For the past month I’ve discussed researching in the major repositories in Dublin and Belfast. Although there is much to be found there, you should also plan to travel to the area where your ancestors lived. There you will find additional local resources to extend your research. You may not find specific documents naming your ancestor, but you’re likely to find local history records that will tell you what life was like for your ancestor during the time they lived. For example, what was happening at the time they emigrated…what was the “push” to send them away from their home.
Start with the County Library/Archives. Every Library is different and you don’t know what you’ll find until you check. On one of my trips, I had reviewed the holdings of the Longford Library before I left home and was intrigued by their reference to “Estate Records.” There was a story that Pat Moughty had been evicted from his land in Barnacor and that’s how he ended up in Westmeath. Like most places in Ireland, the Library didn't have a specific address and the Library wasn’t embedded in my GPS. Once I got to Longford Town, I pulled over and asked where the Library was located. "Just go down past the light and through the arch on the right" I was told. The arch was simply an alley (very narrow) between two buildings connected by a walkway. Of course I missed it the first time and had to go through town, turn around and head back. The alley opened up to a large parking lot for a supermarket and in the back was the small Library. When I checked at the desk I was told the Archives was in another building across the parking lot. The Archives housed a substantial collection of local history and genealogy books as well as some original records. One wall contained the original Workhouse Registers for the three locations in Longford (although you had to use them on microfilm). Same with the maps. Unfortunately, the small estate collection they had did not cover the landlords listed in Griffith’s Valuation for the estates where my ancestors lived. I've written on Estate Records in the past and they might be found in any repository in Ireland or even in England if the Landlord's main estate was there.
There were lots of local history books that I hadn’t seen in the US. Definitely spend some time reviewing these. The book Cashel (this is the parish of Cashel in County Longford) had maps of the townlands in the parish. Another book listed the changes in the estate ownership between the Tithe and Griffith’s and I discovered one Moughty was on the King Harmon estate during the Tithe. I had overheard the Archivist talking to another patron about the records they had for King Harmon but when I checked they only had personal papers after 1850…too late for me. The Archivist did say that the rent books for the estate were at the National Library, so that was a possibility for Dublin. I spent about two hours in the Archives and then went back to the Library for another hour of online newspaper research into the local papers. You can go to the Links and Resources page of my website for County Resources to find a listing for the County Library and/or Archive.
A number of years ago, I had the opportunity to visit the Leitrim County Library. They have a large wall of index cards for the local newspapers (this was before online newspapers became available).
Before you arrive in Ireland, spend time on the website of the local County Library/Archives. If you find something interesting, or just have a question, I’ve found the Librarians or Archivists to be very helpful. I sent an email to the Archivist in Mayo and when I arrived he had pulled a number of documents for me. He also forwarded some additional material to me after I returned home. Start with the link to their Local Studies material. You never know what you’ll find until you look (my mantra).
I always recommend that you “google” the name of the parish (both civil and Roman Catholic if appropriate) and the word genealogy. Also do this for the county. You are likely to find a plethora of information. Local organizations post information specific to their area. My grandmother’s family, the Mackeys and Johnstons, were Church of Ireland and the records from the Rossinver Parish Church in Kinlough, Leitrim were destroyed in the PRO fire. Although the original (lost) records dated to 1827, the surviving records are only from 1876. I found my great great grandfather, Matthew Mackey in Griffith’s but have no marriage or birth records for his family. I have visited the church in Kinlough and walked the cemetery and found no information on the death and burial of my great grandparents or earlier. I did a google search on Donegal genealogy and discovered a site called Donegal Genealogy Archives, a part of the Irish Genealogy Project. They had a transcription of the burials at St. Anne’s Church of Ireland Parish in Ballyshannon, and my great great grandfather, Matthew Mackey was listed. In addition to the church in Kinlough, there was also another COI church in Bundoran, yet Matthew and I believe his wife, Isabelle, along with by great grandfather, James, are all buried at St. Anne’s in Ballyshannon. That changed the focus of my research to attempt to find a connection in Donegal.
On one of my trips to the area, I contacted the Vicar for the Church of Ireland in Rossinver. The church is part of a group, with services rotated among the various parishes. He put me in touch with the secretary for the Rossivner church who met me and opened the church. If you wish to visit a church, it’s important to make contact before you go. Many churches have limited staff and there may be no one there if you just show up. Do contact the church prior to your visit.
Make sure you join any Facebook groups that cover the area where your ancestor lived. Members of these groups live all over the world including in the county you’re researching. They can provide information and assistance prior to your trip, and you might just find a cousin who still lives there! You can find many of these group listed in the County Resources section of my website. You’ll find links for the general genealogy page, as well as the DNA group page if they have one.
One last place to check is Ireland xo (Ireland Reaching Out). This organization was set up to assist the diaspora in connecting with their ancestral location in Ireland. Check out their site and join the parish of your ancestor to connect with others from the area. A short write up on your ancestor may connect you to others researching the same family. They also offer a Meet and Greet but you need to set that up before you arrive.
While you’re busy researching your family, don’t miss the opportunity to do some sightseeing in the area. This will give you a feeling for the life of your ancestor. Depending on where you are you might enjoy the Ulster American Folk Park in Omagh, Tyrone. Similar to a Plimouth Plantation or Williamsburg, you can walk through the park and view the homes, farms, churches and towns of 18th and 19th century Ireland. Once you reach the town, you can enter the quay where the ships leave for America and when you leave the ship, you’re in America. A view of life on both sides of the Atlantic from an Irish perspective.
If you’re in the south of Ireland in County Cork, don’t miss Cobh (the former Queenstown). This might have been the place where your ancestors left for America and the museum embodies that experience. This is also the last port of call for the Titanic, and the place where survivors and victims of the Lusitania were brought.
Near Castlebar in County Mayo is the National Museum of Country Life. Part of the National Museum of Ireland, this modern museum, built on an estate at Turlough Park, it shows how people lived in Ireland during the 100 years after the Great Famine.
There is not enough space for me to mention all of the wonderful places to visit in Ireland. Get a good tour book and plan to make multiple trips! Some top spots include: The Ring of Kerry, Giant’s Causeway, Glendalough, Skellig Michael (for Star Wars fans), Newgrange, the Cliffs of Moher, The Burren. Whether researching or just visiting, enjoy the beautiful country.
March typically brings all things Irish to genealogical researchers.
Watch sites for free or discounted access to Irish records.
From now until March 31st, the Irish Family History Foundation (RootsIreland)
is offering a 25% discount on annual or six month subscriptions.