I ended last week’s blog with a comment about the importance of searching ALL of the family members. Elizabeth Shown Mills’ principle of identifying your ancestor’s FAN club (friends, associates and neighbors) can be key in solving your brick wall of a location in Ireland. In her QuickLesson 11: Identity Problems & the FAN Principle she uses the example of identifying an unknown female through her husband’s FAN club. The same principles can be applied to finding the origins of your Irish ancestor through their FAN club. (Check out Elizabeth’s Historical Biographer’s Guide to Cluster Research (The FAN Principle): Quicksheet (Evidence).
Many have searched for years for the elusive place of origin without success. I hear constantly “I’ve searched everywhere for my ancestor’s place of birth.” Sometimes when I ask about siblings or parents I get a blank look and a response of “I don’t know who they are.” Maybe it’s time to change the research question. Instead of “Where was my ancestor born in Ireland?” maybe the question should be “Who are the parents and siblings of my ancestor?” One place to start looking for this information is in church records. Yes, I know they are not online…not everything is, and sometimes you need to write to, or visit the location where your ancestor lived. The addition of Roman Catholic records from some of the larger cities (Archdioceses) by FindMyPast and AmericanAncestors has been wonderful, but if your ancestor was elsewhere you're going to have to go to the source, the local parish. Was this their original place of settlement in the US or did they migrate from another area? Work your way back. Were they married in Ireland or in the US? Have you identified the witnesses to the marriage and the sponsors for their children’s baptisms? Who were those people? Research them as if they were your own ancestor. Witnesses and sponsors tend to be a family member or close friend (possibly from the same place in Ireland). A surname you don’t recognize could be the sister of your ancestor.
Once you find a sibling or other relative, research them thoroughly. I’ve written multiple times about only knowing that my husband’s grandfather, Michael Daly came from Irishtown (26 “official” Irishtowns in 12 counties). It wasn’t until I found the obituary of his half brother that I learned that the family was from County Mayo. It also turned out that Irishtown was not an official name in Mayo. It was through an interview with an aunt that I got another piece of the puzzle, Crimlon (which turned to be Crumlin) and was able to identify the correct Daly family.
Have you found your ancestor in every census for which they were living? In the earliest one, who were their neighbors? Were any of them born in Ireland? Are there any other people in the neighborhood with the same surname? Yes, research them! Your ancestor didn’t throw a dart at a map when he decided to emigrate…he went to a place where he knew someone. Always watch for people with the same or even a different surname who appear living in the household of your ancestor. The Irish (in particular after the Famine) practiced chain migration…one person would emigrate and send money home to bring the next person. Was it a cousin, a nephew or niece who emigrated later? They likely came from the same general area. Immigration records after 1892 and naturalization records after 1906 typically have the name of a place in Ireland (could be the parish, townland or Poor Law Union). Again, research those people as if they were your ancestor.
Michael Owens was born prior to civil registration in Ireland and naturalized in 1873 when limited information is available about place of birth. However, Bridget Baxter appears in the household of Michael Owens in 1900. She arrived in 1898 and was born after civil registration in 1880. Her immigration showed she was from Ballyconnell and a civil registration for Bridget Baxter born in 1880 was in Cavan. A likely place, therefore, to begin a search for Michael Owens is in County Cavan. There is a Michael Owens, son of Bernard and Anna Preis baptized 31 Jan 1838, and the Michael in the census named his first son Bernard. This is a possible connection for continued research.
For those of you who had very early immigrants, those who arrived in the 1700 and early 1800s pay special attention to the methodology that Elizabeth demonstrates. You should look for the FAN club of your ancestor, then look at the people who lived around them. Unlike the later Irish, the early, typically Scots-Irish immigrants tended to travel in groups. They also purchased land as they migrated west, so land records are important. Most were Presbyterian so check for Presbyterian Church records in the areas where they settled. Presbyterians used a system of "letters of transfer" and you might find a reference to where they came from.
Here's a link back to a blog I wrote last year on Cluster for Success.
Don't forget to check out my Calendar to see where I'll be speaking. I'll be in Jacksonville this coming weekend for a conference and in Manchester New Hampshire for the New England Regional Conference the first weekend of April. Hope to see you there.