Finding Irish Ancestors: Part 2 – The Old Country

May you have blessings in abundance with your Irish research.

In Part 1, we had a brief excursion through the possible records in the new land, to learn where you might learn more about your ancestors’ Irish origins. With a bit of luck you’ve gained some clues on their home place from these resources so now you can turn your sights on the old country’s records.

Hopefully you’ve got more than just the county name or you will have a close-to-insoluble problem.  Remember that just because “Name eg Gunning” is the only instance you can find in the records, doesn’t necessarily mean it’s the right one! It may mean not all the records survived, or that they haven’t been digitised or indexed.

So where to look in Ireland?

Let’s assume you’ve got the parish, village or townland because without them you’re in serious research trouble.

Parish Registers

Image reproduced with permission of Furman University Special Collections and Archives, email 28 Sept 12. 

If you have the parish name, the first place I’d look is at the Family Search Catalogue and search by place (try parish and/or town).  You won’t always find that the LDS church holds a microfilmed copy of the registers, but you may get lucky as I did. If so you can order the microfilm and have it delivered to a local family history centre or your local genealogical society (assuming they are authorised lenders). You can check available locations here.

Be aware that church registers for Catholic parishes rarely go back to the very early 19th century due to storage conditions and restrictions on the practice of the religion.  You may find the early years of the registers very difficult to read but it’s worth persevering.

Online indexes to registers provide an alternative search option:

Roots Ireland

Irish Genealogy

The former is a pay-to-view site and can be very helpful, if you’re lucky. It currently covers most of the counties except Clare, Carlow, Kerry, Dublin city and Cork (RC).

Irish Genealogy is a free-to-use site and covers the counties omitted from Roots Ireland, with the exception of Clare which as yet is covered by neither, frustrating given that Clare is one of the biggest exporters of migrants. However you can always refer to the Clare Roots Society to see what they recommend (check under the Activites tab).

For some time this gravestone in the Tuamgraney churchyard seemed a good fit for my O’Briens, but this lot came from Caherhurley. Erected by Matthew O’Brien from Perth, WA.

I’ve had good fortune with both these sites, especially with the Dublin records. Conversely there are births covered in Co Wexford and Wicklow, for example, which aren’t turning up in Roots Ireland as they should. As always, be aware that a negative result doesn’t necessarily mean what you’re looking for isn’t in the registers. This may be due to an indexing error, the church registers which have been indexed, or commencement dates of the register.  You can always search each site to ascertain which parishes have been indexed.

Where possible it’s always best to check yourself by borrowing the microfilm.

Family Search

You can specify your search within the United Kingdom and Ireland then select one of the Irish options. This can be very helpful for research once you move into the period of civil registration.

If you find one that you’re confident belongs to your family, you can then order the certificate, or a copy, from the General Register Office.

Griffith’s Primary Valuation

My 2x great aunt lived in this house near Lough Doon after her marriage in the C19th.

There isn’t space to go into this in detail here (keep an eye out for it in a future Beyond the Internet topic in a few weeks).

Suffice to say that this land valuation for the purposes of taxation, is the major resource for Irish research and is a substitute for the censuses which were destroyed either officially or in the Troubles.

It’s important to also look at the accompanying maps as well. In some cases there are accompanying house books, field books and name books. Not all survive but you should check out what the status is for your family.

Do you think you understand the GV and what it was all about? There are so many nuances and this article is invaluable in broadening our understanding. The book is even better but if you can’t buy the book or borrow it on inter-library loan, then the article is an excellent synopsis.

I’m restricted in what images I can show you due to copyright and reproduction rights, but please, don’t just settle for searching the indexes. Seeing the original documents give you a much better feel for life “on the ground”, and lets you learn more about your ancestors’ neighbours..

The revision lists which document the changes in land ownership from the time of the original valuation to the present day are at least as important.

Tithe Applotments

These date to the 1820s-1840s and were payable towards the expenses of the Church of Ireland clergy, irrespective of the person’s religion. This is a more restrictive source than the Griffith Valuations but can be useful.

A more indirect way to locate the prevalence of your family is to search for the stats on the name across the counties.

Census records

In the majority of cases, the census records prior to 1901 have been destroyed officially or through the Troubles. However there are a few remnants for some lucky areas. There are also some extracts held for people who claimed the pension and had to use census extracts to prove their age. Why oh why are my relatives never on these lists?

Complex statistics are available for all the years however and these can be invaluable to get a sense of the place where your ancestors lived and the changes over the decades especially regarding the impact of the Famine.

The 1901 and 1911 census returns are the first surviving records for the Republic.  Fortunately many people seemed to have great longevity so you may be lucky and find links to the members of your family who remained in Ireland.

It’s important not to just look at your specific ancestor in their townland. Do have a look at their neighbours as well -this is the context within which your family lived, and these are the people who formed their daily networks. Indexes are all well and good, but they do tempt you to only focus on your own family when much more can be learned by widening the lens.

Talk to the locals

Would a passer-by realise this was the remaining wall of my ancestor’s house, without the help of the inheritor.

Yes this is most applicable when you are visiting Ireland and when you know the place your ancestor came from.  On my first trip to Broadford, Co Clare, on enquiring about O’Briens I was invited to visit an elderly couple who had no memory of my own family’s migration to Australia. Quite genuinely they told me no one from the village went to Australia but in retrospect and knowing how pivotal the parish priest of Broadford was in encouraging Australian migration, this is quite ironic.  They were delightful and happy to help but sadly couldn’t. In those early days too I fear I may not have been as strategic in my approach, and possibly too focused on what I wanted to know.

A second trip was a different story when the acting parish priest, a former missionary with whom we bonded after Mass, promptly drove us to the home of someone with a completely different name from O’Brien and announced the presence of their relations from Australia. It’s hard to know how was more astonished as we compared what we knew about Mary and Bridget O’Brien’s lives in Australia.  Paddy was enormously helpful to me and showed me the original land and where the house was. I am so indebted to him for this. (You can see the O’Brien land on the header images -it’s the view with the red-roofed shed).

A sign on the Famine graveyard at Tuamgraney, Co Clare.

It was only later that I learned about the Valuation revision books and now the name of the final owner made sense!

Workhouse Registers

If you know you families were extremely poor especially around the Famine times, it might be worth your while to check the workhouse registers, some of which are now available online. The gateway to these is through this site. The most important thing to remember is to check which Poor Law Union your parish belonged to eg Kilseily parish in County Clare is actually in the Limerick Poor Law Union.

Memorial Inscriptions

The gravestone of Thomas & Anne Gunning in Kilbane Cemetery, Co Clare. Erected by their son Fr JJ Gunning of Australia.

The more distant the person’s death, the less likely you’ll find a gravestone & MI, in my opinion. This isn’t always the case so it’s worth a look but don’t get your hopes up unless your family had money or a position of influence.

Estate Records

As many of our Irish ancestors were tenants on estates, one pivotal place to look is for the records of the estates. Where they exist they can tell you all sorts of information ranging from how they paid their rents, which adult children remained at home, how overdue their rentals were, and so on. Some remain in private hands, others are found in the National Library. There’s no one-size-fits-all.

Encumbered Estates Records

These have been indexed by Findmypast Ireland and you may have some joy in finding your tenant farmers mentioned among these records.

Summary

This is a quick synopsis of some of the key resources that might help you find your Irish ancestral families. You might get lucky and find hits in all of them or alternatively, none of them. You may have to explore other records, some of which can only be searched in Ireland.

The critical fact is knowing at least which parish your family belonged to. Without that you are stumbling in the dark, and even with it, you may hit obstacle after obstacle and be left scratching your head.

It’s clear that Irish research can be challenging but it’s by no means as impossible as is often perceived.  Like a lot of family history it’s a case of persistence and patience….try, try again!

And don’t be lulled into thinking I’ve solved all my own Irish family mysteries… I haven’t  or I’d know the origins of James Sherry (northern Ireland?); Martin Furlong (Wexford not Tullamore?); what happened to Denis Gavin’s mother in Kildare or his wife, Ellen Murphy’s mother in Wicklow. It’s always a work in progress with at least as many questions as answers.

I’d be more than happy if my readers pitched in with their experiences in Irish research: successes and “failures”. Over to you.

Finding Irish ancestors: Part 1 – In the new land

Oh for a leprechaun to tell you where your Irish ancestors originated.

Now anyone who’s researched Irish ancestors will know just how unpredictable this process can be. So much depends on serendipity in the form of timelines –when your family was born or died, where they lived, how much money they had (or more likely didn’t have), when they emigrated, etc. You then need to mix serendipity with a large dollop of lateral thinking to see how many side paths you can travel to tease out the information.

So this is my (incomplete) guide to starting on your Irish family. I’m more than happy for other Irish researchers to add their “two bob’s worth” as each path provides different challenges opportunities.

Locating their place

Most importantly, you can’t just go find your Irish rellies without having a clue where they lived in Ireland, and unfortunately the name of the county is unlikely to serve either, unless you’ve got an exceptionally rare name. What you ideally need is the parish, village or townland. You also need to be able to translate what you see on paper to an Irish accent, as so many of our ancestors from the mid-19th century were illiterate and relied on an independent person to spell what they were telling them. For much the same reason you can’t assume that the spelling will always be consistent. It does tend to get a bit “chicken-and-egg” but you need that place.

So where to start?

IN THE NEW LAND

Certificates

Extract of death certificate for Ellen Gavin, my 2xgreat grandmother. Colony of Qld certificate 90520 purchased 14 November 1986.

One of the pluses, if your ancestors made the long voyage to Australia, is that you’ll likely be blessed with far more information than if they’d married or died anywhere else. How much is recorded depends on the knowledge of their immediate family but you may find: their place of birth, parents’ names, how long they’ve been in the colony/state, where they died, where they were buried, and a full list of children (useful to check out naming patterns).

So you’re looking for marriage certificates (for parent’s names and the person’s place of birth) and death certificates (ditto). If all they provide is “County XXXX” then you may have to search more widely:  try their children’s birth certificates as they too should tell you the parents’ place of marriage and age at marriage, and place of birth.

Of course all these strategies may not pay off if your ancestor constantly states only the county, but you’ll have a much better sense of whether they’re a reliable “witness” as you’ll be able to test for consistency of their other data. Many of mine were extremely consistent, but another of my Irish ancestors was all over the place when it came to ages but more informative about places.

Still stymied? If you know they had siblings who also emigrated, you may want to purchase the sibling’s certificate(s) as these may give you more information. This was the case with my Mary O’Brien Kunkel –it was her sister’s death certificate from New South Wales (over 1200kms away) that gave me their place of origin as Broadford, Co Clare.

Church registers

In my experience church records such as baptisms or marriages may give you an entirely different set of information from the official records (or at least more detail). This may be the very clue you’re looking for. Certainly in the case of my George Kunkel, it was the only place he mentioned his home town rather than just “Bavaria”. Why the Irish priest didn’t complete anything at all for George’s wife, Mary O’Brien, is anybody’s guess.

Johannah Wall from Rortlaw, Co Waterford, buried Roma, Qld

Don’t forget that if you are writing to the relevant church or archive, to send a donation along with your request.

Gravestones

If all else fails, or do it anyway, it is worth your while to look at your ancestor’s gravestones. I’ve seen occasions where the memorial inscriptions are the only place that a specific place of birth is mentioned. You can see some examples here.

Immigration records

Depending on where you live and when your ancestors migrated, you may find that your ancestor specifically mentioned their home parish, townland or village when interviewed on arrival. Alternatively they may say whether their parents are alive and where they are living. Any of these clues will help in your quest.  Once again you need to remember that the spelling may be the recorder’s interpretation of what was said. You might need to practice your Irish accents <grin>.

Oral History

Don’t discount the enormous potential value of oral history. With luck you may learn your ancestor’s home place but you may also learn the names of siblings in the new land and the old. My ancestors’ granddaughter was invaluable in terms of providing details of siblings’ married names (invaluable when you’re looking for O’Briens!). She also remembered that the place Mary O’Brien came from was Longford or something like that. Mary’s sister’s death certificate gave me their actual place –Broadford: hence the significance of checking out sibling’s certificates and oral history.

This wide variety of information will help you triangulate your ancestral details in the old country. Even having a batch of siblings’ names, will be of help to you in confirming the ancestral family once you’re back in Ireland.

Hospital and Benevolent Asylum registers

Sadly none of my ancestors’ cards name their place of birth so I thought I’d share this family one.

This may seem like a strange source, but if you think your ancestor had been in hospital or was in care at the end of their lives, this provides yet another possibility for learning their place of origin.

Memoriam Cards

Firstly thanks to Chris whose comment on the Clare facebook page reminded me of these.  Do you remember seeing those little black-edged cards with a holy picture and prayer on them? If so check them carefully as you never know what clues they offer including that those named may be relatives.

Other researchers should weigh in with their thoughts of what I’ve missed and/or what’s been successful for them. All comments are much appreciated.

Part 2 coming soon: Finding your Irish family in Ireland

Library Loot: Migration experiences and learning Gaelic

Once again I’m following in the footsteps of Julie from Angler’s Rest and reporting in on my recent Library Loot.

When I pick books up from the library I’m less selective than when I’m splashing my own cash: I figure that I can try something new and even if I’m not rapt in it, then it doesn’t really matter. On the other hand sometimes I get lucky and discover something that really appeals to me.

Two books from the Palmerston Library which I’ve read recently  might be of some interest to my readers and fellow family history junkies.

Titanic Lives

Titanic Lives may seem like it will be yet another beat-up about the well-known sinking of the Titanic, but it actually offers a much deeper perspective.  The author, Richard Davenport-Hines, is an historian and biographer and his skills shine through as he writes about how the passengers on Titanic, and their lives, were a microcosm of, and reflection of, life in the era. He also documents the sources behind his story. What I most liked about the book is that it personalises the saved and the lost: they become real people not just “steerage” or “rich”. I wasn’t especially interested in the wealthy Astors, Wideners or Guggenheims but there were riches indeed in the stories of those in 2nd class or steerage/3rd class passengers.

If your ancestors emigrated in this time frame (early 20th century) there is much in this book to illuminate your ancestor’s travel and migration experience as well as the challenges of gaining entry to the USA through Ellis Island. The author also devotes a chapter to the crew of the Titanic, providing great insights into the working lives, and safety hazards, of the merchant seaman. As I have several of these in my family this chapter was very interesting on the responsibilities of stewards and firemen. Admittedly my ancestors were working on rather less glamorous ships than the Titanic but nonetheless there’s useful information there.  I found this book very interesting and learnt a good deal from it. This is not just another reiteration of the story of a major tragedy.

Home with Alice: A Journey in Gaelic Ireland

This book might be of interest to my readers who are keen Irish researchers with its exploration of Gaelic-speaking Ireland and the role, and threats to long-term survival, of the language.

When I picked the book up at the library I thought it might be another version of Brigid by Australian author, Jill Blee, which I had enjoyed for its focus on Co Clare. In fact this story had little in common with Brigid, despite the nominal role of the author’s aunt Alice in his journeying to Ireland’s Gaeltacht districts. I personally found Alice’s interventions contrived and unnecessary other than to explain the author’s initial decision to learn Irish.

Author Steve Fallon is a journalist and, inter alia, a travel writer for Lonely Planet, and at times the book takes on the tenor of a guide book. However I enjoyed learning more about the challenges of Irish as a language, especially as at one point I’d thought of learning it myself.  If anything the book convinced me this was a delusional aspiration due to the language’s complexity. I learnt that there were differences between the various dialects within the Gaeltacht regions, the new acceptance of Irish as a fashionable language with the rise of the Celtic Tiger, and the invasiveness of English into the Gaelic expressions.

It’s always a pleasure, too, reading a book which describes places you may have visited so that you can visualise where he’s talking about, whether Connemara, Kerry or Donegal. The impact of Gaelic television and radio also reminded me of the significance of Australia’s own ethnic broadcaster, SBS.

I do find the Irish-American tendency to identify as “Irish” a bit strange. While I too have an Irish passport like the author, and have many branches of Irish ancestry as well as a love of Ireland, my mongrel Australian ancestry means I feel it would be inaccurate and presumptuous to call myself Irish. Apart from the significance of the Catholic church to Irish emigrants in both countries, the experience of being a descendant of Irish emigrants in Australia seems to me to be quite different from that in “America”.

One Place Study -Broadford, Co Clare, Ireland

Okay enough of the frivolous business of Paris and Provence – back to some hard core family history.

Over the past few weeks I’ve been studying the coursework from another Pharos course, this one on One Place Studies (OPS). I was so tempted to focus on one of my easy ancestral places in England or Scotland where I know there are lots of sources, but in the end I knew I had to bite the bullet and look at Broadford in east County Clare.

A Google Earth map of Broadford and surrounding areas, including the townland of Ballykelly.

The main street through Broadford. P Cass 2006

Now I’m going to do some thinking “out loud” so to speak. My hope in doing that is to see if any of my readers have experience in this process and can offer some advice, especially around how to store the data.

As I mention on my blog page about Broadford and East Clare, I have an interest in the emigrants from this area. Some years ago as part of an online Advanced Diploma in Local History, I built a database of anyone I could identify as coming to New South Wales (including Moreton Bay and Victoria prior to separation) between 1848 and 1870. I used the NSW Board’s Immigrant Lists and the Immigration Deposit Journals[i] (both of which I’ll be talking about in a later Beyond the Internet post).

There are limitations to the data for a variety of reasons I won’t go into here, but in the early 1860s Broadford played a pivotal role in the Australian migration process.  Over the years I’ve played with my database trying to take the study a step further and make linkages between the emigrants and the records in Broadford with only limited success.  Every now and then I have another dabble then give up in frustration. Part of the problem is that I don’t like the database (no one to blame there but myself!). The One Place Study course was a strategy for making myself look at it further.

View towards the Catholic Church in Broadford, built when my ancestor Mary O’Brien was a young girl.

My ultimate goal is not to do a One Place Study per se. Even though I’ve visited Broadford four times, I don’t really have the in-depth knowledge of a local person born and bred. There is a researcher who has expertise in the area, Pat O’Brien (unfortunately not related to my O’Briens from the same area). Pat did his Masters thesis at Limerick University on Broadford 1830-1850[ii] and has also written several articles for the East Clare magazine, Sliabh Aughty.  Perhaps my contribution will be to analyse the emigrants, make some linkages, and crunch some data.

As a general rule, a One Place Study aims to reconstitute the families in a parish or village, revealing their kinship links and also learning more about population changes and who lived in that place. Of course other documentary sources are also used to build up the story of the village, its industry or occupations, migration patterns etc. The One Place Study website is useful but there aren’t too many studies for Ireland, though I was pleased to see a couple. Interestingly there are a few in Australia too which I’ve used without realising their formal role as an OPS.

This graph gives a fairly good idea of the impact of the Famine in the Parish of Kilseily where Broadford is situated

Now I’m going to stick my neck out here, and say it’s pretty difficult to do family reconstitution in the Republic of Ireland. The primary reason for that is the paucity of parish records. For example in Broadford, the RC parish registers start in 1844 but they’re very difficult to read, and initially they don’t mention which townland the person comes from. The Church of Ireland registers are no longer extant. Add to that the absence of (almost all) census records until 1901, and family reconstitution takes on a whole new level of complexity. Throw in the Irish Famine, An Gorta Mór, with its horrendous toll of death and migration and it gets worse.

As a trial I have focused on my ancestral townland of Ballykelly in the hills near Broadford.  About 15-20  families lived there c1852, so as I work through initial phases of this process it’s manageable. The documents I have to work with are:

  1. My transcription of the RC parish registers for Kilseily parish from 1844 to 1866 (in Excel and also my DB)
  2. Transcription of the townland residents, and owners, from the Griffith Valuations (GV) of 1852 (in Excel).
  3. Some information on the changed inheritance under the GV revisions (more to come from the microfilm)
  4. Transcription of the 1827 Tithe Applotments (TA)
  5. Link between the GV and TA data.
  6. Analysis of 1901 and 1911 census data with a particular focus on those people who were born between 1840 and 1870.
  7. Australian migration data 1848-1870 which mention Broadford or east Clare parishes or townlands. It does however include parents’ names, whether they were alive or dead at the time of migration and relatives in the colony. I’ve also done some work on linking them to relatives on board the ship.
  8. I have occupation and literacy analyses from my previous study and drawing on the DB data.
  9. Findmypast Ireland has some records which in theory should be searchable by place but don’t always work and Ancestry can also be searched by place.
  10. Newspaper downloads after place searching.
  11. Valuation maps which can be annotated with residents in the Griffith Valuation.
  12. Census statistics from Histpop. I also have some data I collected previously through a site link that’s no longer active.
  13. Reference books, theses and journal articles.

Do you have any thoughts on how I can link these up?

I’m wondering if it would work to document each person in a genealogy program which would then let me link up those I know to be families, or have them as stand-alone individuals until I know more.

Could I link all the Broadford families under a hypothetical set of pseudo-parents, called for example, Male Broadford and Female Broadford? I thought this might be a way I could see everyone who comes from Broadford and slowly see what the linkages are. Has anyone else done this and found it will work? Perhaps for a One Name Study?

I love Excel and can use databases, but somehow there’s still a dysjunction between the data. I’m not a fan of genealogy software (yes, strange I know) which is part of why I’m floating these ideas.

Any pearls of wisdom or lateral thoughts would be much appreciated.


[i] Pastkeys originally indexed the IDJs. See http://www.pastkeys.com.au/Images/Irish%20in%20the%20NSW%20IDJs.pdf.  The indexes are now also on Ancestry, I’ve just discovered.

[ii] O’Brien, P. Broadford. County Clare 1830-1850: A study of a rural community. Unpublished MA (History and Local Studies), University of Limerick, 1999.

Week 29 Beyond the Internet: hallowed halls and reference libraries

Beyond the Internet

This is Week 29 in my Beyond the Internet series in which I explore the sources of information beyond our computer screens and the topic is University and Reference Library Special Collections.

While not technically archives, university libraries and other reference libraries hold a wealth of collections of primary documents which can be of great use to family historians. Many will visit their local state or national reference library or perhaps one in the location of their interest. However university libraries also hold fascinating collections beyond their usual book stacks. In some cases they will be among the oldest organisations for the region and being the venue for the hallowed halls of academia and academic research, they have accumulated all sorts of wonders. Perhaps it’s a bit intimidating to approach such august places as a lay person but in my experience you will usually be allowed to access the collections. Sometimes you surrender your driver’s licence or equivalent temporarily while there but that’s hardly a problem.

What will you find there?

Well, to some extent that’s up to you and also to just what’s held in the collection. While the collections are increasingly catalogued online, it’s still worth checking any card indexes which may be held on site as sometimes earlier documents will not yet be listed online.

When searching you may need to be lateral in your approach. Sure, you can put a specific name into the catalogue search but it’s relatively unlikely you’ll get lucky unless your ancestor is the author or a book, document, or diary. However do try searching by ship’s name, the property where your ancestor worked, and the region or topic of interest. For example I might search by “Germans Darling Downs” or “Irish migration”.

Fryer Library of The University of Queensland was a source for the statistical accounts of Scotland in the days long before they were digitised. Other primary documents await me on my “to do” list for a future visit. Fryer also has many old Queensland newspapers on microfilm, not always the same ones available through SLQ: it’s definitely worth checking what’s available there in case they have different papers from those available at SLQ or on Trove.

The Mitchell Library at the State Library of New South Wales is also a treasure trove of documents and resources. What you find will depend on your specific interests. For example you may find a diary of your ancestor’s migration voyage.

Theses

It can be a bit daunting to think about reading a thesis written for someone’s PhD or Masters. However there’s so much information contained in a thesis where the topic is relevant to your research that it’s well worth the effort. History theses in particular are usually well written and digestible by determined family historians. But don’t assume that it will only be a history thesis that’s of interest as economics or geography theses may hold nuggets of information you will find useful.

One of the most useful theses I’ve read was that by Richard Reid on Irish immigration to Australia 1848-1870.  Luckily much of this has been incorporated in his recent book Farewell my Children but if you have Irish ancestry and find yourself in Canberra it might still be worth a visit to the ANU library.

Theses will also give you clues to further research opportunities as they will have a focus on primary documents and significant academic references.

Text Queensland

This comparatively recent collaboration between The University of Queensland and the State Library of Queensland is a wonder. It includes a diverse array of information digitised for ready access including old theses (including some I’ve wanting to read for some time), directories, gazettes, books, journals and Hansard. If you have any Qld ancestry it’s definitely a resource to keep in mind.

International libraries

International university libraries or city libraries may hold similarly valuable documents. During our 2010 visit to Glasgow I visited the University of Glasgow Archives which held the records of a shipping company I was interested in. While it didn’t turn up the specific information I’d been hoping for it was definitely worth checking it off my list. Sadly there were other repositories like the Mitchell Library in Glasgow that I’d hoped to visit but time disappears when you’re travelling and frustratingly I didn’t get there on that trip –maybe “next time”.

At the University of Limerick I was able to read the MA thesis by Pat O’Brien on Crime in Broadford, County Clare in the 19th century. Thanks to the generous approval of the author I was also able to obtain a copy so I could digest the contents in a more leisurely read.

Limerick City Archives is another wonderful resource though when I visited to read the Board of Guardian minutes, on-site access was restricted. This is when online digitisation programs come to the fore. My parish of Kilseily in County Clare is part of the Limerick Union so the workhouse records are held in Limerick. These are now available online through the Limerick City Archives along with other great resources. Do you have Limerick or south-east Clare ancestry? If so definitely make a virtual visit and see what’s available.

My other top-ranking recommendation is the Clare County Library which has so many fantastic resources in the local history area but also available online. They have truly been leaders in the field of Irish research. It’s just a shame that more libraries haven’t followed their lead.

The other day I wrote about how the National Library of Ireland’s holdings of rent rolls told me more about my O’Brien relations’ lives in Bodyke.

There are so many treasures just waiting to be discovered in these libraries. I hope that this topic will encourage you to broaden your research if you haven’t already visited the relevant university or local reference library. All you need is time, time and more time; persistence and more persistence.

Please do share your experiences using any of these resources, either in the comments or on your blog.

The Bodyke Evictions and the Garvey family

In the summer of 1887, 125 years ago, a grassroots agrarian revolution was taking place in the otherwise quiet parish of Bodyke, County Clare.  Colonel O’Callaghan , one of the local landowners, had significant rental arrears on his tenancies and planned to take action against those in default, evicting them with force.  There is a tendency for family historians to assume that landowners simply evicted their tenants without fear of the law, yet this was not the case. The eviction would be preceded by a legal process before sending in a force of constabulary or emergency men to enforce the eviction.

Nevertheless the rents had been steadily increasing over the preceding years, in part because of O’Callaghan’s own personal expenses.  Such was the increase that the judicially imposed rate might be nearly double the Griffith Valuation of the early 1850s, yet the rack rent would be a further 50% or more higher.  Despite these rents, at least some families were not farming quality land. Rather the land they rented was often poor quality mountain land with limited productivity.  Often the tenants were truly poor and utterly unable to fund the exorbitant rack rents. To put these expenses in context, a housemaid on the O’Callaghan/Westropp estate in the 1830s would earn only £3 a year, nearly the same amount (£3/4/7 ½) that tenant John Garvey had to find on each gale day in March and September of the 1830s. This clearly shows how each family member would need to earn and contribute to the rental payments.[i]

I love this photo of Honorah O’Brien Garvey which was given to me by her great-granddaughter. Her face reflects her hard life yet also shows her strength of character, offset with the bunch of violets.

John Garvey, rented poor mountain land in the townland of Ballydonaghan, valued at £7/10/- by Griffith with a judicial rent of £8 and rack rent of £12. His land was among the poorest on the estate which perhaps reflects the close correlation between the judicial rate and Griffith’s valuation. Over the years his rentals were often paid late and the payment was a mix of cash and labour, including gamekeeping or his wife’s needlework.  It’s no surprise then to find that he was listed among the 57 to face eviction in June 1887.

The local Catholic parish priest, Fr Peter Murphy and his curate Fr J Hannon, were both strong supporters of the Land League and ownership of the land by the people. Throughout this struggle, they were naturally on the side of the tenants, virtually all of whom would have been their parishioners. Fr Murphy attempted to negotiate a compromise agreement with Colonel O’Callaghan which might satisfy the landowner yet be possible for the tenants to pay. The 57 tenants joined the Plan of Campaign to challenge the evictions, supported by their clergy. However the negotiations faltered and these 57 tenant farmers on the O’Callaghan estate received eviction notices.

The memorial christening font in the Bodyke Catholic church. P Cass 2003

The evictions went ahead amidst much public outcry and significant press attention. The tenants put up a feisty defence, barricading houses and passing belongings to their neighbours. Of the 57 families, 30 were evicted[ii] before the process ground to a halt. The name of John Garvey is number 32 on the list so it seems the family narrowly avoided being turned out of their home and the roof knocked in.

Are you wondering why tenant John Garvey is the person I’ve chosen to highlight? He became my 3xgreat uncle when he married Honorah O’Brien from the nearby parish of Kilseily (Broadford), itself a venue for huge Land Rights meetings in the 19th century.  Honorah was sister to my Mary O’Brien and they had grown up on the hilly townland of Ballykelly not far from Broadford village.

Although the Garveys escaped eviction, the fight presumably took its toll and John died in March 1888. On some of the eviction lists his name has been replaced by that of his widow, Honorah Garvey. Life didn’t become much easier for Honorah as when their home was “visited” by the landlord’s agent on 22 April 1892, she is recorded as being in rent arrears of £60, a huge amount of money. The same page is also noted showing rent of £8 yearly, arrears £15 and £75 wiped off. The reason for the difference appears to be the reduction in rent from the rack rate of £12 to the judicial rate of £8 but this does not explain it all. The Garvey land of 260 acres and 12 perches is described as “mountain with patches of tillage”. A faint annotation on the bottom of the page says (smashed) (going away) yet we know she never left Bodyke and other records, including the 1901 and 1911 censuses, indicate she remained on the property.[iii]

Nothing on this window gives a clue that John and Honora Garvey lived and died in Ireland.

The annotations also note her husband is dead and she has sons Patrick and Cornelius.[iv] The latter is interesting because at different times both sons went to America to earn a living, as did some of their siblings. Five of Honora’s children emigrated permanently to Australia showing the significance of chain migration in Irish research.

John and Hanorah Garvey are my family’s faces from the Battle of Bodyke, illustrating the precariousness of tenancy until land ownership became possible.  They are honoured by their Australian family with a stained glass window in the Catholic parish church of St Peter’s Surry Hills, Sydney.

FURTHER INFORMATION

Clare Library’s Bodyke Evictions pages.

East Clare Heritage Commemoration of the 125th anniversary of the evictions 20th July 2012.

The Bodyke Evictions, J S Kelly

Further references are included in the footnotes.


[i] Manuscript MSS3250 Servants’ wages book of the O’Callaghan-Westropp family 1824-1863.

[ii] Bodkyke, Henry Norman. Held at the Clare Library, Ennis. Other reports say 28 households were evicted.

[iii] My notes include the comment on these records “fantastic information on some tenants including sons in America”.

[iv] Rent rolls of the O’Callaghan-Westropp estate County Clare, National Library of Ireland, manuscripts 866 (1853-1883) and MS 867 (1865-1882), page 103.

Shamrock in the Bush 2012 is OPEN

Regular readers of my blog will know that I’m an enthusiast for Shamrock in the Bush, held annually at St Clement’s Retreat Centre, Galong, about two hours west of Canberra. It’s not a traditional family history conference but if you have an interest in all things Irish you will be bound to have a great time. The weekend is full of great talks, great music and wonderful camaraderie. This is a conference like no other I’ve been to, which is why I trek nearly 4000kms to attend.

This year’s program has just been released and you can see it here. There are limited places, and registration is always competitive, so if you’re interested you need to move quickly.

Shamrock 2012 is being held from Thursday 2 August to Sunday 5 August. I for one am really looking forward to it. Oh, and if you go, make sure you pack your woollies because it gets very cold outside though the rooms are delightfully warm.

Beyond the Internet Week 19: The poor are always with us

It seems to me that poverty was much more harshly judged in the United Kingdom than it was in Australia where it took little for a poor season (those droughts or flooding rains) or lack of family support for people to find themselves in desperate situations. I thought it was one of the great strengths of the Kerry O’Brien WDTYA episode that his family’s terrible living conditions in Sydney weren’t swept under the carpet. It’s probably safe to suggest that people living in poverty in England, Ireland, Scotland or Wales were at least as badly off. Their poverty was also perceived to be a symptom of their own mistakes (drinking, bad judgement, profligacy), lack of hard work and ignorance.

So where do you look if you know or suspect your ancestral families found themselves on the downswing of the economy, or if you’ve found them listed as a pauper in the census records, for example?

BANKRUPTCY RECORDS

Yes, perhaps the very poorest would not be found in these records, but they might also be the first clue that not all is well in their world. I’ve found mine listed in indexes, Government Gazettes, court documents and newspapers. Once you’ve located them here, you know to investigate the local or national archives. I plan on talking more on this in another post so won’t go into detail here.

WORKHOUSE

The gateway for workhouse information and records is this site: The Workhouse by Peter Higginbotham. Here you will find background information about the legislation underpinning the implementation of the workhouse system and how they function.  It also offers the opportunity to look at specific workhouses, their layout, a description and perhaps a photo, and surviving records. My McCorkindale 2 x great grandfather, James, died in the Smithston workhouse at Greenock and this website provides a wealth of information about where he would have lived in his final years.  James’s younger daughter,Euphemia, also entered the poor house and died there shortly before him.

I ponder over James and wonder why the other members of the family didn’t take him and Euphemia in. I suppose their commitments to their own children made it difficult. Some had already emigrated, and others have vanished “into thin air”. Perhaps James had dementia and as Euphemia became sick she was unable to cope with looking after him. Perhaps no one cared? Unfortunately the workhouse site suggests some of these records for the Gourock workhouse may be available in Glasgow, but this is uncertain –something to follow up on another trip.

BOARD OF GUARDIAN MINUTES

I don’t know about you but I find meetings the epitome of boredom most of the time, but these minutes are something you will definitely want to look for if you have workhouse ancestors, either as paupers or workers. Keep your fingers crossed and hope that your ancestor has done something to get a mention: been a troublemaker, an emigrant, matron or doctor, or just sat on the Board himself. Certainly our hunt for something, anything on my husband’s ancestor, Irish Famine Orphan Biddy Gallagher/Gollagher was unsuccessful in Donegal…if you don’t try, you don’t know.

While I’ve used these records a little, I’ve by no means had as much experience as I’d like. Some are now available online so definitely worth searching for.  I posted about the Limerick Board of Guardians Minute books last year and some of the migration gems I found in them when I searched the originals in Limerick. My explorations of the Ennis Minute Books revealed references to the seizure of Widow Dynan’s pigs[i] for poor rates in 1850 (what was she supposed to use to support  herself, I ask?) or an appeal by Rev Quin regarding the distress of Bridget Crowe[ii], or the resolution that the Sexton family be given assistance to emigrate along with Conor King of Kilmurry and Sally Clune[iii].  Although I had relatively little time (a day from memory) to review some of these documents, there are many references to individuals. Equally pathetically is the doctor’s comment that there were “380 girls crowded into this room (Dayroom) which is barely sufficient to accommodate 80”.[iv]

It is absolutely critical when looking into workhouse records and Board of Guardian documents that you know which Poor Law Union your ancestor’s parish belonged to. For example, many of the south-east Clare parishes actually belong to the Limerick Union or the Tulla union, while those from the north-east likely belong to Scarriff. If you’re not sure, you can find Clare Poor Law Unions here (click on each union to see which parishes are included) and the survival of records here.

I just happened upon this book called Pauper Limerick:  The Register of the Limerick House of Industry, 1774-1793. It suggests it’s of relevance to genealogists with ancestry from Clare, Limerick Tipperary or Cork.

PARISH RECORDS OR KIRK SESSIONS

Depending on the country, the implementation of the new poor laws will vary but is approximately mid-C19th. Prior to that the parish took care of the local poor (hence the emphasis on settlement issues). So you really need to look at the parish records (not the parish registers, though it’s possible you may find a passing reference there). Check out what’s available on Family Search for your parish, and look beyond the registers.

In Scotland, you’ll also want to look at the Kirk Session records, as it in these that you’re most likely to find some information on your pauper ancestors. I have used the Inishail records and talked about them last year here. One day, in the not too distant future, it appears these will be available online. When that happens I do hope that every name is indexed because while the topic of the day may be about inappropriate behaviour in the parish, you’ll find that when others recall the event they may date it by reference to another’s death or roup, the sale of personal belongings, the proceeds of which for a pauper were paid back to the parish.

It would be possible to talk for hours about my own experience with just this one parish’s kirk sessions. I just loved exploring these in 2010 at the Scottish National Archives, and I can’t wait until they release the digitised versions even if it is my combined birthday, anniversary and Christmas present.

For a slightly different perspective, Susan from Family History Fun has also talked about Scottish poor law records here or this post by Heather Pringle on Edinburgh’s workhouse and her family. Audrey Collins from The Family Recorder also writes on this topic here. No doubt there are many others addressing this issue.

PODCASTS

Audrey Collins from The Family Recorder mentioned Podcasts by Paul Carter which address the issues of the Poor Law and the workhouses in England and Wales. Definitely well worth downloading a few and learning more…I certainly plan to.

Last year I read a book called The People of the Abyss by Jack London describing the precariousness of life for the poor and labouring classes. At times the tone was somewhat supercilious but it did give a good indication of just how desperate life could be for the poor and labouring classes.

I hope I’ve given you some food for thought and research into your poorer relations.

If you have already used these records, please share your findings with us.

NEXT WEEK: Orphanages


[i] BG/EN16 Board of Guardian minute books Ennis Union, Meeting 5 January 1850, page 160.

[ii] Meeting 8 January 1850.

[iii] Meeting 24 November 1849, page 53.

[iv] Meeting 13 March 1850, page 288.

52 weeks of Abundant Genealogy: Week 18: Historical Books

Amy Coffin of the We Tree blog, in conjunction with Geneabloggers, has a new series of weekly blogging prompts for 2012 and the theme is 52 Weeks of Abundant GenealogyWeek 18: Historical books.  This week we’re going to shine the spotlight on other historical books that benefit the genealogy field. Do you have a favorite book that falls in this category? What makes this book special to you? How can other genealogists benefit from its content?

As usual I find it impossible to restrict myself to just one book because the history books you’ll find useful will differ depending on where your families come from. So here are some of my Irish, migration and Scottish references.

IRISH HISTORY REFERENCES

I’ve written about a couple of these before so I’ll also refer you to my previous posts.

Oceans of Consolation, Personal Accounts of Irish Migration to Australia, Fitzpatrick David

I regard this book as a truly unique insight into the Irish migration experience. Yes, it focuses on Australia but anyone with an interest in Irish migration generally would find it fascinating. Fitzpatrick uses a series of letters to/from Ireland by emigrants and their families. It gives us a unique perspective on these correspondents’ experience of their new life, the loss of family and mediated new loyalties against those of (Irish) home and family. A wide range of counties are represented among the letter-writers: West Clare, Down, Galway, Tipperary, Kerry, Cork, Meath, Kings, Armagh and Fermanagh. Sadly for me, nary a one from East Clare. If you didn’t already wish for a stash of emigrant letters, this book will certainly make you do so, and mourn their absence if they don’t exist. The spelling is often “exotic” but they managed to make their message very clear.

At last year’s Not Just Ned exhibition, extracts of these stories were available in the sound booths on iPads and in heavy demand. I could have sat there all day listening to them.

Biddy Burke from County Galway is one of my favourites. She ends one letter Queensland for ever and agus an baile beag go brâth (and the small town forever)[i]….pertinent in relation to Hidden Ireland (see below), and demonstrating her loyalty to both her old and new homes.

The End of Hidden Ireland, Robert James Scally

Unless you have Irish ancestors from the townland of Ballykilcline in Co Roscommon, you’d be wondering why I’m recommending this book. While it focuses on the events and people in this townland, it provides a valuable insight into the life of one townland in the midst of the Famine. What I find fascinating is how it informs us on the nuances of townland life, obligations and familial and social obligations. Scally talks of it as baile, a settlement and landholding together, with community links often with specific family links [ii] while we’re more accustomed to only associating the townland with the geographic space/land. I’m about a third through re-reading this book and finding even more subtleties than on the first reading…you can tell by the annotations and the flags.

Farewell my children: Irish migration to Australia 1848 to 1870, Richard Reid

Sure this book applies to the Irish coming to Australia, but Richard’s approach to understanding more about the process and the immigrants is, in my experience, somewhat unusual as he complements the general history with personalised grassroots examples. I’d be surprised if anyone with Irish ancestry couldn’t gain insights into how their own Irish immigrant fitted into the broader data.

Mapping the Great Irish Famine, Kennedy L, Ell P S,  Crawford, E M, Clarkson L, (eds)

I mentioned this book briefly last year in a post on the impact of the Famine. It is a book I used extensively when researching my East Clare migration data, and it certainly provided some startling comparisons. Most books on the Famine, easily found, focus more on data for all of Ireland or perhaps one county. What I think is so valuable about this book is that it compares the before and after data for baronies or poor law unions, meaning you can drill down and make valid comparisons with your own family’s experience, and to see how typical they were of their place in terms of education, occupation etc. This article tells a little more about the book and the project.

SCOTTISH HISTORY REFERENCE

There are innumerable general histories for Scotland, but I am going to focus on a region-specific history.

Argyll: 1730 -1850, McGeachy, R A A

This book explains the ways in which Argyll changed across the important years 1730 to 1850 and includes such important aspects as Jacobitism, clearances, industrialisation, cultural change, and fragmentation of families and society. He addresses occupational changes and how this affected people at a grassroots level and provides many examples drawn from across Argyll. My own copy is annotated throughout and post-it notes sticking from the edges.

In the introduction, James Hunter (himself a noted Scottish historian) remarks “universal themes can sometimes best be understood by studying their local impact”. This runs contrary to how history was perceived for many years, but is an approach that I personally identify with, and have been inspired by in Richard Reid’s historical writings.

Judging on the prices you will need to shop around if you want this book, and will probably need to buy it used (unless you’re up for $413 for a new book). I paid £25 from a bookshop in Scotland in 2006.

MIGRATION TO AUSTRALIA: HISTORY REFERENCES

Two books which provide valuable insights into the experience of Australia’s immigrants from recruitment to arrival are both by Robin Haines.

Emigration and the Labouring Poor: Australian Recruitment in Britain and Ireland 1831-1860

This book focus on the pre-departure experience of the potential immigrant and the Colonial Land and Emigration Commissioners’ (CLEC) approach to recruitment. If you want to know how your immigrants may have been recruited and how they fit into the broader migration data, this is the book for you.

Life and Death in the Age of Sail: the passage to Australia, Haines, R

This is a fantastic book for anyone who wants to learn more about the emigrants’ experience at sea. There is a broader overview into how the emigrants were provided for, and the care taken by the emigration commissioners in ensuring the voyage was as safe as possible. The book also discusses the migration experience in different decades, pertinent with the changes to medicine as well as type of shipping. It is interspersed with extracts of letters and individual examples which illustrate the experiences.

SUMMARY

Australian residents should be aware they can borrow these books from The National Library of Australia on inter-library loan to their local reference library, assuming it’s not already on the shelves there.

Another tip for genealogists everywhere is to see if your local university library has these books in its catalogue. You may not be able to borrow them, but you will be able to sit in the library and read them (yes, I know, no coffee or snacks!…I’m reminded of 84 Charing Cross Rd when I say that). You may also find some in your favourite online bookshop or real bookshop, new or used. I can see I also need to go into my blog and add these titles to my Reference Books tab.


[i] Oceans of Consolation, page 155

[ii] The End of Hidden Ireland, Scally, page 12

Y yearns for Yass and Young

I am participating in the A to Z 2012 blog challenge throughout April. My theme is a genealogical travelogue or a travel genealogue (I’m not sure which). 

Y is for Young and yearning for gold (New South Wales)

Chinese lions guard the entrance. © P Cass 2011

Many years ago my father told me that his great-grandfather George Kunkel was at the goldfields of Lambing Flat or Captains Flat in far south-eastern New South Wales. When I started researching my family history, this was one of my early investigations. I soon found that the discovery of gold at Captains Flat didn’t occur until 1882 and it seemed impossible that he would have been gold-digging as the family would have been busy establishing their farm at the time.

Lambing Flat near Young might have been more of a possibility as it had opened earlier, 1860, but even so the family were then in Ipswich with George working as a pork butcher and Mary was having a child most years. Now much as I loved my father he wasn’t always what you could call a “reliable witness”, as he had a tendency to either tell you nothing at all, or turn the story around. On the other hand, he was the only child of his father, who in turn was George Kunkel’s eldest grandchild, so perhaps there was truth in there somewhere.

Lambing Flat Chinese Tribute Garden, Young. © P Cass 2011

On a driving trip in 1994, I visited the Lambing Flat Museum in Young and finding nothing, mentally filed this story as improbable if not impossible. Perhaps George really had been on the Victorian goldfields which would have fitted with his approximate arrival in Australia.

Some years later, new indexes were created of Queensland’s earliest Equity cases in the Supreme Court. Accustomed to searching indexes and finding nary a mention of the Kunkel surname, I nearly fell off my chair to find him mentioned. Soon after I visited Queensland State Archives to look at the relevant documents and was thrilled to find that not only was George Kunkel a witness to the case, but the defendant, Carl Diflo, also mentions that he knew George in the old country (Bavaria) and that he was a pork butcher on the Tooloom goldfields not far over the border in New South Wales[i]. Eureka!

The Galloping Horse overlooks the tranquil lake. It is a replica of an original found in a Han Dynasty tomb. © P Cass 2011

It seemed I had the root of the story about George’s adventures on the goldfields. He hadn’t been digging for gold but was pork butchering for the men, probably a more reliable way of earning money. On top of which, this had all occurred in 1859, when birth records etc suggest he was safely ensconced in Ipswich. Another interesting by-product from this court case, is that while the other Germans needed translators, there is no indication that George was given or required one. I doubt his English was so much better after being married to an Irish woman for only two years, so perhaps he’d been able to speak some English when he arrived. Questions, questions.

The birds at the Lambing Flat Gardens were keen for a feed and this black swan followed us around. I thought his tail feathers were just gorgeous. © P Cass 2011.

Perhaps George really had been at some of the other goldfields but I’ll probably never know. Still the family stories stay in my mind, so when we X-Trailled into Young last year en route to Canberra we made a point of visiting the Lambing Flat Chinese Tribute Garden on the outskirts of the town. The site commemorates the Lambing Flat Riots when the European miners turned against the Chinese who were on the goldfields in one of Australia’s most severe race riots. Nowadays it is a peaceful park perfect for families to spend a few hours relaxing. However there is another perspective put forward in this article which I found most interesting albeit somewhat strident.

Y is for Yass (New South Wales)

I have no genealogical connection of my own to Yass but I do have an interest in the Irish Orphan Girls who came from East Clare to Australia around the end of the Great Famine. The community and authorities of New South Wales were already objecting to being sent Britain’s rejects from its workhouses and especially these young Irish girls who were perceived to be ignorant and dirty Irish peasants with loose morals. So as the Thomas Arbuthnot arrived in Sydney on 3 February 1850, with its 193 Irish orphan girls, there was already great deal of resistance and antipathy to them. In this context, the achievements of the ship’s Surgeon Superintendent, Charles Edward Strutt, and the girls he’d delivered safely to their new country, were even more remarkable. Strutt had insisted that cleanliness was vital and also ensured the girls were well treated on the long voyage. Such was their affection and respect for him, that when he asked for volunteers to accompany him to Yass where there was a need for 105 servants, 130 girls wanted to go with him. And so they set forth on yet another long journey, loaded on 15 drays with their belongings[ii]. One of the girls on the dray may have been Mary Hurley who was employed at nearby Burrowa. Her sea chest made the journey from the Gort Workhouse in Galway to Sydney, probably on the drays to Yass thence to Burrowa, and 161 years later was an iconic feature in the Not Just Ned exhibition in Canberra.

As the girls and Strutt steadily made their way to Yass, all the newspaper commentary was negative: they did not want these ignorant Irish Catholic peasants in their community. Strutt was clever though, they stopped before they came into the town and the girls got into their best clean clothes so that when they arrived they looked the picture of cleanliness and tidiness. Within days, the community tide had turned and the girls were welcomed whole-heartedly.  Even then Strutt continued his care for the girls, ensuring they were placed with good employers and visited them all before leaving. What a remarkable man! No doubt these young women form the foundation of many an Irish-descended family in the Yass area.

In writing this synopsis of Yass and the orphan girls I’ve drawn heavily on two books, Richard Reid’s Farewell my children and Barefoot and Pregnant Volume 2, by Trevor McLaughlin. If you have an interest in these immigrants, these books are essential reading. There is also an online database for all these orphan immigrants here.

I’d be interested in hearing from descendants of any of the orphans from East Clare in particular eg Scariff, Bodyke, Sixmilebridge, or Kilseily/Broadford.


[i] Kiesar v Diflo. Queensland State Archives, Supreme Court records. SCT/U1 1859-1860

[ii] Reid R, Farewell my children, pages 150-152