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.
Because of this, I was able to get in contact with second cousins who live in a different state and a third cousin I didn’t even know existed. It was this third cousin, a woman who lives in Monterey, Calif. that proved the most invaluable. She was the person that was able to tell me exactly where our family was from because her grandmother had actually grown up there. And this was all because she had the same ancestors that I did on her Ancestry.com tree. Her great grandfather was my great grandfather’s brother.
I contacted others online who are researching families in the same locations that I was searching for my family. Again this is extremely important. When I’d google the O’Rourke name or Killowen, the location they were from, I’d find others researching families in the same area. I would email them, contact them through their blogs, etc. I made some pretty good online contacts and these people have helped me immensely, sharing what they have found out so I didn’t have to reinvent the wheel. One contact would lead me to another and finally, a woman who lives in Ireland who grew up in Killowen who had researched all three of the O’Rourke families living in the townland where my ancestors were from, saving me a lot of work.
I took a DNA test. I took two DNA tests. This was also essential in my research. I have taken two tests: on with Ancestry.com and another with Family Tree DNA. Both have led me to relatives who possess more information. I even had my brother take a Y-DNA test (father-to-son). The Ancestry.com tests have led me to other family members, while the FTDNA test has proven what was previously unknown — that all three of the O’Rourke families living in Killowen in the 18th and 19th centuries were related, even though no written record exists that they were. I’ve been in contact with the descendants of the other two families.
Some other essential tips:
Don’t assume your ancestors names were spelled the same as your current last name. I made this mistake. This is true for everyone, not just the Irish. For example, my ancestors in Ireland surnames were “Rourke” not “O’Rourke” and the name was spelled at least four different ways on different documents — Rourke, Rourk, Rorke and Roark. It wasn’t until the early 20th century that my family added the “O” back to our name and the spelling was consistent.
Don’t limit your searches to births, deaths and marriages. For example, there is the Griffiths Valuation document that exists for Ireland. This was carried out between 1848 and 1864 to determine ability to pay the Poor rate (for the support of the poor and destitute within each Poor Law Union) and gives detailed information where people lived and the property the possessed. Tithe Applotment books are also a good source. These books were used to determine the payment of Tithes or religious tax between the years 1823 to 1838.
Websites to help search for your Irish ancestors:
Ask about Ireland/Griffiths Valuation: http://www.askaboutireland.ie/griffith-valuation/
Irish Genealogy: https://www.irishgenealogy.ie/en/
Roots Ireland: http://www.rootsireland.ie/
For Roman Catholic ancestors: http://registers.nli.ie/
Finally, spend a little money. Get those DNA tests. Order documents from the Ireland General Registers office and have them mailed to your home. Talk to other family members, especially the older ones. You will be surprised how much you can learn about your family’s past.