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When you can't find the record...

It's been an interesting week. Things are starting to open up here in Florida, but for the most part, I'm still social distancing, going out for food and physical therapy. I did some Zoom meetings, one of which was with the Connecticut Professional Genealogist Council, where I am a member, but unable to attend meetings. I loved being able to visit with old friends and view a great presentation by Cathi Desmarais on Forensic Genealogy. I also attended a webinar by Diahan Southard on FamilyTreeDNA (she did one on 23andMe a few weeks ago). Diahan is amazing and if you're trying to understand DNA go to her website and sign up for her newsletters. She also has a new book which unlike other DNA books is for problem solving. The ability for personal education has been amazing during this time when many of my lectures have been cancelled.

I've also been following many blogs, Facebook pages for Irish genealogy and other sources. It seems that many people while home have taken up genealogy and the questions they post are along the lines of "my ancestor came from Ireland and was born in 1815. Where do I find (or I can't find) their birth record." For most of you, I'm sure the answer is fairly won't find a birth record since birth registration didn't start until 1864. Another familiar question is "I'm trying to find Pat Murphy (or some other really common surname) in Ireland born in 1830. Can anyone tell me where he was born?" Many people on the lists try to be helpful. One list that I follow includes an individual who responds to every request with the same response...go to That was starting to make me a bit crazy. It's a great site, don't get me wrong, but you're not going to find a birth record for someone born in 1815 or 1830. Yes, they also have church records but only for a small number of places (Kerry, Cork and Ross, Dublin City). If someone is posing the questions above, they clearly don't understand Irish records and will only become frustrated since they still won't find the record, or will find a record of someone with the same name.

This points to the importance of knowing as much about your ancestor from the records in the country of immigration. I write all the time about the corroborating details. What else (besides the name) do you know about your ancestor that would differentiate him/her from others of the same name? The second point is, have you studied the history of Ireland (or whatever country your ancestor emigrated from)? For Ireland, no everything didn't burn, but there was a tremendous loss of records. Rather than chasing information that doesn't exist, you need to focus on what does exist and you need to be flexible. You also need to understand what is available, what substitute records might provide addition information and when you are using an online database, what it contains. Read about the record in a database before you search it. If your ancestor was Protestant, the records at the National Library (and indexed by Ancestry and Findmypast) are not going to include your ancestor. Those are only Roman Catholic records. Just because you found someone of the same name, you don't get to adopt them into your family. That's how we end up with "former ancestors." Those are the ones we've researched for years, only to discover they belong in another family. The same goes for Family Trees. They can be a big help if you know enough about your family to confirm a connection, but just saving the record because it's the same name can lead to problems.

When you can't find the record you're looking for, begin by reading through all the information you have on that particular ancestor (I say this so often, I hope is sounds familiar). Create a timeline that includes every record you have on the individual and figure out what holes exist in your research. Research the holes...what records are available for the time and place (either in the US or Ireland).

If you still can't find the record, think about why not. If you're looking for a birth, marriage or death record in Ireland after 1864 and can't find it, why not? There is the possibility that the record wasn't recorded or was lost. There is no civil record of death for Mary Moughty in 1935 in Ireland. I had read every index entry both on microfilm at the Family History Library, and been through the hard bound books in Ireland at the General Register Office from 1927 (when I had the last entry for her) and 1956 (when her husband died as a widower). When the FamilySearch Index went on line about 2008 I I'll find her. No such luck. What would be an alternate source for her death? A newspaper obituary? A church burial record? I found the death notice in the Irish Newspaper Archives (available if you are a member of the New England Historic Genealogical Society on their AmericanAncestors site). By using a perpetual calendar I was able to determine that her death was on 25 Nov 1935.

Moughty, Mary (Lynn) Funeral Notice Westmeath Examiner 30 Nov 1935 p. 5

Now that I had a date, I wrote to the local registration office in Westmeath to see if they had a record...they didn't. One unique aspect of Roman Catholic records in Westmeath is that it is one of the few locations that has burial records. The burial record existed in, but no first name was given...she was just listed as Moughty with a first name not recorded. I did write to the Westmeath Heritage Center and the record now contains the note: ALTHOUGH THE CHRISTIAN NAME IS NOT RECORD IN THE PARISH REGISTER, THIS IS POSSIBLY MARY MOUGHTY NEE LYNN, WIFE TO BERNARD MOUGHTY.

I had another experience this week while working with a cousin. She was having a problem finding records for her Bridge family in County Tyrone. This was a collateral line for me so I hadn't done a lot of research on it. I had found a record for an Alexander Bridge born in the Registration District of Cookstown, but couldn't find the siblings. From this record I had the names of the parents, Andrew Bridge and Jane Dorman. I looked at all the Bridge families in Tyrone in Griffith's Valuation and they weren't where I expected them to be (which was in the Civil Parish of Tamlaght). The timing was right for Andrew to be in Griffith's, but I couldn't find him. The family emigrated about 1870 to the US and I had them in the census records from 1880. Since I hadn't been able to find records I was looking for in IrishGenealogy, and the baptisms weren't in RootsIreland because they were Presbyterians (per the records are on microfilm at PRONI) I decided to look for other genealogy records for the area of Coagh (a sub-district of Cookstown). This is where you want to Google the name of the locality and the word genealogy to see what appears. In this case, I also added the name Dorman (Bridge didn't make sense since I would get any locality name that included Bridge). Up popped a website, Official Website of the Mailing List which contained a list of civil births in Coagh between 1864 and 1875. There was a listing for Sarah BRIDGET born to Andrew BRIDGET and his wife Jane Dorman.

Was this just a typo and mis-transcription? I never thought about BRIDGET as a possible surname. I decided to see if there was anything else on the site. I used a Google search of a specific site. You type what you're looking for followed by site:name of site. So the search looked like this:

The quotes around Andrew Bridget insures that I get an exact match for the name, rather than any entry with Bridget. This is a great trick for searching specific websites where the information is in an html format. The results showed Andrew Bridget in both Griffith's and the Tithe Applotment exactly where I expected him in Tamlaght. I then found the civil records for two additional children born in Ireland with the surname of Bridget. I also found the death in 1885 of Andrew Bridget listing his widow as Jane. This just shows that spelling doesn't count! From the records I found, the family could not read and write so they wouldn't know how the name was written. If you don't find what you're looking for in a database, keep your eyes open for other pieces of information that show the correct this case the names of the parents.

Happy Hunting!

Celtic Connections is going Virtual. Watch for registration information.

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