Genealogy questions provide few answers

It’s been a couple of weeks since my last post and I have learned a lot about the genealogy of my grandparents John and Mary (Rogers) O’Rourke since then. First of all, I received a lot of inquiry about my posts on my great grandparents and suggestions why there might be a discrepancy in Mary’s birthday. Most who contacted me thought there may have been two Mary Rogers, one born on the day I found in the Northern Ireland Civil Records: March 16, 1866 and the other the birthday Mary gave to the Social Security Department when claiming benefits: June 12, 1869.

John O'Rourke
John O’Rourke

My cousin wrote to me she thought the “earlier” Mary Rogers may have passed away as a toddler (fatal childhood diseases were common back then) and then three years later, Hugh Rogers and Mary Rooney had a another child and named her Mary. My cousin might be correct, but here’s why I don’t think it is: I found a death certificate for Mary (Rooney) Rogers – Mary’s mother – dated in 1868. It is commonly known in my family that Mary Rogers O’Rourke and her siblings were orphans, though I can’t find a death certificate for her father, Hugh. Mary Rooney Rogers’s death in 1868 fits this narrative.

Another sister discovered

Another interesting fact that came to light was that Mary and her sister, Rose, had another sibling – Kate Rogers. Kate Rogers is actually in my family tree, but I have no idea how I “found” her, so I didn’t include her information in my original post. I have one source attributed to Kate and that is the 1901 Census of Canada. I have Kate’s birth date as Aug. 15, 1863 and living in Montreal, Canada in 1901. Kate is listed as married to a John Murphy and they had four children: Michael Murphy, Joseph Murphy, Julia Murphy and Andrew Murphy. John Murphy is listed as having been born in Scotland, but of Irish origin. They were Roman Catholic and John’s occupation is listed as Carter (A Carter typically drove a light two wheeled carriage). Beyond that, I have no more information on Kate and her family.

Continue reading “Genealogy questions provide few answers”

An O’Rourke-Rogers family genealogical conundrum

Mary Rogers O’Rourke

Tracing my great grandmother’s genealogy has been a challenge. For one thing, I had no idea what townland in Ireland she was from. All the information I initially knew was only that she was from Kilkeel. Even though Kilkeel is a small fishing village, it’s a large civil registration district that encompasses the south end of the Mourne Mountain area in Northern Ireland.

The second challenge has been a bit more daunting. In fact, it’s a conundrum and I don’t know quite what to make of it – there is a three-year difference in my great grandmother Mary’s age from her birth records than future records that document her life. Mary’s later records – those when she lived in Birkenhead in Britain and subsequent records after she immigrated to the United States give her age as three years younger than her original Irish birth records state.

I’ve been doing genealogy for a long time now and I know even if it’s written down on an official government document doesn’t mean it’s factual. People make mistakes all the time: they make stuff up, government workers incorrectly document facts, and there are misspellings, etc. etc. But my great grandmother Mary’s records after 1890 are consistently three years off, all the way to her death in Burien, Washington.

Was it deception?

This begs the question: was Mary deliberately deceiving people of her age? I’d like to think not but I don’t know the answer. If someone has an explanation why something like this happens, I’d like to hear it.

Now, it was common in the mid-19th century for people not know the exact date they were born, especially before civil records existed in Ireland, but my great grandmother was born in 1866, four years after civil records were implemented in Ireland. Also, I imagine 9-year-olds know they are not six-year-olds. In birth records, Mary was born before her sister Rose. Later records give her age as younger than her sister.

This is probably why I’ve had such a difficult time “looking” for my great grandmother in genealogical records. I even went as far as hiring a professional genealogist a few years back. The problem was I also had her incorrect birthplace, which is common since the survivors giving the information may not know the exact birthplace. Her obituary, which I came in possession of about 10 years ago, states she was born in Downpatrick (maybe a mistake for County Down).

I may never know why there is a discrepancy, but he following is a short narrative of my Irish great grandmother’s life that I’ve compiled with genealogical records: Continue reading “An O’Rourke-Rogers family genealogical conundrum”

My great grandfather John O’Rourke — Irish immigrant

I did not know my great grandparents’ names until I was in my late 40’s. My father was killed in an automobile accident when I was five years old and I became – through no choice of my own – estranged from the O’Rourke family. It wasn’t until I reconnected with my uncle, Dennis O’Rourke and his family in 2006, did I finally learn their names and that they were from a place in Ireland called Rostrevor in the Mourne Mountains in what is now Northern Ireland. Since then I’ve been doing extensive work on my genealogy and intend to write stories about my ancestors on both sides of my family. The following is the story of my great grandfather.

This photo was given to me by Kieran Waters, my third cousin who lives in Northern Ireland. He thinks the man in the middle might be my great grandfather, John. But I think John O’Rourke is the man on the right.

John was born in County Down in the second half the 19th century and came to the United States at the turn of the 20th century. He also happens to be my great-grandfather.

John was born “John Rourke” February 2, 1861 to James Rourke and Mary (Hughes) Rourke in the townland of Ballintur, near Killowen, in what is now Northern Ireland. (Source: Kilbroney Parish registers). He was baptized on Feb. 6 and his name was entered into the register as “John Roark” because there were no spelling standards at that time. His obituary states that he was born in 1862 and his death certificate lists his year as 1863, but both are incorrect.

The very next year in early December, John’s brother Francis was born. (Source: Kilbroney Parish registers.) Unfortunately, in February 1864, John’s young family would be struck by tragedy when Francis became ill with cholera. After a week-long battle Francis, barely 18 months old, died. Later that same year, in November 1864, another brother – James – was born. A third brother, Thomas Rourke was born in June 1866 and two years later in 1868, John’s youngest brother, Francis (named after the deceased brother) was born.

John’s childhood in County Down

Not much is known about John’s childhood days in County Down. The family lived in a rural area on the edge of Carlingford Lough within a stone’s throw of the Mourne Mountains and next to a small mountain (or hill) known as Cnocshee. John’s grandfather, John Rourke Jr., was listed in the Griffiths Revaluation as the primary tenant of the land in John’s early years. It was described as 8 acres, 1 rood, 5 perches and worth just more than six British pounds. When John Rourke Jr. passed away in 1869, my great grandfather John’s father, James, became the primary tenant. Continue reading “My great grandfather John O’Rourke — Irish immigrant”

Reflections my Irish heritage on St. Patrick’s Day

When I was a young girl I was always asked if I was Irish on account of my last name – O’Rourke. At first, I didn’t really understand the question. I was American. But my mother told me that indeed I was at least half Irish as my late father was born to Irish immigrants who came to America in the early 20th century. That was all I knew about my Irish family until I was in my late 40s.

St. Patrick’s Day would come once a year and all I knew about the holiday was that you must wear something green or risk getting pinched. Some people ate corned beef and cabbage, though my family never did. Others went to the bar and drank green beer. But most of my young life I was ignorant of about my Irish heritage because of my father’s early death and my subsequent estrangement from his family.

It’s only been the last 10 years that I’ve reclaimed my Irish heritage. Beginning with find my uncle and his family and learning where my great grandparents and grandparents came from, I’ve been taken on a journey of self-discovery. I now have found most of my father’s family – first cousins, second cousins and even some third cousins. I’ve made two trips to Ireland and am planning a third.

Discovering my family’s origins

I’ve located my great grandparents’ birthplace – County Down, Ireland and have visited the O’Rourke homestead in Killowen, Northern Ireland where “the Mountains of Mourne sweep out to the sea” – one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever traveled to. DNA testing has linked me to people still living just yards away from where my great grandfather was born.

On this St. Patrick’s Day I can say, yes I’m proud of my Irish heritage. I am Irish-American. I’ve been fortunate to be able to reconnect with my family and above all, meet the people of Ireland whom I’m related to.

I look forward to my next trip.

Lá Fhéile Pádraig Sona Daoibh! (Happy St. Patrick’s Day).

The statue of St. Patrick at the Hill of Tara in Ireland.

An old photo from long ago sparks memories


From left to right: my mother, Charlene O’Rourke; my father, Bernard O’Rourke; my uncle, Father Dennis O’Rourke. Behind Dennis is Linda Lamb (Wickersham). Next to Dennis is Pat Paynton and behind her is my uncle Jack O’Rourke. Next to Pat is Eileen O’Rourke Paynton. The children in front are Bobby Wickersham and my first cousin, Erin O’Rourke. The woman touching Erin is Mary O’Rourke Rothermel. The man with the glasses in between Eileen and Mary is my uncle Wilfred (Bill) O’Rourke and next to him is Dick Paynton. The woman in the gray suit next to Mary is Tess O’Rourke, and behind her is Helen Marie Parent (Paynton). On the far right is Peggy Wickersham and John Aloysius O’Rourke (my great uncle).


It’s amazing what one simple action can lead to.

I know it’s been a long time since I’ve blogged and I haven’t been back to Ireland (I shall return) but I’ve continued to work on my genealogy. I’ve also promised myself I’d blog more because I enjoy writing as a creative outlet.

I’ve not only looked into the O’Rourke genealogy of my father’s side, but I’ve also made some interesting discoveries on my mother’s side. I’ve found records dating back to the 1500s in England just by tracing my maternal grandmother’s line.

I can trace my lineage to Anne Hutchinson, an early American colonist, who dared question the teachings of the Puritan church and was excommunicated from the established church and ultimately banished from the Massachusetts Bay Colony. She and husband William Hutchinson went on to found a settlement in Rhode Island, later known as Portsmouth. She was killed by Indians after moving to New York when her husband died.

I’ve also found out that most of my mother’s side ancestors were Loyalists meaning they either fought for the British or made their way to Canada after the Revolutionary War broke out. That explains why many of my maternal ancestors were Canadians – both on my maternal grandfather and grandmother’s side.

The old photo sparked interest

Yesterday I was looking through some old photos and came across one that one of my paternal first cousin emailed me some time ago. It’s a picture of a group of people that includes my father. I cherish every photo I have of my father because I don’t have many. He passed away in a car accident in 1965 when I was just five years old. After that happened, I was estranged from the O’Rourke family for more than 40 years. Continue reading “An old photo from long ago sparks memories”