How I broke through my genealogical brick wall and found my maternal Irish ancestors

Patterson family
Sarah Attridge , my two times great grandmother, and her husband Robert Patterson are seated in the front. Back row left to right: Albert Patterson (my great grandfather), Elizabeth (Lilly) Patterson, Charlotte Patterson, Arthur (Artie) Patterson and Amelia Patterson. Judging from the ages of the my ancestors in the photo, I believe this was taken in the early 1900s.

I recently broke through one of my genealogical brick walls and found the Irish townland where my maternal two times great grandmother was born and added more ancestor’s names to my family tree. Using DNA testing, I analyzed family trees of DNA matches. I also used the good, old-fashioned way and contacted a distant cousin who shared his mother’s notes with me.

I am now certain that my two-times great grandmother, Sarah Attridge, who lived many years in San Francisco, was born in the Rossmore, Durrus in West County Cork Ireland in 1854. Durrus is a small village about six miles from the more well-known town of Bantry, County Cork. Sarah had at least six siblings, five sisters and one brother. Most of her sisters immigrated to the United States. Her one brother remained in County Cork.

I’ve always known my father was Irish and having the surname O’Rourke made it rather obvious, but I also had a two-times great grandmother on my maternal side who came from Ireland. I remember my grandmother talking fondly of her grandmother. Sarah raised my grandmother after her mother abandoned the family a few years after my grandmother was born. But when my grandmother was alive, I had no interest in genealogy, so I never bothered to ask her where her grandmother was from. I never asked many questions about her at all. I didn’t even know her name until about ten years ago when I began my genealogical journey.

When I learned her name, I tried to find information using’s databases and Family Search, but I always came up empty. Unlike my father’s side, my maternal grandmother was Protestant and her family worshiped in the Church of Ireland. I was only used to searching Catholic Parish records. Locating Church of Ireland records was new to me. Another complicating factor was, as I found out later, my maternal Irish ancestors’ records were burned in the 1922 fire that destroyed the Public Records Office in Dublin during the Irish Civil War. My two-times great grandmother’s parish was one of the Church of Ireland parishes that sent their records to Dublin for safekeeping. Ironically, they were destroyed, while most of the Church of Ireland parishes that kept their records survive to this day.

Republic passengers
Sarah and Eliza Attridge were passengers on the ship, Republic. The Republic sailed from Queenstown (now Cobh) Ireland and arrived in New York on Sept. 23, 1873

After Sarah immigrated and married my two-times great grandfather Robert Patterson, I was able to find a lot of records. One census record indicated that she came from Northern Ireland, but others indicated only  that she was born “Ireland.” I also found the passenger list for the ship Republic, the ship Sarah traveled on to the United States. Sarah arrived in New York Sept. 22, 1873. She was 19 years old. Also on the ship was 21-year-old Eliza Attridge, who I assumed to be Sarah’s older sister.

How I did it

I used’s DNA match feature and searched for the surname “Attridge.” I had five DNA matches with the name Attridge in their family tree and four of those matches were estimated to be at least fourth cousins. Unfortunately, while all four had family trees, only two of four had public family trees. The other two matches had private trees, meaning I would have to contact them and ask for access.

So I started with one of the matches I could view. She had three Attridge’s in her tree, but no Sarah. So I reached out to my DNA match. Her name is Pat Craig and she lives in England. She did not know much about her Attridge ancestors, but luckily she is very interested in genealogy and set out to help me. Her family tree includes more than 7,000 entries.

Pat told me her family was from Durrus, they were Protestant and she recently found them as well. None of her Attridge ancestor names were familiar to me and all were born in the late 1700s and early 1800s a good 50 years before Sarah was born.

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Proving my ancestry through DNA matches

great grandfather pedigree
This is my great grandfather’s pedigree chart. His father was James Rourke and his grand father was John O’Rourke born around 1790.

Recently, I was able to prove my three times O’Rourke great grandparents through a DNA match even though my match had no idea she had any O’Rourke’s in her ancestry. Not only was I able to finally verify my three times great grandparents names, I helped her add two more generations to her family tree.

In the O’Rourke branch of my tree going back past my two times great grandparents has proven difficult. I have not been able to locate my two times great grandfather’s James Rourke (O’Rourke) baptismal record in the Kilbroney church records in County Down. I have always made an educated guess as to who is parents were and it differed from what other family members thought.

There are two possible explanations why I can’t find James Rourke’s records. Several pages of the Kilbroney Parish church register are faded and his record may be hiding in there somewhere. The other explanation is that his parent’s never got around to baptizing him.

This is what I do know about James Rourke. He died in 1905 at the age of 80 in the townland of Ballintur in the Kilkeel civil registration district in County Down, so his birthdate must have been around 1825. He married my two-times great grandmother Mary Hughes in 1859, so he would have been about 34 years old. He had five children, his first born being my great grandfather John in 1861 and the last being my great grand uncle Francis in 1868.

I also used the Griffiths Valuation document to determine that his father’s name was John. In the Griffith’s Valuation, a John Jr. leased the same land until his death in 1869, when James Rourke took over the lease.

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The Cunningham cousin: From Ireland to Montana

Arthur Cunningham is buried in Calvary Cemetery in Miles City, Custer County, Montana.

I enjoy family history because it’s like a puzzle. If I spend a little time I can find something new and another family connection. I recently spent some time researching Arthur Cunningham of Montana, the man who made it possible for my family to emigrate to the United States. Arthur was a native of Kilkeel in County Down, Ireland.

My great uncle James F. O’Rourke was coming of age in the early 20th century in Liverpool, England when he decided he wanted to emigrate to the United States. James wrote to two cousins, the Cunningham’s, asking if they would sponsor him. Not only did Arthur and James Cunningham sponsor James F., they sponsored and paid for the passage of my whole family: my great grandfather John O’Rourke, my great grandmother, Mary (Rogers) O’Rourke, and their five children, including James Francis and my grandfather Wilfred.

In addition, Arthur Cunningham, a successful sheep rancher in Miles City, Montana, paid for the passage for my great grandmother’s sister, Rose O’Rourke and her daughter, Mary Catherine O’Rourke. Rose was recently widowed when her husband, James O’Rourke, died of tuberculosis in 1901. Rose was hesitant about coming to the United States, but Arthur insisted. Arthur told Rose that she could go back to Ireland after six months if she didn’t like it. After six months, Rose wished to return to Ireland, but Arthur wouldn’t let her. Rose eventually married and settled in Oregon.

Arthur was my great grandmother Mary Rogers’ cousin on her father’s side. Hugh Rogers was his name and his sister, Ellen Rogers, had married George Cunningham.  Arthur was his son. Rose was my great grandmother’s sister, so of course, Arthur was also Rose’s cousin.

The other day I was researching Arthur Cunningham when I hit the jackpot. I stumbled upon a book online, Montana: It’s Story and Biography, A History of Aboriginal and Territorial Montana and Three Decades of Statehood, edited by Tom Stout. The book was published in 1921. In the book was the story of Arthur’s life, from the time he was born in Ireland until the year the book was published. Arthur passed away in 1937, so he was alive when the book was published.

Excerpts from Montana: It’s Story And Biography

Arthur Cunningham, of Miles City, has spent many years of his life in Montana and the Yellowstone Valley, but he is a native son of Ireland, of County Downe (sic), and was born on a little farm at Kilkeel in the parish of Morne (sic), March 18, 1854. Although during his lifetime he has gained a splendid education, this training was not  received in a school room, but instead in the school of experience, which has been his constant teacher. As he was reared on a farm he became an expert in flail threshing grain, and he labored in the fields from his early boyhood days.

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I experienced Irish hospitality in Northern Ireland

Tom O’Rourke and Bernadette (O’Rourke) Cousins. About a year ago, I was looking through my DNA matches when I found I matched a man named Tom O’Rourke. Though a distant cousin, Tom lives about 200 yards from my ancestor’s home in Killowen, Northern Ireland. Bernadette is his daughter.

It is true what they say about Irish hospitality. As I think back on my visit to my Irish relatives nearly a month ago, I can’t remember one minute where I didn’t feel welcome or like a part of the family. The Irish people are some of the most friendly people on this earth.

Despite having never met us, Bernadette (O’Rourke) Cousins and her father, Tom O’Rourke (my DNA match) and the rest of their family, welcomed us into their home and even ferried us around the Mourne Mountain area, showing us the sites. Not only did they do that, but Tom’s wife, Magella, invited us to dinner where she served the most delicious stew as well as cake, ice cream and custard for dessert.

Tom and Bernadette were eager to show us around. They drove us to the Kilbroney Cemetery in Rostrevor so my sister could see our ancestor’s grave, then on to Hilltown, the Spelga Dam, the Silent Valley, the Catholic Cemetery in Kilkeel, Greencastle, then on a ferry ride across the Carlingford Lough and back. I have a new appreciation for the area where my ancestors were from — a small village named Killowen which is located in south County Down, on the edge of Cnocshee, a small hill that is part of the Mourne Mountains.

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Meeting my Irish family

Today I’m embarking on a trip to Ireland and I’m very excited because I will be meeting my O’Rourke relatives, my Irish family, for the first time.

Irish family
This is my Irish family. This was taken when another relative from the United States was visiting a few weeks ago (the woman in orange). Tom O’Rourke is the man in the blue shirt. Bernadette is in the photo at the top next to the woman in the orange shirt.

About this time last year, I was looking at new DNA matches on the FamilyTree DNA site when I came across a Mr. Tom O’Rourke. FTDNA estimated that Tom was a fourth cousin of mine. Figuring he was a man living in the United States, I got in contact with the administrator of Tom’s account who told me Tom was living in Ballintur, near Killowen, the same townland in Ireland where my great grandfather was born.

I was able to contact Tom’s daughter, Bernadette O’Rourke (now Bernadette Cousins), and we have been corresponding for a year. Bernadette lives on the property that is adjacent to my ancestor’s home. We’ve arranged a visit next week and I’m very excited to meet all of them.

Yes, they are distant relatives, but just to have a connection with a family that still lives where my great grandfather was born is very exciting to me.  I have been searching for an O’Rourke relative for a number of years. Last time I visited Ireland, I visited a third cousin, Kieran Waters. Kieran lives in Newry, Northern Ireland, a few miles west of where my great grandfather was born. I will be meeting with Kieran as well and am looking forward to seeing him again.

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Irish genealogy help all the way from Australia

I’ve made a few more discoveries about my great grandmother’s family with the help of a man from Australia with ties to South County Down. Dermot Balson contacted me all the way from Perth and he holds a wealth of information on the people of Kilkeel.

These aren’t my ancestors, but this was taken in the countryside near Kilkeel where my great grandmother’s family was from. I imagine this is very similar to the home that my ancestors lived in. This was taken around near the turn of the 20th century. Demot Balson sent this to me.

After reading my blog, he emailed me a couple of days ago offering his help. I sent him my great grandmother Mary Rogers O’Rourke and her father Hugh’s information and already he has found my possible ties to the Quinn family. He has found one mistake and located my second great grandfather’s death certificate, which has eluded me all this time.

I have the wrong Rose Rogers

First, the mistake:

I don’t have the correct birth record for Rose Rogers, my great grandmother’s sister. Instead, I have a Rose Rogers that was born to an Arthur Rogers and Mary Roney.  Here’s what Dermot wrote:

I found a discrepancy in the 1868 birth record for Rose. Her father was Arthur, not Hugh, and she was born in Moneydaraghbeg, which neighbours Moneydaraghmore. Arthur is not a typo or mistake, nor is he Hugh using another name. As you’ll see from the attached document, this pair Arthur and Mary had two more children, one in 1866, the same year that Hugh had Mary. Rose is definitely NOT Mary’s sister, but probably a cousin. These townlands were swarming with Rodgers and Rooneys.

I agree with Dermot that the “townlands were swarming with Rodgers and Rooneys.” This is why I have had trouble figuring out who is who when I research my ancestors. All my relatives that insisted to me Rose was older than Mary, and they now appear to be correct.

Unfortunately, Dermot could not locate a birth record for my Rose Rogers.

So if Mary did have a sister Rose, it wasn’t this Rose. I can’t find any other Rose Ro(d)gers born anywhere else in the 1860s. The answer may be that your Rose was born before 1864, or that her birth simply wasn’t registered, which did happen especially with Catholic births.

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Ancestry DNA test helped me solve a puzzle

For a couple of months I’ve been trying to establish just how Quinn family from Atticall,  Kilkeel, County Down is related to me. I can report now that I’ve solved at least part of the puzzle. The DNA test that I took with a few years ago links me to the Quinn family and I made that discovery yesterday. More on that later.

A little background

As I’ve written earlier, John Quinn established the first grocery store in Newry in County Down known as the Milestone in 1909. He ended up doing quite well in Ireland opening up grocery stores in various locations in County Down. My great grandmother Mary Rogers’ sister, Catherine (Kate), listed him as her cousin and her closest relative living in Ireland when she immigrated to the U.S. in 1910. Here is a link to my earlier post if you would like to read more:  catherine-rogers-murphy-cousin-john-quinn

This is a clip of the 1891 England census where my great grandfather John Rourke is listed as a border in the same Birkenhead (near Liverpool) house that Richard Quinn is listed as a boarder. Note that all adult household members are from County Down.

My grandfather’s cousin, Mary C. O’Rourke revealed in a video taken in 1986 that she was playmates when she was in Ireland with two of John and Mary Quinn’s (Fitzsimmons) oldest sons – John and Patrick. John and Patrick later changed their names to the Gaelige version – Sean and Padraig – and fought for Irish independence in the early 1920s. Sean died in the Irish Civil war in 1923 and Padraig was injured and lost a leg in the same conflict. Padraig went on to become a successful medical doctor in Ireland.

Taking another look

Just recently I went back and looked and my great grandfather John’s records. In the 1891 England census he is listed as a boarder in Birkenhead in a home occupied by the Sloan family, also from County Down. I suspect my great grandfather was a relative of the Sloan family. Also listed as a boarder is a Richard Quinn from County Down. John Quinn had a brother named Richard and Richard’s age listed in the census is 20, born the same year as John Quinn’s brother Richard.  Hence, I believe, they are the same person. I don’t believe Richard is related to my great grandfather, only to my great grandmother’s family. I now think it is a possibility that Richard Quinn may have introduced my great grandfather to his future wife, my great grandmother Mary Rogers while they were all living in the Liverpool area.

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Tips for researching your Irish ancestors

This is the entry in the Kilbroney Parish record where my great grandfather’s baptism was recorded. It is the only place his birth was recorded since he was born in 1861, and civil records didn’t exist in Ireland until 1862. His baptism recorded is the third one underneath the year 1861 — Feb. 6, 1861.

I‘m a self-taught amateur genealogy buff, researching my Irish family and I thought I’d share with others how I’ve researched my own ancestors. People have often asked me, how did I find out all that information? The answer is that I have found interesting information on many of my ancestors by using several different approaches. Like much original research, there is no one magical website or library, or place where you are going to find out everything. It takes persistence, but you will be surprised at what you can find out.

Ten years ago I didn’t know anything. I knew the names of grandparents and that they were born in Liverpool. That was it. To top it off, I didn’t even have my grandmother’s correct birth name. My father passed away when I was five years old and I was cut off from my father’s side of my family. This made it all the more enticing to find out about this branch of the family. It wasn’t until I came into contact with one of my uncles  in 2006 that I found out just where in Ireland the family originated from. But again, my uncle didn’t know precisely where his family was from — only roughly.

And, Ireland can be especially tough to research. A lot of records before 1862 only exist in the hundreds of different parishes in Ireland. Most are Roman Catholic, but then there is the Church of Ireland and in Northern Ireland, the Presbyterian parishes. There was no centralized location because it wasn’t required to register birth, deaths or marriages civilly until after 1862.

Here’s how I went about researching my ancestors:

I  subscribed to an online genealogy site — This is probably the most important step that I took in researching my Irish ancestors. Yes this costs money — a lot of money. I spend $300 a year for the World Explorer membership. If you can’t afford that, there is a less expensive option. Also, your public library may offer for free, as well as your nearest LDS church. gives me access to hundreds of databases that I can search and it includes Ireland and UK databases, essential if you are researching the Irish. has tools to create a family tree and once you enter an ancestor, it will compare that person with the millions of other’s who have family trees on its site.

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James O’Rourke: A life cut short by a devastating disease

James O'Rourke
James O’Rourke

I have wanted to know the cause of my great grand uncle James O’Rourke’s death and to find out why he only lived to his mid-30s. I went online to General Register Office in Northern Ireland and did a search for James’ death certificate. I was unable to read the horrible handwriting on it, so I ordered a copy to be mailed to my home. Yesterday, after at least two weeks waiting, I received it in my mailbox. James died April 20, 1902 in the Kilkeel Workhouse. James’ cause of death as phthisis (a word I had to look up) or in other words, tuberculosis.

When I think about what happened to him, I’m deeply saddened. James died at the age of 36 in 1902 in Kilkeel, Ireland. He was in the prime of his life. He was married and had a young child — Mary Catherine O’Rourke. James also had a job in Liverpool, maybe not a very desirable job, but he was earning money and supporting his family. The family frequently came back to his home in Ireland to visit.

We know little about James’ life before he died. What we do know is this: He was born in Ballintur  near Killowen in what is now Northern Ireland in 1864. His parents were James O’Rourke and Mary Hughes O’Rourke and he was the couple’s third child. Tragically their second child, Francis, died in infancy from cholera. James was named after his father and had three brothers growing up: my great grandfather John, who was older than he, and two younger brothers, Thomas and Francis.

James at some point — probably in the early 1890s — left Ireland for Liverpool because there was little work in Ireland outside of farming during the late 19th century and early 20th century. James married Rose Rogers, the sister of his elder brother’s wife. He worked on the docks in Liverpool as a coal porter, probably loading and unloading coal on the many ships that docked in England’s busiest port. James and Rose had two children, both girls, though one, Annie Josephine Ivy, died tragically when she was eleven months old  in 1901.

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Catherine Rogers Murphy and her cousin, John Quinn

My great grand aunt, Catherine Rogers Murphy (my great grandmother’s sister), did not immigrate to the United States until three years after her sisters, Rose Rogers O’Rourke and Mary Rogers O’Rourke, according to records I have found online.
Instead, Catherine Murphy immigrated in 1910. She traveled from Liverpool, England on the ship Caronia with two of her children, Vincent and Norah Murphy. Vincent was 16 and Norah was 11. Her destination was Bellingham, Wash.

The Milestone
The Milestone, Newry, Northern Ireland’s first supermarket, founded in 1910 by John Quinn.

Two weeks ago, I wrote that she had immigrated with my great grandparents, but I could only find her husband’s name on the ship’s manifest. Catherine’s husband, John Murphy, traveled on the same ship that my great grandfather’s family immigrated to America.
John O’Rourke and my great grandmother Mary Rogers O’Rourke and their five children, came to America on the Teutonic in April 1907. Also immigrating at the same time was Rose Rogers O’Rourke, Mary’s sister and Rose’s daughter, Mary Catherine O’Rourke. My great grandfather John married Mary Rogers and his brother, Jim O’Rourke, married Mary’s sister Rose. It’s a little confusing, but Mary Catherine and John and Mary’s children were double first cousins. John Murphy was on that ship as well.

But Catherine immigrated in 1910. On the ship’s manifest she listed her closest relative in Ireland as a Mr. J. Quinn, The Milestone, Newry.

Dunnes Stores
The Milestone is Dunnes Stores today.

John Quinn and the Milestone

As I wrote last week, John Quinn was the owner of the first supermarket in Newry, Northern Ireland – the Milestone. He was born in Attical, a townland near Kilkeel. He lived in Liverpool for a time where he worked as a grocer. Many of his 10 children were born in Bootle (near Liverpool). He moved his family back to the County Down and where he opened The Milestone. He ended up being quite a successful businessman and opening several stores in Northern Ireland. One of his children, John (Sean) Quinn, was a member of the IRA and was killed in the Irish Civil War.

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