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.

I will let everyone know how it turns out Continue reading “Meeting my Irish family”

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.

Continue reading “Irish genealogy help all the way from Australia”

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”

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.

Continue reading “James O’Rourke: A life cut short by a devastating disease”

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.

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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).

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

The Cloughmore Stone: one of Rostrevor’s attractions

This is as much of the Cloughmore Stone I could get in a selfie.
This is as much of the Cloughmore Stone I could get in a selfie.

One of the wonderful things about Ireland and Northern Ireland is its appreciation for the outdoors. There are hundreds of places to hike, both on public land and through private land on public right-of-ways. Hikers are everywhere in Ireland as the Irish enjoy their walking.

I had the opportunity to hike to the Cloughmore Stone (pronounced Clockmore), atop a hill high about the village of Rostrevor. Legend has it that Finn McCool (Fionn mac Cumhaill in Irish) a giant mythical warrior, threw the 40-ton stone at the giant Ruscaire from across Carlingford Lough. For a better explanation of the legend go here: http://www.carlingfordandmourne.com/myths-and-legends/finn-mccool-and-the-cloughmore-carlingford-and-rostrevor

Continue reading “The Cloughmore Stone: one of Rostrevor’s attractions”

My trip to Crockshee (also known as Knockshee)

Me and Kieran.
Me and Kieran.

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.

The O'Rourke house. I don't know when this photo was taken, but a long time ago.
The O’Rourke house. I don’t know when this photo was taken, but a long time ago.

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

The O'Rourke house after it had fallen into disrepair.
The O’Rourke house after it had fallen into disrepair.

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

Me in front of the house -- now rebuilt.
Me in front of the house — now rebuilt.

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.

The O'Rourke boys. Kieran thinks the man in the middle is my great grandfather, John.
The O’Rourke boys. Kieran thinks the man in the middle is my great grandfather, John.
The view from the house. -- Carlingford Lough.
The view from the house. — Carlingford Lough.
Behind the house, looking at Knockshee.
Behind the house, looking at Knockshee.

My most amazing day in the home of the O’Rourke clan

Creevelea Abbey
Creevelea Abbey

Today was my best day so far in Ireland. For one, it didn’t rain. Well, it didn’t rain significantly. It was windy and cold and a few drops fell from the sky, but I can’t have everything, can I? The other reason is that I finally fulfilled a long-time dream of mine — to travel to Breifne, where the O’Rourke clan originated.

After spending for days in Dingle, I was off by bus to Sligo in northwest Ireland. I woke up Sunday morning in Dingle and it was pouring — really coming down. Since Sunday was a travel day, I wasn’t too disappointed.  I got completely soaked walking to the bus stop because I was too cheap to take a taxi (it was only three or four blocks away). The wind was howling so hard it turned my umbrella inside out and it broke. I deposited in the trash at the SuperValu (that’s how it’s spelled) in Dingle. I can buy another one. There’s no umbrella shortage in Ireland.

The trip on Bus Eireann took 10 hours and I changed buses three times. I had two layovers of 90 minutes — one in Tralee and another in Galway. By the time I got to Galway, it had stopped raining. The last leg — from Galway to Sligo took two and a half hours and we stopped at every one-horse (or one sheep) town along the way. When I arrived in Sligo at 8:20 pm, my hotel was right next door to the bus station. Continue reading “My most amazing day in the home of the O’Rourke clan”