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 — Ancestry.com. 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 Ancestry.com for free, as well as your nearest LDS church. Ancestry.com 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. Ancestry.com 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.

Continue reading “Tips for researching your Irish ancestors”

The importance of reviewing genealogy materials

Rose Rogers O'Rourke Morrison
Rose Rogers O’Rourke Morrison

It’s always a good idea to take a second look at genealogy materials and sources when studying family history. I took a second look at my materials today and realized something that I had not previously known. All three of the Rogers sisters, my great grandmother, Mary, and her sisters, Kate and Rose, all immigrated to America at the same time. All three families had their passage paid by cousin Jim Cunningham of Pullayup, Wash.

I knew Mary and Rose had immigrated together. But I did not know that Kate and her husband, John Murphy, had also made the journey. Today I reviewed a document I received about four years ago from distant cousin Anne Fernando, a member of the Stupfel family. Members of the Stupfel family are descendants of Rose Rogers O’Rourke Morrison (my great grand aunt) and her first husband, James O’Rourke (my great grand uncle). Rose and James are both related to me by blood since my great grandfather, John and his brother James, married sisters Mary and Rose Rogers.

The document was a narrative of Rose’s life and it stated that she immigrated to the US with her sister Kate and her husband, John Murphy. It does not mention that my great grandparents and their five children also made the journey. My grandfather Wilfred was one of those children. I find that interesting, but whoever wrote the document might not have been told that.

A new discovery

So I went back and checked the manifest of the ship Teutonic that made the voyage from Liverpool, England to New York carrying my ancestors back in April 1907. I found John Murphy’s name on the manifest just a few names above Rose’s. Sure enough, his voyage was paid by Jim Cunningham. The only thing that troubles me is that I didn’t find Kate’s name. It could have been on a previous page or maybe she made the journey at another time.

Teutonic manifest
This is the Teutonic manifest from April 23, 1907. John Murphy’s name is four names above Rose O’Rourke’s. My great grandfather’s family is listed last.

The document also states Kate and John Murphy settled in Menlo Park, Calif. So I did some searching on Ancestry.com and found a gravesite for a John and a Catherine Murphy at Holy Cross Catholic Cemetery in Menlo Park, Calif. I’m not entirely sure they are my relatives. Also listed on the gravestone are what appear to be three of their children – John Jr., James and Vincent. After more searching, I located a World War II draft card for Vincent that he filled out when he was 48 years old. On the draft card, Vincent gives his birthplace as County Down, Ireland. So maybe they are.

Below is the story of my great grand aunt, Rose Rogers O’Rourke Morrison. There are a few factual errors in the document. Rose was actually born near Kilkeel, not Rostrevor and her young daughter, who died at 11 months, was named Anne Josephine Ivy. Continue reading “The importance of reviewing genealogy materials”

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'Rourke1
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.

IMG_2708
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”