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.
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.
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 Ancestry.com 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
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.
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.
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.
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.
This trip is costing me a lot of money, but I don’t regret it for one minute. It is worth every penny. I had a fabulous day yesterday when I met an Irish cousin (third cousin) and set foot on the actual property where my great-grandfather John O’Rourke was born. The property is situated up a small road about two or so kilometers east of Rostrevor. It is at the side of a small mountain known as Knockshee (Fairy Hill).
The property has a great view of Carlingford Lough, a bay sits on the border of Northern Ireland and Ireland. Kieran Waters, a descendant of Francis O’Rourke, John’s brother, was kind enough to take me there. It was exciting to finally meet him as we have been corresponding through Facebook for at least a year. Not only did Kieran take me there, he also brought me photos, a family tree and a copy of our second great-grandfather’s (James O’Rourke) will written in 1903.
In addition, he brought me a phone number of local historian of sorts – Mark Brennan. I am invited to Mark and his wife’s home for tea Saturday evening at half-six (6:30 in Irish). I am really looking forward to it. This is exactly what I wanted to do – meet the actual people of Ireland and Northern Ireland and learn about what life was and is like for them. When I left Ireland after my vacation two years ago, I knew I had to come back. My trip to County Down then had been mostly a failure. I failed to locate my great grandfather’s baptismal certificate and I was unsure if I found my ancestor’s grave in the local cemetery. I had gone to the cemetery my last night in Rostrevor at the urging of
my partner Toni who said I would regret it if I didn’t. It was not until I arrived home that I realized I had located my ancestor’s gravesite and I owe it all to ancestry.com and Lisa Cutshaw, a third cousin who resides in Monterey, Calif. For those who don’t know about ancestry.com, if an ancestor in your family tree matches another person’s tree, it notifies you. I was notified that my great grand uncle Francis O’Rourke matched Francis in Lisa’s tree. To make a long story short, I contacted her and she confirmed the gravesite I had found was my ancestors’. She also told me where they had lived — a place known as Crockshee or Knockshee. I also had help from Deirdre McEvoy, an
amateur genealogist from the Rostrevor/Killowen area. I made plans last September to revisit County Down. And yesterday I realized my dream – to meet an O’Rourke cousin and see where my family is from. Enjoy the photos.
Before I took this trip, I was nervous about traveling alone. I’ve never traveled by myself and was worried whether I’d get lonely. But I just felt I needed to do it alone. For one, I wanted to be able to do what I wanted, when I wanted. Toni and I travel well together, but we are different people and like to do different things. Sometimes I just like to sit in a cafe and people watch and to Toni that feels like she’s not doing anything. She needs to move around and see something, or she feels like she’s not getting her money’s worth. She also doesn’t talk much to other people she doesn’t know and I enjoy it.
So far this has been the best experience. I have met so many people that I otherwise would have never talked to if I had traveled with another person or more.
To begin with, I had dinner the other night in Dublin with Deidre McEvoy. Deidre is an amateur genealogist from Rostrevor, where my O’Rourke family came from. She does genealogy for lots of people, particularly Americans searching for their Irish roots. She was able to send me lots of information, including the names of my third and fourth great grandfathers. (By the way, they were both named John — John Jr. and John Sr. My great grandfather is also named John.) Continue reading “Traveling alone in Ireland is not so bad”→