This past week I've had multiple questions about finding the place in Ireland where an ancestor was born. A number of them have come from people who want to go on one of the Ireland Research Trips. Knowing the locality in Ireland is a prerequisite for going on the trip. It's not that I don't want you there, but I don't want you to be disappointed. Research in Ireland is difficult even if you know the location because of the destruction of the records in the 1922 fire. There are no complete records sets prior to 1864, however records do exist and knowing the location will allow you to find what is available.
Begin by creating a timeline for your ancestor including every piece of information you know and the source of the information. I wrote about this a few weeks ago. You will have conflicting information on dates...our Irish ancestors didn't have a clue about dates, and most didn't know their birthday. This exercise will give you a range of dates to search. Are there any gaps in your records, especially after immigration? Look to fill these in.
Do you have any corroborating details? How are you going to know which Michael Daly is yours when you get back to Ireland? You need to know something else about him. Location is key, but since that is the research question, you probably don't have that. What were his parents' names? Did he/she have any siblings? What were their names and approximate ages? Did any of the siblings remain in Ireland, or did they marry and have any of their children in Ireland? These are all pieces of information that will help you distinguish your person from someone else of the same name. If you don't know about siblings you need to do more research. It is highly unlikely that your Irish ancestor was an only child. If his mother died in childbirth, he likely has half siblings (someone had to take care of the children when the mother died, so the father tended to remarry quickly). If the parents' names to not appear on the death certificate, perhaps they appear on a siblings death certificate. A marriage certificate is also a good source, since the person who knows the information likely provided it, unlike a death certificate where the person who knows the information is dead!
Do you have your ancestor in every census record? Were there any additional people living in the household that you haven't identified? Figure out who those people are. It's great if they are identified as a cousin or nephew, but if they are listed as a border they might have come from the same place in Ireland. Make sure you fill in those gaps.
Do you have their World War I and World War II (if they lived that long) draft registration? The World War II registration frequently gives a place of birth other than Ireland.
Do you have their church records for marriage and the baptism of all of their children born here. Who are the witnesses and sponsors? Yes, I know that these are sometimes difficult to get because the majority are not online. Roman Catholic records are considered private and with the exception of some of the larger Archdioceses such as Boston (AmericanAncestors) and New York, Philadelphia, Baltimore, Chicago, Cincinnati, Toledo (FindMyPast), you will have to write to the local parish to obtain the records (don't forget to include a donation). Also, when you write ask for everything in the register. You will typically receive a form back and if there is information in the register (such as where an individual was baptized which some priests required for a marriage) you won't get it since there is no blank on the form. Always ask for everything specifying that you are looking for a location in Ireland. Since godparents (sponsors) were responsible for the child if something happened to the parents, they tend to be relatives or close friends, possibly from the same place in Ireland. You need to research these individuals as if they were your ancestor.
Do you know where the name appears in Ireland? Our ancestors tended to live in the same location for generations. That's one of the reasons we have so many people of the same name living in the same place. If you're lucky enough to have an unusual name (like Moughty) there may be only a small number of locations. If you're searching Murphy or Sullivan, you've got a bigger problem. Begin at IrishAncestors, John Grenham's site and type in your surname. Is the name prevalent across Ireland or (if you're lucky) isolated to a particular area? (John's site is a subscription site, but he does allow 5 requests a day before he asks for a subscription.) Here are two blogs I wrote a while back that explain the site. (I realize that you may not even know the county, but these explain how the site works.)
Case Study 1
My ancestor was born after 1864 (the beginning of civil registration) and emigrated in the late 19th or early 20th century. Well, you're in luck! Immigration records after 1892 typically give the exact location in Ireland, along with the name of the closest relative in Ireland and the name of the person they will be going to in the US. After 1900 you even get the place where they were born. If the name is uncommon, go to IrishGenealogy.ie and search for the individual's birth in the civil registration indexes. If the results include multiple people of the same name, use your corroborating details to select the correct individual. The registration will give you the date and place of birth, the father's name and occupation, the mother's name and maiden name, the name of the person who registered the event, the date it was registered and the name of the registrar.
But what if you have one of those common names. At one of the first conferences I added in the 1990s I listened to a lecture by Henry Hoff on searching common surnames. What has always stuck with me is his comment that once you identify the location you may find the name isn't all that common. See above for a map of the Daly Households in Ireland during the time of Griffith's Valuation (between 1847-1864).
When I started all I knew was that Michael Daly was from Irishtown. There are 27 townland names containing Irishtown in 11 counties (including multiple Irishtowns in some counties).
An important principle when researching your Irish ancestors is Cluster Research. I found an obituary for Michael's half brother, Peter, that stated that he was from Mayo. Unfortunately I found no Irishtowns in Mayo! Our ancestors frequently used "unofficial names" for their locality or may have mentioned the closest well known place. They also might have mentioned some other administrative jurisdiction. There are over 60,000 townlands in Ireland and it wasn't until the 1830s that the names were "officially" defined by John O'Donovan. But don't be shy about using Google. A search for "Irishtown Mayo" (don't use the quotes or Google will look or an exact match) turns up the information that Irishtown is a village (not a townland) and its claim to fame is that it is the "Cradle of the Land League." Now I knew I was looking for Michael Daly in County Mayo near Irishtown (which is in Crossboyne Civil Parish and the Poor Law Union or Registration District of Claremorris). A search of the Civil Registration Index at IrishGenealogy.ie, for the years 1885-1890 (I typically use a range of 5 years)shows only two Michael Dalys both born in 1886 in Claremorris, but in different quarters.
So which one is correct? You can look at both and see which matches your corroborating evidence. My corroborating information was the names of the parents, so the Michael Daly son of John Daly and Mary Morrally (Morley) was the correct record.
Here's another way to get corroborating evidence. The obituary of Peter Daly gave a birth date, 2 Dec 1875, as well as names of other siblings. By looking for Peter's birth registration, I matched the father's name (he was a half brother) and the location to confirm I had the correct record for Michael.
Next week I'll continue with an additional case study to provide some ideas for finding a locality when your ancestor was born in Ireland before 1864.
Check out my Irish Quick Reference Guide #1, Preparing for Success in Irish Research
to help identify a locality in Ireland. It is available as a four page
laminated brochure or as a digital file.