand over time. Younger children of older parents, where the parents where in the late 50's or 60's when bein asked about their early lives, often found the parents' memories on MANY things, including event details and dates, were slipping. The county court records show this in testimonies in civil suits. The most accurate marriage event recordings of parents' marriages are usually found in the OLDEST children's Bible records and when those children were starting their own Bible records at the start of their own marriages and households.
The two most valid primary sources of marriage records are then, family Bible records of one of the parties, or the county registry of the marriages/licenses. A primary source record for marriage is NOT just a year and names with NO documentary citation for the individual event from an assembly of data from uncited and undocumented group sheets submitted for publication then titled euphemistically, "Marriage RECORDS 1560-2000" as ancestry.com has on its site. These are NOT actual records but unknown persons' assertions of the existence of marriages with NO actual proof. They could be made up entirely out of imagination. Many are created on assumptions that, because the wife's first name is in a census or deed record, and the earliest records of children are a particular year or date then a couple with a wife of the same first name and an assumed last name, were married a year prior to the first record of a child. That's a guess, not a record. How do you even know if the listed wife's surname is accurate with these so-called records? It might be, because the wife's full name was listed in a deed record because the land being sold came to her as dower right from her father, but you don't know that the submitter of this "marriage," had ever found such a deed record because the "Marriage Records 1560-2000" has NO citations of any primary source records for most of the marriages in this data base. Some, but it's not even a majority, list a marriage license number in a particular county. If you wish your family tree to be considered credible and real, don't ever cite anything from that ancestry.com data base where there is no county marriage license number or citation. If there is a marriage license citation, there will also be an exact date, or at least month and year (some counties first only required month, or quarter, and year, similar to civil registries in England).
Next, Find a Grave used to be very reliable, as the persons submitting to that data base, initially went to the cemeteries, and were reading either cemetery registers of burials in the cemetery or transcribing data from headstones. The data could usually be cross-checked with county or state death records, always a good idea to make sure what the stone carver did was accurate or that either the person paying the stone carver or the person contributing the information about the deceased was a close relative and in good, regular communications with the deceased. It's unfortunately rather common to find that the clerk taking the death record information went to the nearest male relative, even an in-law rather, rather than the women of the family for information, regardless of how well that male remembered anything. If you think about all the comedic jokes and cartoons in which men can't remember their own wives' birthdays and anniversaries, comedy based far too often on reality, how likely is it that the same males are going to remember their parents' dates and particulars well? It is also not uncommon to find death records, headstones, and obituaries with slightly different dates and even some other particulars. Finding exact death dates, ages at death, etc. depends upon having MULTIPLE primary sources; Bible records, county/state death records, obituaries, and headstones to look for the greatest number of consistencies.
However, there is now an additional complication. Find a Grave is now allowing people to enter into the data base, which is supposed to be real graves, "memorials" based on something other than an actual eyewitness to the headstone or cemetery register, with the result that the deceased is frequently being listed as having died in the wrong county or state and in the wrong cemetery. The memorials sometimes have NO citations of any documents for them, just as those so-called marriage records. My husband and have now encountered at least four such instances in recent family history research. The two worst are the following.
A cousin of my husband took a photo of a real headstone of a mutual ancestor, some years ago, and failed to put on the back of the picture, or anywhere else in any notes or Bible record, where the headstone actually was, not even the state and county. Then when she couldn't find any notes about the location, she made an assumption that the ancestor had died in the county he was living 18 months before his death, as per the 1880 census. She could have looked at the on-line death records for that county and realized he did not die in that county. She did not. She also did not write to the nearby county library who had the cemetery registers. She simply put up, on Find a Grave, a "memorial" with the gravestone photograph, and said he died in a particular county and was buried in the nearby city cemetery. At this point, the keepers of the cemetery data and county records want her, or Find a Grave, to remove the memorial because it is a FRAUD and sending people to county agencies for additional non-existent records.
In a worse instance, a cousin of mine obtained a death date, from God knows where, for an ancestress and posted a memorial with NO photo of the gravestone, assuming there is any at all, and then listed it in a cemetery that was not created until about 40 years after the death of this individual! Again, that cemetery's records are available on-line, and through a county library, and show that there is NO burial nor gravestone there at all. I privately wrote to the cousin and told her this and asked her where she got the data. The only answer I got was that she, like I, was a descendant of the deceased ancestress, as though that's the only assurance I should need that the data is accurate--never mind the official cemetery records.
At this point, I now have to say, don't trust the data on Find a Grave unless you see a combination of a photograph of an actual gravestone, a picture of the cemetery gates entry, etc., a date of the visit to find this cemetery and gravestone, and then confirm what you see with a county or state death record, or an obituary, which will often list the mortuary and cemetery that was designated to handle the remains of the deceased. Don't cite "Find a Grave" as a "source," unless you've done this. "Memorials" are now too often unsubstantiated claims, just like those so-called "marriage records" in the ancestry.com "Marriage Records 1560-1600."
Finding Celtic Ancestors Example 1
Our Family History Trip to County Clare, Ireland
Sometimes It's A REALLY Good Idea to Hire a LOCAL researcher.
If you know our Mission, you might well ask how aware we are of our own Celtic ancestry. In Tony's case, he knew of all his Irish ancestors since they emigrated to America, but nothing of their origins in Ireland, except that his Great-grandfather had come from County Clare. (Found in one of the American records).
Generally, the great difficulty in tracing Irish ancestry is that the central depositry of public vital records at the Public Records Office in Dublin was completely destroyed in fires of the Four Courts Disaster in 1922, leaving only the private collections of Churches and Schools scattered all about the island.
Over the past 94 years, some of these private records have been gathered into 'Heritage Centers' in some of Irelands many counties. Tony was lucky, because in 1982, a truly remarkable Clareman, the late Dr. Naoise Cleary, was struck with the idea that, this information had the potential to be turned into a very marketable product.
Today the records of baptisms, marriages and deaths of the 47 parishes throughout Co. Clare, going back as far as the 1820s, have all been properly collated and indexed, and the indexes are mostly transcribed into a searchable computer database, available at the Clare Heritage & Genealogy Centre in Corofin and Family History Reports may be ordered online for a reasonable fee. The Clare Heritage & Genealogy Centre and researcher Antoinette O'Bryen are both highly praised on "Trip Advisor.com"
Celia has been doing family history research for 45 years, had narrowed Tony's Irish emigrant ancestor, to the possibility of two parishes in County Clare, with the help of the scant records found on this side of the Atlantic, the family lore about siblings, two ship manifests, and Griffith's Valuation and a few other sources in Ireland that are available on-line. Celia knew exactly how to go about providing data needed to make such a search efficient and maximise the accuracy of the results: They were Tony's Great-grandfather's Name, his Birthdate, his Father's name and his Siblings Names.
Using the first three of these, Antoinette found that there were only 9 families in their database with the same Name, Birthdate, and Father's name, and had these 9 families parents and children listed for review when we arrived at the Clare Heritage & Genealogy Centre.
As we reviewed these children's names and compared them to the names of our ancestor's children, grand children and great-grandchildren, there was only one of the nine families that used the same names. Five of the six children had given names that matched the following generations, and the other 9 families matched only one or two. We had found Tony's great-grandfather!
This family had been living in an area called Garruragh Townland, adjacent to the town of Tulla, County Clare, Ireland, and Tony's great-grandfather was born there. Expecting this result, Antoinette had prepared a map showing the Garruragh Townland and it's position relevant to Tulla, and on our return trip to Dublin, we had our driver take us there. Using the map, we were able to take this photo of the Tulla churchyard with the Garruragh Townland in the background.
As you can tell, besides the hard work, there was some Irish luck involved in this happy result, and not everyone with Irish ancestors will be able to find their origin County, and that County might not have gathered and indexed their parish records. However, we hope this story will help someone who is trying to find their roots.
Communicating and Researching remotely
Before contacting the Clare Heritage & Genealogy Centre, I had narrowed Tony's McInerney family's emigrant ancestor, and yes it really was McInerney, not the Americanized McNerney and all its variant spellings, to the possibility of two parishes, with the help of the scant records found on this side of the Atlantic, the family lore about siblings, two ship manifests, and Griffith's Valuation and a few other sources in Ireland that are on-line. The National Library of Ireland had parish registers also on-line. Unfortunately, they are not indexed and the download six to only about three or four months ago was slower than a glacier's melt in Greenland in January. The pages were also coming in very dark, with low resolution. Those situations have improved by spring 2016, but it's still slower than most people are used to and it is still unindexed. Before you begin, you neet to have an idea of which parishes to go through, as what little sorting is done besides county and diocese is parish, not town or village. I finally decided it was time to find someone in County Clare at a good county heritage centre there and see if they had either better access to the parish registers or some other means of accelerating the parish search. That's how we met Antoinette O'Bryen at the County Clare Heritage Centre. Antoinette and this heritage centre were praised highly on 'Trip Advisor.'
We mostly communicated on-line and I gave Antoinette everything I had on Michael McInerney (and all the spelling variants) McInerney is actually related to an ancient title, by the way, not a real name, and actually part of the McNamara family, hereditary marshals to the O'Brien kings of Munster. The praise was well-deserved. She was a miracle worker. She and her predecessor and current staff of volunteers have created a card index of surnames and forenames with notes of all 47 parishes in County Clare and half of it is now searchable in a computerized database. It saves God knows how many hours of research for anyone. They are working on entering the other half, inbetween finding where many, many emigrants originated for Americans who have found the on-line unindexed parish registers a bit too daunting or had even less information than I'd accumulated to begin. We paid the fee with a debit card on-line and it was one of the best spent few hundred dollars ever. Antoinette even took off her Sunday afternoon to meet with us to go over the results in person and give us tips about the area we were to visit and a map that showed exactly where Tony's Michael McInerney had been born and raised.
County Clare Sights
The building for the County Clare Heritage Centre in Corofin, County Clare, is also the gateway to one of Ireland's most interesting and scenic national parks, The Burrens, and the museum there was worth a visit. It also holds the office and a museum for, The Burrens, which include the renowned Cliffs of Moher. This is a 350 million year old geologic wonder with many other unusual features about its flora and fauna and areas that have done best to preserve it all, surprisingly, with a specialized form of grazing practices. The rock formations look a lot like lava flows but are actually limestone layers from an ancient sea floor, one of the oldest such geologic areas on the planet. The repeat ice ages stripped off overlaying sandstone and other layers, so now you see what a 350 million year old sea-floor once looked like, under the sea, and with some additional post-glaciation sculpting by Mother Nature.
The map Antoinette gave us directed us to the small town of Tulla, amid the beautiful hills and streams of County Clare that reminded us of areas of Wisconsin, eastern Minnesota and the piedmont area of Virginia. Just north of the ruins of the old St. Peter and Paul Catholic Church and its cemetery on the top of the hill at the end of "Church Street" (of course!) in Tulla, which the family had attended, literally on adjacent land, was the now sparsely inhabited townland of Garruragh--no village or town; it's technically part of Tulla at this point. We were able to take a picture of it, from the churchyard. There is no longer a dwelling standing that we could see, though there were a couple of spots that might have been ruins of dwellings from long ago.
Present Day Tulla, and the Shannon River
So, we next headed back into town to visit the restaurant owned by descendants of the same McInerney family. The restaurant is called "Flappers," which for members of Tony's family given Tony's mother and maternal grandmother, is very appropriate. It's a popular, well regarded place known well beyond the town. Unfortunately for us, Tony has a fourth cousin or so on this line, David McInerney, who is a star player for the County Clare Hurling Team. Hurling is close kin to Scottish shinty or U.S. field hockey, a major league sport in Ireland, and county teams are close kin to our professional city major sports teams. The County Clare team was in an important match with Tipperary--in Tipperary, and of course, the entire McInerney family, and more than half of his entire town, meaning also the owners of most other eating and drinking establishments had gone to Tipperary for the game. Nothing was open and very few people were on the few streets, as it is a small town, anywhere. The game ended, by the way "leveled" (a tie) after two "extras" (extra periods of post game play). So, we'll have to plan on meeting the cousins the next trip to Ireland and make sure we don't visit on a game-day Sunday when County Clare Hurling Team is playing.
We had a wonderful driver whom we'd found in Dublin, among the taxi drivers outside the Gresham Hotel, but who came from Kerry, a neighboring county to Clare. He knew the area, and knew whom to ask among those still in Tulla that day, where to take us to a really great, very old restaurant and pub called 'Gooser's' in Killaloe, a nearby scenic town, along the shores of the incredibly beautiful Lough Derg, on the east shore of the Shannon River. I think the pictures say it all, except, no we did not photograph the terrific meal--we were too busy enjoying eating it all! We had an excellent meal of three courses of different sea-foods, all local, with local vegetables. We topped it off with a nice creme-brulee and a shot of Tullamore DEW which is again being made in Tullamore by someone with roots there, and every bit as good as Jameson's better offerings.
On our return to Dublin, we had more beautiful County Clare scenery, and fell asleep in the car.
Finding Celtic Ancestors Example 2
Our Family History Trip to County Offaly, Ireland
Birr Castle and Parsons Family Research
We went to Ireland in part to research several family lines. Tony's families had emigrated from Ireland in the mid-late 19th century and were Catholic. Celia has Irish ancestors who were Anglo-Irish, Protestant and emigrated in the early 18th century. Researching the two groups often requires different sets of records. The Catholic parish registers of baptisms, and marriages, and often burials, are mostly intact from at least the early 19th century, and often a century or two earlier. The Protestant parish registers have seen much more destruction.
In the rebellions of the 17th century and again in 1798, Protestant churches and their ministers and records often were targeted. The goal of more extreme elements in the rebellions was not just to wipe out Protestant families and ministers, but the records of their existence--genocide. Extremists extended their murderous efforts at times even to Catholic, Norman-Irish families who had lived among and intermarried with Irish families for many centuries. Likewise extremists attacked more recent Anglo-Irish families that had bought land and not come with Cromwell. The Crown decided after all this that it wanted all the Protestant parish registers that remained, in one place, the Public Records Office which was then completely destroyed in the Irish Civil War of 1921-22. A few smart clergymen made copies and had them elsewhere, but not all did. Those copies of registers that still exist are mostly at the Registered Church Body Library (RCB) in Dublin, and only some are on-line.
Two other sources exist for records of families. One source is family archives, such as those of the Parsons' family at Birr Castle. In our search for remaining records, we met the Earl and Countess of Rosse, Brendan and Alison Parsons, and their archivist, Lisa Shortall, email firstname.lastname@example.org, who fully appreciated our search for these primary sources and the truth of these matters. The Parsons live with their family's history and that of Birr Castle and the truth is important to them for many reasons. They invited us to visit and our trip to Birr opened our opportunities for of the rest of our research in Ireland making it all the more instructive and enjoyable.
The other surviving records come under the name of estate records held mostly in the National Library of Ireland (NLI), but other libraries besides, and the Abstracts (called "Memorials") of Deeds after 1708, which often include references to the history of the deeds and the parties in them, and include leases. Leases were to Protestant and Catholic families and thus help researchers of both. These are in the Registry of Deeds in Dublin, with an index, only there, as well. Some of the estate records have on-line indices through the libraries, mostly. Iif you can't travel to Dublin and visit the libraries yourselves, then when you employ researchers, direct them to specific libraries/archives and specific manuscripts and save money, time and frustration.
For her book subject, Celia needed to sort myths from realities in a line of alleged in-laws to the Parsons family, who were first baronets of Bellamont and then later Earls of Rosse. At one time there were two lines of Parsons, related, but with separate titles and separate seats. This is not widely known. The first two Earls lived in Dublin and had originated from the Bellamont "manor(s)" in the County and City of Dublin area. They had properties primarily in County Kildare, Wicklow and Wexford, as well as County Meath, from where Celia's ancestors had emigrated. This line died out and their cousins, the baronets of Birr became the Earls of Rosse, with lands primarily in Cork, Offaly and Laois.
What papers of both Parsons lines still exist are primarily at Birr Castle. Most useful is the Calendar of Rosse, a book which indexes all the papers that are known to exist in the Birr Castle Archives, and which the Archivist is updating regularly. Happily, will soon be available on-line, at www.offalyhistoryarchives.com. This is a joint project between Birr Castle and the Offaly Historical and Archaeological Society (who own the website and will host the document), and is funded by the Offaly County Council in conjunction with the Offaly Heritage Council. The updated Calendar documents hundreds, if not, thousands of families in at least 15 counties in Ireland who had transactions across three and four centuries with the Parsons, and have descendants there and in America will have a large body of additional leads to help determine their family histories.
Another useful item that Celia did not know about until she got to Ireland is the John Lodge, Peerage of Ireland published first in 1754, in four volumes, and then updated, revised and expanded in 1789, with seven volumes. The first set is not on-line and must be purchased at: www.eneclann.ie. The second set is available for free, on-line at Google Books. These two sets only cover the peerage as it existed at those times. In 1789, the title Earl of Rosse had gone temporarily extinct, so the genealogies associated with it were mostly NOT in the second set. It was lucky that Celia did not find the Lodge series, right away, as her visit to Birr Castle led to a wider range of archives and materials that ended the myth of one marriage, but showed others that were not even suspected,and helped sort out other materials for County Meath, and expanded the understanding of the Woods' among neighbors and relations.
The train trip to Tullamore and drive from there to Birr was also one of the best days of our entire visit, smooth, relaxing and great scenery. Birr lived up to its guidebook and magazine articles reputation, with extensive beautiful, unusual gardens,architectural and scientific wonders, and the best and most eclectic conversations of our trip, and an eye-opening 3-d trip into living history. Archivist Shortall showed Celia the Parson's 400 year old cook-book with recipes for food and medicines that illustrated what was grown and how it all was used in the estates of the 17th century. This is exactly the sort of primary source that will help make her historical novel about the Woods family real for its readers. We also ended the day with a toast to it in Tullamore with, what else?--Tullamore DEW, now made again in Tullamore.
There are, today, millions of descendants of a Woods' family that came from County Meath to settle in Pennsylvania and Virginia, and whose descendants then spread from there, all the way to California. They were long believed to have, in part, come from a marriage of an Elizabeth Parsons, a sister of the second baronet Bellamont to a Sir Thomas Woods who had lands in Kildare and Meath, and how he acquired the latter was a mystery. Then there was a tradition about a second Woods family in Meath and how children of the two married and produced the lines of emigrants. These stories were handed down and even published for at least a century and a half and not one bit of firm documentation for any of them.
Based on our extensive research, we now know that the Parsons-Woods marriage didn't happen--directly. Elizabeth Parsons did marry Sir Thomas Worsopp. However, her aunt Jane Parsons is another matter. Jane Parsons married Sir John Hoey and had daughters, and her oldest son and grand-daughter shared ownership of lands with a son and grandson of Sir Thomas Woods. The circumstantial evidence is that a daughter of Jane Parsons, by Sir John Hoey, was the person who married Sir Thomas Woods. So, there probably is a connection, a kernel of truth in those old "family traditions," but it was not exactly the storied marriage passed down, and erroneously still published today on Wikipedia, and in two very old editions of Burke's Peerage and a biography on William Parsons done in 1895 by Robert Dunlop. You can't believe everything you read in ancestry.com, Wikipedia, Burke's, etc. without primary source documentation.
They were very hospitable to us, personally. We learned a lot about how castles were built in the 17th century, how Birr Castle has been upgraded and remodeled since, how people lived in them, survived civil strife and how they and the families evolved to become an integral part of modern Ireland. Birr Castle is one of a very few in Ireland that is 400 plus years old and has been continuously inhabited by the same family. Considering all the war and mayhem surrounding them, this record is a serious "WOW!"
Today, the Parsons family are as Irish as any and wouldn't think of being anything else. They supported Irish independence and didn't leave during the revolution. They are involved in historic preservations/restorations in several places, involved in encouraging more woods plantings. One of Lord Rosse's current projects is the restoration of Redwoods to Ireland.
Yes, redwood forests were native to Ireland prior to the last Ice Age! They have had many scientists and engineers in their family and recently restored the nearly 180 year old huge telescope on their property which set precedents around the world when it was built with the then largest aperture, 6 feet across. Every piece of it was designed and made on the estate and it is still functional and being used by students on occasion.
The Parsons family and friends also have created the registered non-profit entity with annual memberships, "The Birr Scientific and Heritage Foundation" for donations for all of this preservation/restoration work, including getting the Calendar of Rosse on-line and scientific papers and biographies of the scientists themselves. Call them at +353 (0)57 912 0336 or email them at email@example.com.
Irish April and Travel Tips
A few words of advice for those visiting Ireland in late April and early May: take the Lonely Planet's _Guide to Ireland_ (the larger expanded book) advice about the weather literally. They aren't kidding about "unpredictable weather." We saw rain, sleet, hail and even bits of sunshine all in one day, every day for a solid week, and the temps never reached more than about 50 degrees with a stiff north Atlantic "breeze." At some elevations we even saw snow--along with all the rest in a single day. Pack for it: layers with sweaters, warm corduroy trousers, thick socks and lined woolen slacks, gloves and a decent warm hat, and a lined car coat or something like that. A muffler is optional--buy a really lovely one of the Arran woolens in Ireland instead of bringing a blah Chinese made one bought in the U.S. at a ho-hum chain department store, if you feel the need for one. The sun does come out and the days are long, as Ireland is close to the "lands of the midnight sun," but most places, except for restaurants that also serve alcoholic beverages, which most do, close well before the late sunset so the owners and operators can enjoy their own lovely land and spring, also.
Last, if you even think you have ancestors in Ireland, save up and make a trip there. You'll be glad you did and count it one of the best experiences you ever had in your life. Do go beyond Dublin: in fact, spend more time outside of Dublin in various counties than in Dublin to see more of the real Ireland. If you get stuck climbing the family tree, DO employ someone at one of the county "heritage centres" that do genealogy assistance. It will be the best money you will have ever spent doing family history. Then meet with that person, in person, because he or she will have a lot of good tips about where you are going next and might turn out to have an office in a really interesting old town, besides.
Our best experiences getting around were by rail and Irish drivers, (not recent emigrants to Ireland). Both rides were very comfortable, very scenic and we learned a lot. You also get to enjoy much more if you're not the one doing the driving--or navigating.
There will be other articles about doing family history research in Ireland and other places we went to Ireland in later issues of our AmeriCeltic newsletter. You can also send us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.
Finding Celtic Ancestors Example 3
Tony's Scots-Irish Ancestors
Dead End in Kentucky Cholera Epidemic
Tony's great-great grandfather, Sanford McCormick, was orphaned as an infant in an 1840's cholera epidemic in Kentucky, and perhaps raised by his mother's sister. We don't know the name of Sanford McCormick's father, and we don't know the given name of his mother's sister, just the surname, Sanders.
Celia is working on finding a professional genealogy researcher in Kentucky to identify which of three possible McCormicks was Sanford McCormick's father. Famous inventor, Cyrus McCormick, was contemporary with Tony's great-great grandfather, Sanford McCormick. In his lifetime, Cyrus McCormick employed professional researchers to assemble most of these Virginia, Kentucky and parts of Pennsylvania McCormicks' family history. That research has held up to modern evaluation, and it clearly shows that ALL these McCormicks in Virginia, Kentucky and parts of Pennsylvania in the 19th century were fairly closely related to Cyrus McCormick, and trace their roots to Ulster Scots in the 17th century Williamite war period.
In this line, the direct ancestor of these McCormicks was present with the defending Scots in Londonderry during the siege of 1689. Celia has notes from other research which show that the McCormick family of these Londonderry defenders was in Antrim and Down toward the end of the 16th century, having come from Argyllshire with the McDonalds after their defeat by the Campbells.
The Crown's investigators into the 1641 rebellion regarded these McCormicks as a sept of McDonald/McDonnell in 1641, and in their interrogations accused them of serving the McDonald Earl of Antrim. These McCormick's are identified by the Crown's census enumerator, Pender, as Scots, in his 1659-60 'Hearth Rolls'. These McCormicks are also identified as Scots in the 1630 Pynnar census. Many of these documents are available on or elsewhere here on our website, AmeriCeltic.net/sources.
Ancestry - Your Scottish or Irish Immigrant Ancestors'
Finding them and Visiting Home Areas
By Cecilia Fabos-Becker, Published 2017-11-17
Most people, when they visit another country, are looking for at least a few experiences and areas to see that aren't just the same places that everyone else has gone. For many U.S. citizens, Scotland and Ireland are at the top of their travel lists because they are the countries grandparents or great-grandparents originated, and the countries' people speak forms of English. In this article, we will give you some of our insights on how to go about identifying where your ancestors were living within the Celtic homelands and from where they emigrated.
Along with other Celtic societies, Clans, etc., AmeriCeltic often hosts a hospitality booth at Irish and Scottish festivals, where these questions are often asked. Hundreds of times a weekend, festival visitors ask us for help in determining, at least the county, and if possible, the particular part of the Irish counties or Scottish shires that their Scottish and Irish families came from. Most of these visitors take notes, or photograph pages of our reference books and or maps. Many intend to travel to those countries someday, and visit their ancestors lands.
There are many useful reference materials where such information can be found, but visitors don't often realize a lot of the information is time specific, and that is very important and useful in understanding what the materials can tell us.
To help find the locations of Irish and Scottish families, we use most often three particular books, and three particular maps.
For Scottish Clans and families, Collins' Scottish Clan and Family Encyclopedia by, George Way of Plean and Romilly Squire, and most of the Scottish maps, such as "Collins' Tartan Map of Scotland," or Bartholomew's Clans Map of Scotland are the most widely used. They offer, from general history and knowledge, where the larger clans, larger houses of clans, and larger septs (allied families) were, in the middle of the 1700's or a bit earlier, before Culloden and the destruction of large parts of the highland clans, including entire villages, in 1746. After the Highland Clearances, which started just after Culloden, and continued through and after the Napoleonic Wars, in the 1820's and 1830's, hundreds of thousands of families and, again, entire villages were removed, literally, and their Scottish highland inhabitants were shoved into coastal towns or paid to emigrate and replaced with sheep.
After 1830, many villages and houses in clan areas no longer existed, except as ruins and rural scenery. If you are a descendant of one of these displaced Scottish families, the best you can see is the shire where ancestors originated and the larger towns and "county seats" in the shire, which ancestors would have known, as those were market towns to them and often still hold old churches where the records of smaller churches now gone went, and the county records as well. This is where you are also most likely to find "heritage centres" with other materials and persons willing to help those who are looking for more in depth family history for families who were once in these areas. Though your immigrant ancestor's individual home, and maybe the tiny village, might not be standing, other parts of the shire well known to your immigrants still are and have their charm. There are still plenty of ancient churches, romantic ruins, and market towns with historic architecture and interesting shops, and pubs with good traditional foods and beverages to enjoy that many descendants have yet to visit.
For Irish families, finding their lands is a bit more complicated, but the principle of identifying where the families were longest and in greatest numbers is the same. The were two major disruptions to the centuries old traditional villages and lands in Ireland. The first began with the rebellions of three Earls in the mid-to late 1500's to 1603, at exactly the same time England was struggling with religious change from Catholic to Protestant. England claimed rulership of Ireland because, beginning in the late 1100's, many Anglo-Norman knights, sworn to serve the English kings, had gone to Ireland as mercenaries for the four and five kings of Ireland and the in clan fighting over who would be high king of Ireland, they had intermarried with those old Irish kingly families, and had acquired large swaths of land as in-laws and in payment for their services. Unfortunately, all their knighthoods had been granted by the king of England and they also owed feudal loyalty to the kings of England and were not allowed to renege upon that oath, and so all these lands became the English kings' property. This was the beginning of the English Pale, which for over two centuries, initially consisted of mostly Dublin, Meath, the eastern half of what is now Westmeath the southern half of Louth, and most of Kildare. Then the Fitzgerald Earl of Desmond, and the O'Neill and O'Donnell Earls of Ulster all made the same fatal mistake: they reneged on a previous agreement with the Queen of England--and invited the Spanish King to rule ALL of Ireland. They neither consulted with their own extended families and clans, nor the rest of the Earls of Ireland, but everyone under them, by feudal traditions and laws, suffered when they lost, but most especially those who were most closely related to the three earls. O'Neills, O'Donnells and Fitzgeralds who were within about two degrees (first and second cousins, children, nieces and nephews) of the leading rebels ended up losing all or parts of their land and being forced to move westward into the kingdom of Connaught--the earls there allowing them, or into exile on the Continent of Europe. James I/VI and his son Charles, allowed the return of some of them between 1609-1639 in the rules of the new Ulster plantations in the counties that had been dominated by these families and allowed the new land-owners to sell, give or lease lands to the remaining families who had the same surnames but were not close to the rebels and had not participated in the rebellions.
For most of the lower-status Irish families, their situation did not change and they continued to live on the same lands they had before. A Scottish branch of the O'Donnells, the McDonnells/McDonalds who had lost a major battle in Argyllshire, Scotland in a bid to claim the Scottish throne and forfeited lands and were forced to return to ancestral lands in Ireland, actually became the Earls of Antrim. It's important to remember there were families who had lands on both sides of the Irish sea, where Ireland is only 12-20 miles from Scotland, from the 5th century forward, who never let their Irish lands go. The McDonalds were one of them, and so were a number of sept families of theirs. The Scots-Irish families of ancient times forward were mostly in Counties Down, Antrim, Armagh, northern Louth, and eastern Tyrone. Many branches of Ayrshire and Argyllshire Scottish families had lands in these counties, and quays, townhouses, warehouses and shops in well and long established trading ports in Antrim, Down, and Louth all through the middle ages and forward. County Down, most of Antrim, northern Louth and eastern Armagh were not part of the forfeited lands of the rebellious 16th century earls and thus not part of the plantations set up by the Stuarts to replace original inhabitants with Scots, Welsh and English.
The next biggest change to the Irish, after the three plantations, came after the 1641 rebellion followed by the overall civil war that occurred in all parts of the British isles and lasted until 1652. After Cromwell and the New Model Army set up by the English parliament were victorious against Irish, Norman Irish, Scots-Irish, and all supporters of the Stuarts, the Parliament attempted to remove all Catholics, regardless of origins, to the kingdom of Connaught and the Burrens of County Clare and Galway. "To hell or to Connaught, I don't care which," was one of the most famous and long remembered statements of Cromwell. Just over 17,000 families--that is entire families of an average of 5 or 6 persons each, and closest servants, were sent into exile to France and Spain. Catholics, and Stuart supporters, which included Protestants were all seen as traitors and in 1653 and 1654 there were large redistributions of lands to the soldiers, English and Scottish (though far fewer of the latter) who had been in the New Model Army. Many did not take up the lands but sold them to others and returned home to England and Scotland to buy up forfeited lands, or lands of those who died in the warfare, closer to their own homes. In 1660-2, however, Charles II restored at least part of most lands that had been taken from Irish families, so many of the 17,000 exiled families returned home--but to smaller holdings of what they once owned.
Most Irish, however, were already reduced to being landless tenants and so did not need to move to Connaught. Their landlord changed from Irish Catholic to English, Welsh, or Scot, Protestant, but not the landless Irish tenants. After the wars and massacres that went both ways in 1641-1652, there never was any clearance of these Irish tenants for sheep or cattle as there was in Scotland.
The next change occurred in 1707, with the English parliament's adoption of Penal Laws for Catholics. Catholics were no longer allowed to own lands, not even Scottish Catholics in Ulster, nor old noble Anglo-Irish or Norman-Irish families throughout Ireland who had lived in Ireland since the 12th or 13th centuries. Up until 1707, at least the old clans and families, regardless of religion and whether they supported the Tudors or Stuarts or not, owned land, even if the seniormost former royal families (now mostly earls) didn't own as much. In 1707 they had the hard choice of remaining Catholic and becoming tenants on their own lands, or changing religion. Some changed religion, at least the senior-most members of the families to retain their lands and be able to look after their Catholic, now tenant, relatives, better.
Some did not, and after 1707, these staunch Catholics were generally allowed to own lands in only one of the four Irish over-kingdoms (Old Irish cóiceda, Modern Irish cúige), the cúige of Connaught on the rugged west coast of the island. Connaught was generally regarded as the least arable land in Ireland while having the harshest climate and after 1653 Connaught became a "reservation for the Catholic Irish."
Most Irish emigrants to the U.S. were the survivors of both the warfare in the 17th century and the 19th century famine. This means their towns and villages largely survived, unlike those of the Scots. A descendant today can go and see the villages, and maybe even the original home of his or her Irish grandparent or great-grandparent. Churches are another matter, however. Those that weren't destroyed by one side or another between 1641-1652 were usually taken over by the Protestant Church of Ireland and any Catholic Churches built (greatly discouraged in most of Ireland between 1707 and 1867) were built more recently. However, records were often saved and simply moved from the old churches to the new. Catholic parish records going back to the early 18th century and even to the mid 17th century, are more complete, now, than the Protestant Church of Ireland records, which were, at one point, fatefully ordered to be sent to the Public Records Office in Dublin. In Ireland, one can see not only the village and possibly the home of an immigrant Catholic, long-time Irish, ancestor but the churches, and the Catholic Churches' records as well!
Like the Scots, Irish people lived in clans, with allied families (septs) and regions specifically owned by them. Most people stayed on these lands where their families had lived for many centuries. After 1867, Catholics were again allowed to own land, some began to buy back their ancestral lands and some of those who had been forced to move away, moved back to their traditional lands.
The two Irish family books most often used to help determine family's' ancestral area homes go by several ancient sets of records, particularly Griffith's Land Valuations of 1852-1855 (right after the famine), and the hearth rolls of 1659-60 and Pynnar's 1620's census of most of Ulster--unfortunately excluding County Down and parts of Antrim, Armagh, and Louth, as non-plantation lands. The 1620's census were to determine if the landholders of the plantations were following the mandates and SELLING or GIVING enough lands to Scots, Welsh, and even "loyal" Irish settlers. If they were leasing too many lands and had not made enough improvements to the area, the landholders could, and some were, be required to forfeit the lands, and the grants were then given to someone else.
So the Irish books list where most Americans' Irish immigrant families were most likely to have been at the time ancestors emigrated to the U.S. The best two books are: The Surnames of Ireland by Edward MacLysaght, who relied heavily on the 1852-5 Griffith's Valuations, and The Book of Irish Families Great and Small by Michael C. O'Laughlin. The latter book was published by by The Irish Genealogical Foundation, Kansas City, MO, and sold through the organization/website "The Irish Roots Cafe" also in Kansas City, MO.
The best map, which generally works well with the MacLysaght book, is Collins Heraldic Scroll and Map of Family Names and Origins of Ireland.
Now there is one last complication to all of the foregoing. Many Americans have Irish or Scottish ancestors who emigrated to the U.S. not from Ireland or Scotland, but from ENGLAND, particularly after the U.S. Civil War. After the two "Acts of Union" (a better description is "shot-gun marriages") between England and Scotland and England and Ireland, in which both the Scottish and Irish parliaments were abolished and very few seats in the "Union" parliament were then granted to Scots or Irish, the English dominated parliament did not see fit to invest much in infrastructure or provide for services, such as famine relief, in either Scotland or Ireland. Most people don't realize it, but there was a major famine in Scotland, in about 1837-8, for precisely the same reason--failure of the potato crop from change of climate, in Scotland, ten years before the better known famine in Ireland.
The English or Anglophile landowners in both Scotland and England invested little in infrastructure, themselves, or in manufacturing, or if they did, failed to maintain and upgrade it. Many of the land-owners by the 1830's were absentee land-owners with homes in London and nearby London in ENGLAND, where there was greater social life, more economic opportunities, and they could enjoy greater political influence and benefits. The English parliament favored ENGLISH manufacturers and merchants. Even most trade had to go through English ports and most goods and raw materials from Ireland and Scotland were required to go to England to be turned into manufactured, finished goods. The canals and railroads were first built in England and, only decades later, were some built in Ireland and Scotland. The weaving industry collapsed in Ireland and weavers had to go to work in Scotland or England. This all particularly happened at the end of the Napoleonic wars, in which the Scottish and Irish industries had still been important in providing for the British troops. By the 1830's, hundreds of thousands of younger sons of tenant farmers with little land in Scotland and Ireland, sons of craftsmen, and others, ended up working in England, particularly in the midlands, the big port cities, or in the mines of Northumbria, Cumbria and Wales.
The good news is that the English, Scottish and Welsh censuses of the 1800's survived and are mostly online. By 1841, they also included the names of the wife and all the children, their ages and in most cases, if they came from Ireland or Scotland, the COUNTY where they had lived before coming to England. We found Tony's Coyne family, at long last in the English census records, in Wolverhampton, Staffordshire, where the family had moved in the late 1830's. The brothers, sisters, and uncles of his great-grandmother all had additional records and in them it was stated they were from County Mayo. Additional history of the Irish in Wolverhampton described how many people from a particular part of that county had left when the weaving industry in and around Westport collapsed. We also discovered from Griffith's valuation that a small part of the original family stayed in Mayo but went to the far southeast of the county, near Coynes who were ancestors of the current First Lady of Ireland, and her ancestral family had also come from the same civil parish near Westport in County Mayo. Westport is also specifically mentioned in the Wolverhampton and Staffordshire histories of the Irish there as the place many Irish from County Mayo boarded a packet ship that brought them to England.
There are also records in the U.S. that may indicate where an immigrant ancestor originated. The ships' registers often only listed the country of birth of emigrants, but not the county, but they listed approximate ages of passengers and usually had family members together, particularly if they were minor children traveling with a parent or parents, and sometimes adult brothers and sisters were together. Naturalization--citizenship--papers were required to be filed by some states, but not all. Pennsylvania did not require naturalization until much later than many states. However, most Irish immigrants arrived through a few ports, especially New York. In New York they often stayed a few months or a few years before relocating elsewhere, often with the help of the Ancient Order of Hibernians and church groups. When they were in New York, some members of most families had bank accounts with one or two Irish American banks and those records are now online. Even if one's immediate immigrant ancestor did not have an account, it is likely he or she had a brother or sister, or first cousin who did have an account and in those account records is listed the county, and sometimes even the town of birth of the holder, and it will be the same location for all members of the family who lived nearby in New York at that time. We found Tony's McInerney family's county and two possible towns through those very same bank records. After more research by us and a researcher in Ireland, one of those two towns proved to be the very place his great-grandfather was born and baptized. We were able to go and visit the town, see the cemetery where family was buried, the ruins of the hilltop church where his ancestor was baptized, and drove through a part of some of the best, most dramatic scenery in Ireland, the Burrens.
All in all, it's really not that hard to find at least the county in Ireland or shire in Scotland where one's immigrant ancestors originated. There are three good books, several maps and if you don't have an ancestry.com subscription to access census and naturalization records, the chances are pretty good you know someone who can do a couple of look-ups for you, a family member or a friend, or you can see us, or any of a number of volunteers, at society or clan booths at any of a number of annual festivals.