McCormicks, DNA and America's Dark Age


The Tough to Trace SS McCormick

By Tony and Celia Becker

We have very complete information about Tony's parents and grandparents, and also on all but one of his great grandparents and 2nd great grandparents. However, we been trying to connect one of Tony's 2nd great grandfathers, Samuel Sanford McCormick, (SS McCormick) to his McCormick ancestors for many years. This fellow presents a very difficult combination for researchers. SS McCormick's case had already driven one professional paid researcher in Kentucky to say she was 'totally done with McCormicks and McCammacks and never wanted to hear of them again.' It had stymied at least two other long-time well-educated researchers with excellent regional and national reputations.

After decades of research, we did have a few facts. Samuel Sanford McCormick was born May 12, 1838. In his few surviving records we found a few instances where clerk got his surname wrong, mostly as McCamick or McCammack, instead of McCormick. According to the Civil War military service records, prepared by clerks to whom he answered basic questions, as far as SS McCormick knew, he had been born and spent his childhood in Washington County, Kentucky. (not far from where Abraham Lincoln was born). He died January 7, 1882 in a place unknown and was buried near Vandalia in Fayette County, Illinois where he lived last. Some 15 years after he died, his date of death was remembered by his widow and oldest daughter who gave that information to the military. We believe the military and his children put up the pictured headstone for him in about 1898. His oldest daughter Amanda always went by McCormick, which she could have only gotten from her father. His widow remarried and the clerk wrote the name wrong as McKamie or McKamic (depending on your interpretation of the scrawl), but one thing is clear. All the early records for these women, and SS himself have 'Mc' as part of their surname. None are without it.

We know that Tony's maternal grandfather was Ellis Theodore Beebe (1891-1973), whose parents were Thomas Jackson Beebe (1863-1929) and Amanda Alice McCormick (1867-1959). We have documented Thomas Jackson Beebe's parents were Charles Lemuel Beebe, Sr. (1828-1875) and Mary Hughes (1829-1882), and documented most of their other vital records. For Amanda Alice McCormick, we know her parents were Samuel Sanford McCormick (1838-1882), and Mary Ann Ottinger (1847-1920). We have good documentation on Mary Ann Ottinger, despite the fact she was illiterate and had never been to school, but we have almost nothing on SS McCormick.

But we wanted to know who SS McCormicks predecessors were, how they originally came to America. We knew that the McCormicks present in Early America were relatively few in numbers. We also knew that most of the McCormicks passed through these parts of Early America's Dark Age, and that most were related to the illustrious Inventor, Cyrus McCormick, who had famously traced his ancestors back to Ulster, and others had more recently worked from his research all the way back to Argyllshire, Scotland in the 16th century.

Using DNA matches to Narrow the Field

We decided to apply the new science of DNA testing and matching to break through the barrier. Over the past 2 years, Tony did autosomal DNA tests at all three of the largest DNA testing companies,, 23 and Me and Family Tree DNA, plus a Y-DNA test at Family Tree DNA.

On, as of October 1st, 2018, Tony has 204 DNA matches to clients looking for the surname 'Hughes', 59 for the surname 'McCormick', 63 matches for 'Beebe,' 25 matches for 'Ottinger' and only 12 for the homophonic English surname Cammack and it's several variants.

In this SS McCormick instance, a similar pattern also appeared when he analyzed the matches results from the second largest database DNA testing company, Family Tree DNA as well as the third largest, 23 and Me. Both of these others use algorithms for low confidence matches which give less variable results, and a user interface that gives the client more insight options for such matches.

Although has the largest database, it's algorithms for DNA matching, especially for what they call 'low confidence' matches more distant than 5th cousins, are in a constant state of change, and often unreliable, to the extent that they no longer show the full detail for such matches, and so we needed the other two sets of results to be confident in these conclusions.

Applying a bit of statistical analysis, we can see that the distribution of these numbers of DNA matches is wholly consistent with our understanding of surnames of Tony's mother's paternal grandparents. The converse of course, is that any other surnames, like Cammack, are relatively improbable, and can be mostly discounted, with the possible exceptions of illegitimacy or adoption.

Documenting SS McCormick's ancestors, armed with DNA matches

When you are researching a family for accuracy, you are looking for documents that are contemporary with the individual and his life events. We had three census records--he's missing from the 1860 census. We had his military record and a headstone that we initially did not believe was his. There may be a second one for him, but its location was not recorded by the persons who claimed to have seen it. There was no obituary, nor a county death record in the county where he last lived, nor in the county and state he may have died, where his wife's father had recently died and she had siblings getting married all within a couple of years. He had no sons, only three daughters. Two of the daughters' names were 'made up,' not anything common or traditional. The first and middle names of his oldest daughter, Amanda Alice were more traditional but not found in any of the known families of his wife's ancestry or immediate family, nor among any with the surnames McCammack (and several variations) or McCormick where he lived in Kentucky. There was thus no naming tradition that he used to help identify his forebears. His widow, Mary Ann, who outlived him and married a second time, was illiterate; she was the only one of her parents' children who had not been to school, and she was the oldest daughter helping her mother to care for the younger children. There was no family Bible record kept by SS McCormick/McCamick and his illiterate wife. We have yet to find one in which his daughters wrote down, early in their adult lives, what they remembered their father and mother telling them.

SS McCormick appears to have been an orphan by 1850 and hired out at the age of 10 or 11 to a childless couple in the community in which he then lived, or was nearby to where he lived. Neither of this couple's family turned out to have ANY McCormick or Cammack marriages. Neither of this couple nor their families were related to him. SS was not in the orphan's court records, though, suggesting he must have had a step-parent who was probably poor and couldn't afford to keep him. This was a poor area of a poor county. There were many illiterate people, and even the local church wasn't keeping good records. It has since been torn down, leaving a large abandoned, neglected and untranscribed cemetery with more than 1,000 known graves. It was lucky for SS that he was placed with William Nichols and his wife Rebecca Saunders, who had also taken in a niece of her own. SS then lived on a decent farm and had good food, and he got an education. He was literate and could read and write by the time he reached adulthood and could then leave for better opportunities. If he had been a complete orphan--no parents, nor any stepparents, he would have had to be placed by the court with a guardian or bound out as an apprentice and his parents would have been named and the costs of his care and education accounted for to the court. It didn't happen for SS McCormick.

Untangling Cammacks from McCormicks

What confounded researchers for some decades was that a line of definite McCormicks and another of Cammacks were in the same area of central Virginia and that these Cammacks were the documented antecedents of the Cammacks/McCammacks in Mercer, Washington and later Anderson Counties, in Kentucky.

At the end of the Civil War, after he'd recovered from wounds, illness and malnutrition, the latter two from a second stint as a prisoner of war, this time at the infamous Andersonville prison, (this was one of the unluckiest soldiers to have endured and survived this war), SS McCormick moved from Kentucky to Indianapolis, IN and then to Madison County, IN. He did not move with any known family members, nor were there any McCormicks or McCamicks near him in either place he lived in Indiana.

When he first moved to Indiana, the nearest McCammacks were in Putnam County, Indiana. These were documented cousins to a particular extended family actually named Cammack/Camac that was in Mercer and Washington County and had been in the same areas where SS McCormick/McCamick lived in Kentucky. What greatly disturbed Celia and three other professional researchers was that if SS had been in Cammack/Camac family some of whose members occasionally went by McCammack, he had dozens of kin in Mercer, Washington and Anderson Counties, literally dozens who could have helped care for him, who could have helped him recover from his war experiences and get an economic start after the war. Even if he had not wanted to be in Kentucky, but in Indiana and wanted or needed the help of Cammack/Camac kin, he could have gone to Putnam County, Indiana where cousins of this family were. He did none of that. There is no firm evidence he ever lived among or was cared for, or helped, by ANY of the Cammack/Camac families. They have no record of him in their own records, and this is a fairly well documented family, with numerous descendants in those same three counties to this day.

Bonus: McCormick Celebrities

Because this family occasionally went by McCammack at least two excellent professional researchers, and several local to this area of Kentucky researchers dug into this family's records, looking to determine if this was one of the missing lines of Virginia McCormicks, descended from Captain James Edward McCormick (1645-1738) a 'hero of the Siege of Londonderry in 1689' and particularly his second wife, Sara McTare/McFare Welsh, since it was the children of that second marriage who emigrated. The Captain's ancestry is now documented back to McCormicks, who as kinsmen and a sept of Clan McDonald, left Argyllshire with the McDonalds when, in 1568, they had returned to Scotland to hire mercenaries and bring in other supporters. By 1641 they were well known as retainers of the Earl of Antrim and his kin and some had likely been among those massacred in the English assault on Sorley Boy MacDonnell/McDonald's children--and his retainers, on Rathlin Island in 1585. Sorley Boy had gone to his family's lands in Argyllshire to recruit his men in 1568. The McCormicks settled in the long-time Irish lands of the McDonalds/McDonnells, in the 'Glens of Antrim,' not far from where Sorley Boy himself was born, raised and later died in 1590. Hugh McCormick (1570-1635) lived at Dumnakelter in County Antrim and was documented, along with his son, Thomas, as a McDonald's man. Hugh's father, and other McCormicks, were among those who arrived in Ireland with Sorley Boy McDonnell to defend the McDonnell lands in 1568. Captain James McCormick was a grandson of that Hugh McCormick, a son of one of Sorley Boy's followers. Clan McDonald identifies the McCormicks of Antrim as kinsmen and a sept of Clan McDonald and acknowledges they were retainers of the McDonalds/McDonnells. There were several sons of Captain James McCormick and his second wife who survived to adulthood, married and who Cyrus McCormick's hired researchers found had eventually emigrated: Hugh b. 1695, Dr. John Isaac McCormick (1698-1768--VERY well documented), Thomas (1702-1762), Samuel b. 1704 and Benjamin b. 1705/6. Hugh, Dr. John Isaac, Thomas and Benjamin are documented, but Benjamin had two wives and only his second wife and half of his children, those by his second wife, all born after 1754, are known. Nothing is online about Samuel. Yet, it is clear from Virginia records that sons of at least two more of John Isaac McCormick’s brothers were in Virginia by the 1750’s and they are not the sons of the best documented two, who left wills and probate records, and other records. Note that daughter Mildred Jennet McCormick, born 1706, Ballentory, Antrim, Northern Ireland 50, is known to have died in 1771, in Frederick County, Virginia. Another daughter of Captain James McCormick, Sarah is known to have been born 3 Sept., 1700 in Ireland, married and died “just before 1794,” but not much else, as per research from the Ulster Historical Foundation who found most of the actual birthdates of the Captain’s children by his second wife, Sarah.

So who were these McCammacks / Camacs, anyway? Where they actually McCormicks, one of the missing lines from one of the less documented sons of Captain McCormick? They were not McCormicks. Two researchers, Mary Gregg and Patrick Piersey, found documents in Spotsylvania and Richmond Counties Virginia indicating the Cammacks were indeed Cammacks, and were descendants of a very ENGLISH family of Cammack/Cammock, headed by Warwick Cammack who even had a brother named Sussex Cammack/Cammock in England who left a legacy to his brother and his brother's children. Mary Cammack, one of Warwick's daughters, had been a naughty girl and had an illegitimate son before she married a Stern who chose to raise that child but not under the Stern name, but his wife's maiden name--Cammack. The child was William Cammack (1698-1783) born in Richmond County, Virginia, who went to Spotsylvania County and had four sons there and left a will and many other records, starting in 1754. His oldest son, Francis Cammack, and another son, Henry, also left wills. From these we all learned that Francis' son, John, married Nancy Ann Miller in nearby Caroline County, and sold his inheritance in 1791-2 and moved to Kentucky, along with his younger brother Francis. This is the ancestry of the Cammack line.

Confusion particularly erupted when John Cammack (1743-1835), who was largely illiterate, allowed himself to be recorded in his Revolutionary War service as McCammack. After his death in the 1835, his widow applied for a pension, but was denied because she applied under Cammack and not McCammack. Neither herself nor her children, several of whom made depositions on her behalf, were aware of this surname confusion! It was finally resolved, but not for over ten years! Again, this confusion partly resulted from a lack of family records because John and his wife were illiterate and kept very few, if any records, since they could not read them!

Also, in the Mercer and Washington Counties of Kentucky, there was also a specific McCormick family whose earliest members in this area had come from Frederick and Jefferson Counties, Virginia. About 1781, George McCormick (1742-1820) arrived in what was then Lincoln County, KY in the area that later became Mercer County, KY. In 1782, George took Mary Chaplin as his second wife. Mary's family had settled in both Mercer and Washington County, and Chaplin Creek mostly in Washington County, and very near where S.S. McCormick was born and raised. In this area, there were a few descendants of George, at the same time SS McCormick was living there. Most of George's descendants are documented, but not quite all. Additionally, there is the possibility that, like John Cammack, George McCormick arrived in the area with another brother who is less well documented. At least one brother of George also disappeared from Frederick/Jefferson County when George did, a brother named John. We know that there were at least two contemporary John's in the same counties at the same time. The McCormicks, unlike the Cammacks/Camac's had far fewer descendants who remained in these three counties. A large number of them went to Missouri. George's second son, George Jr., born in 1770 in Virginia, went to Ohio and his children and grandchildren lived there. We don't have complete documentation on his own oldest son, John, born in 1768 in Virginia, died--date and place unknown. We know that George also had a brother named John born either a couple of years before or after him who left few records in Virginia, suggesting he had also left that state.

Next Steps

We now are left with two approaches. #1. Laboriously finding all the possible bits of records in poor counties of a poor state that had largely discarded literacy, even for ministers to identify all the descendants of ALL the sons of George looking for just that one that had one son and then died, at a time when most of his siblings and nephews were almost all leaving this area. #2. Alternatively, we can hope to find a 4th-6th cousin who ONLY shares McCormick ancestors with Tony.

If we find the alternative #2 cousin, we can use that cousin's documented McCormick records to trace the siblings of his/her ancestor forward to find the one who had one son and died before 1850 in Washington County, Kentucky, and he would be SS McCormick's father. Given the lack of civil and church records, and the abandoned, neglected cemetery, and lack of Tony's own ancestors' family records, #2, is our best hope and that's why we had Tony tested with all three major DNA testing companies.

This past week, we thought we found that cousin, but unfortunately she didn't have documents or complete trees for her ancestors and the cousins to whom she referred us for these and other documentation, had not made them public and had not been visible on the internet for over a year. So the search goes on...



Irish Ancestry Research in England

If they came from England, are they Irish or English?

By Cecilia L. Fabos-Becker, March 15th, 2018

This is the time of year when people of Irish descent most think of their ancestors and might be researching their Irish family history. They may get a surprise when they look for their immigrant ancestor's immigration record and find that he or she arrived in New York from England.

Don't worry too much, it doesn't mean your ancestor is likely to be English, but can mean that your ancestor was among the millions of Irish who didn't have enough land to live on, or inherit, and went to work in England for a while to earn enough money to pay for emigration.

We discovered some years ago that both of my husband's Irish great-grandparents had gone to England. The big mystery was, how long were they both in England? Maryann Coyne actually told the census takers in the U.S. that she was born in England. She was not, but she had been brought to England when she was probably no more than 2 or 3 years of age, at most, and had no memory of Ireland. The second mystery was, where was she married to Michael McInerney. He was not found living in the same county in England as Maryann was. So how did we find all the answers?

We found a number of the answers in the English census records, beginning in 1841. These showed all but one of her sisters and brothers, their names, ages and where they were born. It showed us that her father's name had been written down wrong in the later done first family tree charts and that she had a twin brother identified as her father, among other things. It also showed us that her mother was likely to have been her father's second wife, answering one question and leaving us with another., though, only had some of the answers. England has additional records online that are not all on subscription sites, and like the U.S. there are local and county (shire) historical and genealogical societies with additional materials, including valuable county histories. We found church records with the death dates of some of the individuals in Maryann's family, and marriage records, with places and ages of the individuals getting married. We also found the baptismal record for Maryann's youngest sister, not on the 1841 census, as she had not been born yet. She was also not easily found on the 1851 census, when the family was split up as the father had died and several members were now working and living apart from one another. By looking at the 'hundreds' as neighborhoods of a specific size and area were called, we found brothers of her father living in the same immediate neighborhood, and immediately adjacent neighborhoods, who all arrived at nearly the same time.

The time when they arrived was another mystery. They arrived about ten years before the famine and we wondered why. The county history explained why, and where almost all the Irish who settled in that county in England, Staffordshire, had originated. There had been a study of what was said in the census records and additional interviews were done. The researchers came to the conclusion that nearly ALL the Irish in Staffordshire, but particularly Wolverhampton and the towns nearest it, had come from County Mayo. It said that they came in two waves, in the 1830's and then as the famine, started in the second half of the 1840's. Many Irish came for two reasons, it was stated. They came to work on the railroads which paid well, and to work in the supporting industries, like those who made the ties and rails, and they came to work in the weaving industry, as the less mechanized, less developed weaving industry in Ireland collapsed.

The English and many Anglo-Irish property owners had turned their backs on Ireland after 1798, when the Irish parliament was dissolved permanently by the English overlords. Many had become absentee landlords were content to have local managers collect rents while the property owners lived in England. Canals were being dug just to transport agricultural products to Dublin and its port to ship the produce to England. There was no investment in anything else: not in railroads, not in new manufacturing equipment or factories. The Irish were to provide raw materials and buy finished goods from the English. English manufacturing was developed, made more mechanized, more efficient with lower cost better quality goods. The Irish got nothing from the first 50 years of the Industrial Revolution.

For a time, when England was at war with France and France controlled most of continental Europe, the Irish survived on the less developed weaving and other industries. There was a great need for uniforms, guns, blankets, and more for the armies, which included virtually all Irish men who weren't actually farming. For the ordinary enlisted men, quality of cloth wasn't a priority. Irish lace did well since the rich English couldn't import French, Swiss, Italian and German lace. Then Napoleon was defeated and sent to St. Helena, the English and Irish soldiers all were mustered out and went home to civilian life, and fine European manufactured goods began to be made again and imported by the rich English and Irish, at lower cost, as well as English goods being improved in cost and quality. There was no longer any need for coarse woolen blankets and enlisted men's uniforms, nor coarse linen shirts. It didn't happen immediately as continental Europe had to rebuild its own industries after the Napoleonic wars, and also develop modern mechanization. For a few years, even the returning Irish soldiers had money to spend and bought local goods. The Irish industries began to collapse about 1818, but really hit bottom in the late 1820's.

In 1815-16, the returning soldiers married and had children and the population began to grow rapidly, but the absentee landlords weren't selling any land. Instead they began rapidly raising the rents as more people needed to rent, making those who needed housing and land compete on what they were willing and able to pay to have it. Beginning about the time the post war generation in Ireland reached its mid teen years, about 1832, and the railroads began to be in demand all over England, at about the same time, Irish began to leave in the tens of thousands, of mostly young adults, and then tens of thousands of entire families as the post war adults sought to marry and provide for entire families of their own. The first big wave of Irish arrivals in England was about 1834-1840. The counties that experienced the greatest Irish immigration, other than to London, were Staffordshire, Lancastershire (aka Lancashire), Northhamptonshire, Warwickshire, and Worcestershire. Among the cities most heavily settled by Irish were Liverpool, Manchester, and Wolverhampton.

Another interesting thing today is that most of the descendants of the Irish who settled and stayed in England starting in the late 1820's do not consider themselves Irish any longer and don't identify themselves as Irish. Many Irish and children who had one Irish parent, eventually intermarried with non-Irish to move upward in socio-economic status. We discovered that Maryann Coyne, my husband's grandmother had a marriage we had not known about and this was why we had a hard time finding her marriage to Michael McInerney. She was married briefly once before--to an Englishman from Wolverhampton who had then moved to Northamptonshire. Maryann, in contrast to those who stayed in England, did not want to remember, or mention this English marriage later in her life. Don't be surprised if after all your hard work and maybe a DNA test or two, you find Irish-English cousins today and they are shocked and in disbelief when you tell them you found their origins in Ireland.

Awakening Preacher
Awakening Preacher

America's Dark Age (1783 to 1850)

When Record Keeping Broke Down in the Appalachians and West

By Cecilia Fábos-Becker - Published 2018-08-17

I, and most researchers in the field of family history, have always encountered great difficulty in researching one particular 40 + year period and area of the Early United States: those new states, as well as parts of existing states, settled after 1783 - 1823, and even up to 1850 or a bit later. After considerable reflection, it seems appropriate to write this article, in an attempt to explain why family history research for this period and area is so hard to accomplish.

The American Dark Age

These Americans created their own 'Dark Age', not much less uncivilized and barbaric than its namesake, the so called 'Dark Ages' of Western Europe.

The Western European 'Dark Ages' refer to the period after the Western Roman Empire collapsed, and before Christianity and powerful, organized nations redeveloped (beginning in the period of the Italian Renaissance). In renouncing civilization, science, mathematics and and literacy to begin their own 'Dark Age, these Early American people made a choice more deliberate than what the non-Roman West Europeans made 16 centuries ago. This period, 1783-1823, is when there were few towns in the vast new areas of the U.S., and with fewer towns, fewer churches, and few if any schools.  Literacy became almost non-existent. It also meant there were fewer books, including Bibles, in households and no writing instruments to keep any records among families. Yet, after the Revolution, the human population boomed as these new increasingly illiterate Americans spread out westwards.

Here is why and how this 'Dark Age,' happened. At the end of the American Revolution in 1783, England dominated the United Kingdom in every way: in parliament, in language, manners, religion, social and economic structures. England had deliberately tried to keep North America economically dependent by prohibiting manufacturing, limiting free trade and financing extraction, exploitation and export to the UK of natural resources. England also controlled religion, deciding not just what religions would be allowed and where, but the social and governmental structures within religion. English overlords insisted that ministers, in all religions that had ministers, be educated. Since education was not free, this meant religious authority was vested in the socio-economic elites. When America revolted against England, many Americans were not just revolting against English government, and its treatment of Americans as second class citizens with fewer political and civil rights, but against everything Americans believed was connected with England that restricted ordinary American lives. With our newly won Independence, everything that was thought to be related to England was repudiated--except for English, the spoken language.

The only reason spoken English lasted, is because it was the common language of all 13 colonies and so could be mutually understood by all 13 (the alternative being a three way civil war over Gaelic, German and English). English had been the language of business, trade and government and we intended to retain and develop business, trade and local government. We wanted the new states' governments to be able to work together in a federation and otherwise communicate without difficulties. English had also been made the dominant language even among all the Celtic peoples in the UK for at least two centuries before the Revolution. This repudiation of things seen as 'too English' lasted until well AFTER the War of 1812, which had been perceived by many as an attempt by England to reconquer the 13 American colonies. The problem with this anti-England fervor was that almost all religion, manners, civility, education, organization and record keeping (taxes are associated with records, after all), were seen as 'too English.'

But for AmeriCeltic readers, the main reason to be aware of the 40 year American Dark Age happening mostly west of the Appalachians, is that these people were predominantly the Scots-Irish, including recent immigrants from Scotland and Ireland, along with a few English and Germans.

The Great Awakening and Anti-England Fervor

These U.S. 'Dark Ages,' had roots in the euphemistically named 'Great Awakening'. According to most scholars of the subject, there were four stages in the Great Awakening. The two that had the greatest impact on the U.S. were the first (roughly 1740-1770), and the second (roughly 1783-1825).

The Great Awakening was reaction directly against intellectualism, science, mathematics, and social hierarchies, and what was thought to be a stiff, too restrictive civil and church society. The Great Awakening was intended to democratize church structures and emphasize a personal, spiritual and EMOTIONAL relationship with God. Unfortunately, it was also an awakening of what we now call the 'dinosaur brain', that most ancient part of the brain that reacts most simply and strongly to outside environmental impact, and does not rationalize about anything, including consequences. It is the part of the brain that connects us most to what humans like to consider, base, inferior animals.

Religion led by educated, socially elite ministers was 'too English,' and therefore not democratic enough. To keep up with demand for preachers and the vital religious rituals marking birth, marriage and death, on the expanding frontier, new sects of the Protestant religions developed which were less concerned about organization, and records' keeping of the long-held Christian rituals of life that determined relationships in families. They were more concerned about attendees at occasional Sunday sermons and the mere belief in one God and the existence of Christ and a few bits of daily behavior. In fact, some of the most popular early preachers that helped organize numerous churches were semi-educated ACTORS who offered entertainment as much as moral inspiration with the idea that if you made the lessons of the sermons dramatic enough, they might be remembered longer. Ordination didn't exist for these new religions, or sects of religion as in the Methodists at first, as that meant standards of education and conduct--and accountability to the ordaining authorities, and thus a hierarchy setting up another elite. Many of the ministers and preachers of the new 'democratic' religions, and sects were merely 'trained' and then sent forth by the sect's earlier preachers, even if the 'trainers' themselves were not ordained, or actors. This was particularly the case for preachers, who were circuit riding itinerants, not assigned to any particular congregation. Some of the merely trained preachers and ministers were illiterate and couldn't even read the Bible they were preaching about--and their audiences seldom knew that they were illiterate. Many who were at least minimally literate, were assigned to more than one church in an more limited area and kept records in personal journals, but which they kept as personal possessions, neither property of the churches nor stored by the churches--where churches even existed!. These journals were often destroyed by their children or grandchildren of the circuit-ministers, as just so much useless waste paper.

Early 'Awakening' religions were loosely organized and only emphasized a few main beliefs concocted by their first hellfire and damnation preachers to attract large audiences, or simple views of extracts of selected stark issues of right and wrong from the Old Testament. The selections were to simplify the democratic religions so anyone, right down to the lowest common denominators of society and education could follow the tenets, and thus the bar was set low to be a 'good democratic Christian.' Since fewer people were literate, this meant a few rules that could be taught by verbal rote, with some drama, and did not need any thought. The post Revolution U.S., heavily influenced by the 'Awakening religions,' differentiating itself from the UK as it was perceived to be, also insisted that there be no differences in regard and treatment of people regardless of education, skills, manners, etc.

We were also getting rid of educated elites in the county administration and courthouses, the state legislatures, Congress, and eventually in the Presidency. In many counties, record keeping became less detailed, spelling and grammar worse, and legibility likewise.  I've had historical societies tell me, yes, certain records existed, but almost nothing about the incident recorded could be read and it was a waste of time and money to send the records to me, since I was unlikely to be able to decipher the records any more than the dozen or so people who had already tried. The general attitude and the attempts to make it universally practiced, was, in some ways, an early form of communism.

This extreme democratization in society and increasingly in government, worked when everyone, or nearly everyone was a subsistence farmer and otherwise did a little light manufacturing for themselves with simple tools, often in or near people's homes. Even the early manufacturing workers whose products were sold, themselves, still tended gardens and aspired to own land. After all, food storage was still pretty primitive up until the 1840's, when canned foods, and canning supplies became more available.

If literacy, education, and manners are not seen as of greater value in a community or society, then they will be discarded. If they are seen as means of restricting people unfairly, a tool of tyranny, they will be discarded. But people needed to be aware of whom and what they were allowing to persuade them that all this was or is not necessary, and they allowed entertaining preachers to influence them, and the temporary success of day-to day farming on newly cleared, already fertile lands to delude them. They thought that what they had would last forever, farming didn't need education, and that good land and abundant clean water was unlimited.  They became uncivilized, illiterate, subsistent, emotion-driven barbarians.


George Whitefield
George Whitefield

Rural audiences who never traveled beyond their nearest market town or county seat at most, and flocked to their entertaining drama, failed to notice that the preachers, themselves, did not live as they preached. The educated, better traveled parts of the population had notice, but were elites, and what they saw that ended up in publications, of course was not read by the majority of illiterate fans of the preachers and members of the new religions and sects of religions. Preachers were accused of being more interested in their own physical well-being than that of their listeners, but few knew of this, or paid attention to those saying so. For example, George Whitefield was a famous preacher of the 1st Awakening, and when he died, he left an estate of £1500, seven times that of the average American in 1770.

These areas even discarded the lessons learned in Europe, particularly the UK, from fires, such as the Great Fire of London in 1666. After 1666, in London, and in many other cities and towns, it was forbidden to erect buildings of flammable materials, especially flammable roofs. Other European nations gradually adopted similar standards. The U.S. instead, used cheap, easy to throw together wood, even for courthouses and churches, up to the 20th century--and wasn't buying and reading any history books. We had abundant forests after all, and as farmers, we needed to clear the land of forests. Never mind the fact that wood buildings lighted and heated by open flames or easily knocked over lamps with flame and fuel, burned and so did their contents. We also didn't value the contents of most wood buildings.  The developing religions all held that things and even buildings were not important; only the soul and its relationship with God, and otherwise enough people living long enough to be good sermon attendees--and support the preachers.
This is why, today, there are few major building and town/city fires in Europe, and many in the U.S. This is why in many counties of many states, that had so many courthouse and church fires, there are large amounts of missing records from the period of about 1785-1850, and even later. We have found counties that had wooden courthouses and fires as late as 1880 for one county in Indiana and about 1895 for another in Missouri. The records of hundreds of thousands, even a few millions, of vital events, such as marriages and deaths, which also affect land ownership and taxation have been lost for good.

Their ancestors had not lived such mean lives. Prior to the American Revolution, in Virginia, Pennsylvania and other colonies, especially where there were large numbers of Presbyterians or Quakers, education had been held highly important. The Presbyterians wanted everyone to be able to read the Bible for himself or herself, and be also able to read and understand contracts, important to economic survival. They also believed in educating both girls and boys to a certain minimum, including in arithmetic. There was no government assistance in those days and it was believed that if individuals had enough skills and could avoid being defrauded and living beyond their means, they would not become dependent upon the charity of others in the community, including churches. The Anglican Episcopal Church quickly saw the sense in this and also began promoting education and eventually the Congregationalists in Massachusetts followed, though they preferred to educate only males.  The more affluent, such as the Woods' family in Augusta County, for instance, hired teachers and set up schools in their communities for all the local children to attend, as being a common good. Children's families paid, often in kind, what they could to the support of the building and teachers. This largely stopped after the Revolution, west of the Appalachians.  An extra impetus to education was how you obtained land and licenses to grow nationally valuable commercial crops, like hemp, or have businesses. If you wanted choice land, the right to grow and partly process hemp, have a large smithy that served more than your extended family, or money to back an early trading or manufacturing enterprise, you had to appeal to the existing structure of the UK. With education came cultured speech, intellectual discourse demonstrating superiority of mind, and manners, all necessary to impress the colonial governors, the big land-grant owners, and financial investors in, or from the UK, whose privileges to own and sell or lease land, to issue business licenses, etc., had been set by the highest of UK socio-political authority.

In colonial times, not everyone could own land. There were also limits to expansion westward and a significant amount of the land was owned under royal grants by large landholders in the UK who could sell or rent the lands out as they chose. The Native Americans, such as the Iroquois Confederation, still owned large swaths of land, and had certain rights to defend it and keep out squatters, particularly in Pennsylvania and New York. Though there were legislatures in the colonies, the voting was limited to white men who had property or a business worth a certain amount--and were literate. Tenants could not vote, unless they owned business assets. Apprentices, indentured servants, slaves, women could not vote, and neither could Native Americans, even those who lived in the European settlements and had been educated according to good UK standards. The colonies were all officially under 'the Church of England' (and its 'daughters' the Church of Scotland and Church of Ireland) which we now mostly call 'Episcopal.' The official Church was charged with supporting the state and kept records, as well as the colonial governors and legislators and the counties within them. It was all very organized--in a very English system. Worse, after the Revolution, the Episcopal ministers mostly returned to England taking the records of their churches with them, and the churches closed and abandoned, or were made over to other religions. So the nation also lost a large body of church records for its own people, in rejecting 'everything English.'

Lost Records

How many records were lost in this manner? Many tens of thousands, if not more, were lost. Here is why. Although by grants and other means colonies had been allowed to have other religions, such as the Congregationalists in Massachusetts, the Quakers in Pennsylvania, and Catholics in Maryland, by 1692, even when your marriage occurred in another religion other than the Church of England, or your child was baptized, you were expected to re-register the event in the nearest church of the Church of England and could be fined if you did not. After about 100 years of initial violent conflicts, mass murders, etc. in the colonies (roughly 1620-1720), in most colonies agreements were finally made to accept registration of marriages and baptisms by other major religions, such as the now numerous Presbyterians, and the Catholics in Maryland and New York, the Congregationalists in Massachusetts, and the Quakers (Friends). The Quakers were among the last of the first group of non-Catholic religions to reach the North America and had been granted the set-apart colony of Pennsylvania, but quickly spread beyond its original colony. Thankfully, the Quakers believed in education, industry and business, and hierarchy in civil government. William Penn, an educated mannerly gentleman, developed good relations with King Charles II and the socio-political elite of his court. The Quakers, almost from their creation had set up orderly methods of keeping records of their 'monthly meetings' and all the vital events in them, such as marriages and deaths, and that satisfied the English crown.

New 'Awakening' religions, with no churches or monthly meeting buildings and record keeping, especially those willing to ordain less educated ministers were another order of things--or lack of order, and of great concern to the colonial governments and other religions. The establishments were further appalled when some of the early preachers were found to have been ACTORS--one of the lowest and most disreputable classes of society! It may surprise many Americans today to learn that Baptists and Methodists, (unless the latter were Episcopal Methodists and used ordained ministers in their churches), were not seen as Christians or even as 'real religions' to be protected by law. The members were seen as worse than the pagan native savages because these European descended followers of new sects had seen and heard real Christianity and REJECTED it. They were originally not seen as really new religions, as religions were understood to be, or expected to be, in the form of organized entities, and the adherents of these unorganized, sects were seriously mistreated for not being real Christians. The adherents were even called heathens and savages and there were organized attacks on their communities, denial of civil rights, and ministers from other religions by their church leadership were ordered to re-convert them back to orderly Christianity. Matters were not helped when even the major religions with educated hierarchies were still occasionally physically fighting among one another and, as late as the 1690's, had been killing each other's ministers and priests and burned churches. If adherents of one religion or another took over the colonial legislature and/or governor's council, they could, and did, deny the civil rights of adherents of other religions, such as the right to vote or hold land, as happened to Catholics in Maryland for a time after 1689 when Protestants took over the government in Maryland. However, by the 1730's mainstream religions had developed greater tolerance toward one another, just not the new sects and religions, and religion itself was not allowed to be a bar to voting, land ownership and business licenses. Ministers from Presbyterian, Quaker and Episcopal religions were already urging colonial legislatures and petitioning the Crown and Parliament to allow equality and freedom to practice most religions without having permission of the Church of England.

Despite their increasing tolerance, after the Revolution, the older, colonial U.S., religions lost ground to the new religions. The other consistency from before the Revolution and after, was that religion itself was still an important influence on society and people wanted to keep it that way. The religions themselves changed, and the social order in them, but not the desire to have religion be a major influence in human society. Many families who were Presbyterian, became Baptist. Many who had been Quaker, or Church of England/Episcopal, became Methodist. These two religions eventually became the largest religious denominations in most of the U.S. by 1830, despite having the least educated, and most un-ordained ministers, including many whom were completely illiterate, and more preachers than ministers in many areas. That's what then influenced all of American society.

The success of the American Revolution expanded the U.S. frontier to at least the Mississippi River, and with the 1803 Louisiana Purchase, another huge tract of land was added. The large land-grants of the English kings had been ended and were broken up. The colonies, now states, and the infant U.S. as a whole, couldn't pay its Continental army and state militias for their seven years of services in the Revolution, and later couldn't pay the U.S. army in the war of 1812, in cash, so they issued land grants. The Native Americans who had fought alongside the English in the Revolution and then again in the War of 1812 (Tecumseh, notably and his allies) were punished by suffering losses of their lands. Suddenly there was land for every free-born or freed person--except natives. No one needed to be a tenant. No one needed to make a mannerly civil petition to ask for land, or read and sign a written contract for a mortgage to buy a piece of land. American's could take land that had been forfeited by Natives (and not otherwise granted as payment for military service), and mark boundaries with simple cairns of stones and blazes on trees and insist that a clerk in a county courthouse register it as yours, and hire a surveyor to make it more legal. No one needed to learn the skills of early manufacturing, or much else. You could use all the resources on your many hundreds of acres to build what you needed, or wanted, yourself, or have servants do so. It was believed you didn't need books and schools to learn how to farm and raise livestock, or to learn to spin or weave or make basic furniture and houses. You didn't need fancy clothes and manners to mingle in society for political or economic advantages.  The English needed and had all of those and we didn't need, or want, the English. We'd even beaten the English.

You didn't need to go to church weekly and you didn't need to read the Bible, you could have someone else tell you what was in it, or just the few most important points of the Bible, or what was in the few newspapers around.   Voting was no longer restricted by literacy in many states and communities. You didn't have to read or write to vote--you just made your 'mark', where someone you trusted, or someone who was giving you some nice whiskey, in the pub that was the place you voted, told you to put them. You could hand-fast with the lady of your choice and get God's blessing from the next preacher who passed through your community in front of family and other local witnesses. You could baptize and bury your loved ones, yourself, as needed, and do the burying on your own property. You just had to hope that someone in the family would continue to own the land in which you were buried and that you would not someday in the future, be dug up and your bones pitched in a refuse heap, like you were doing with the Native American bones.

Thus, between illiterate families, illiterate ministers, fighting among religions--and sects of religions, church fires and flooding from non-maintained fragile church roofs, church records for baptisms, marriages and burials in the U.S. between 1783 and 1850 in many places up to the 1880's are scarce. In fact, we've found that fires and water damage to churches caused records losses up to the late 1930's in some counties. Churches in recent times have also been completely abandoned and closed and their records sent to archives, or museums, when they survived, and then communities forgot where they were sent. Meanwhile, the churches and sects were fracturing into more sects further confusing records keeping and storage.  Even today, the Evangelical Lutherans are a separate sect from the Lutherans, and there are still several sects of the Baptists, and, until recently, at least three sects of Methodists, all with their own archives for older records, records from closed churches, and not even the ministers and some of the archivists know where the older records have gone. Some of these newer religions are still pretty disorganized in the 21st century, and have little regard for the records of their members, or their ancestors who were members in the past, and built up the churches!

As a result of both courthouse and church fires, water damage from ill-maintained roofs and wars, and a general 'I don't care for records, they might lead to taxes' attitude, many counties have few civil or church records between 1783 and about 1850, or later. This is in stark contrast to European records' keeping and safe storage, where it's possible to find church and civil records for all classes of people going back 400, 500 and even 700-800 years (Ireland being an exception to this, see our other articles about the losses of Irish records). The best U.S. records for the period of 1785-1850, now, often end up being the gravestones in older church and family cemeteries--where the families had gravestones that had the names and dates of family members, and later non-family owners of the family cemetery properties didn't either bury or break-up and re-use the stones for farm building foundations. Stone, though, doesn't burn and it takes decades of water to erode carvings. Other than that, the state and federal records are what's left, because these levels of government did care, if only for taxation, and management of land, mineral resources and waterways for industry and commerce, and these records were usually not stored locally.

School records are another source of family history information, after the 1840's, as they were stored in separate county administration buildings or state buildings and those show who, among children lived where and when. Even some of the criminal records were stored in buildings separate from the local courthouse where civil and probate records were stored. After the War of 1812 in which the capital of the U.S. was largely burned, the federal government began building more with brick and stone. So did some of the state governments. Murder and certain other crimes were state offenses, not just local, and prisons were state institutions. If your ancestors behaved badly enough, their records would not just be kept locally.

Newspapers, as there were 'area' newspapers that might come out weekly or monthly, that covered several counties, had their own storage areas for issues and when some eventually folded, replaced by larger city newspapers with regional distribution, the old copies of the small local/regional papers, often did end up in county libraries and historical societies' buildings. There are limitations to the use of the old newspapers.  Unfortunately, newspapers covered marriages and deaths only of prominent people, or victims of sensational, lurid crimes like murder. Otherwise they would publish lists of the deceased from major disasters in which several persons died, such as a fire that killed an entire family or a mining disaster, or if a riverboat blew up and nearly everyone was lost, or when multiple people in a community all died from an epidemic in a short period of time. Individuals, who were neither criminal nor victim could live their entire lives without notice and many seemed to have done just that.

As a result, there is a large hole in our records between 1783-1850, as a majority of Americans in the younger, more recently settled, parts of the U.S.A. became illiterate and lived not much differently than pagan Anglo-Saxons who had invaded England 1600 years ago or the pagan barbarians of Europe before the Roman empire two thousand years earlier. International travelers even wrote for their European, or eastern city audiences, that it was hard to tell who the native savages were, since everyone lived much the same way, and civilization was hard to find anywhere west of the Appalachians. The travelers believed the majority of Americans had devolved into savages, no different than their allegedly inferior Native American neighbors. Many lived and died simply, leaving nothing behind of themselves, not even names inscribed or written ANYWHERE, not even on a headstone to indicate they'd lived at all.

Public Health

For family history research, we have learned to be grateful for the Baptists in a certain macabre way. The Baptists prohibited alcohol, and drinking hot stimulants such as coffee and tea. (Even herbal teas were at least suspect, as many people still believed in witchcraft and people were driven out of communities on suspicion and rumor later. There were witchcraft trials as late as 1795 in Virginia). Not having studied water with the new magnifying lenses out of the Netherlands, and not caring, the U.S. was later than Europe in learning that animal and human excrement and other wastes poisons water, enabling contagion of water and human borne diseases. The bacteria that cause these diseases are killed by both alcohol and boiling water. The resulting epidemics of cholera and typhoid ravaged these Baptist households, and created one other form of public record keeping: the newspaper lists of deaths from bad water. Baptists also believe they could heal one another with the laying on of hands and didn't need doctors. Most fatal, contagious diseases are very well spread by dirty hands coming into contact with germ covered disease victims, their coughs, clothing, bedding, effluvia, etc.

England had figured out the cause of cholera, diphtheria and typhoid epidemics shortly after Prince Albert died in the 1850's and started cleaning up its water supplies in towns and cities. It also started quarantining individuals and groups with deadly diseases and limiting contact with them. The U.S. didn't do that consistently until nearly 1900, 50 years later.  In San Jose and San Francisco entire families were still being completely or mostly wiped out by typhoid and diphtheria in the 1880's and 1890's, as per the local papers. The worst epidemics and largest losses of human life occurred in areas dominated by the Baptist religion, where all the water drunk was 'as it came.' Unfortunately, among the first killed, were county clerks, doctors (some desperate Baptists would call the doctors in at the last moments, anyway), ministers and teachers--the most literate people by the mid and late 1800's and who interacted most with others.

Near the end of this 40 year Dark Age, these insular and illiterate Americans had become a political power called the 'know nothings', and help elect Andrew Jackson, and then at Jackson's inauguration party, the interior of the newly rebuilt White House was nearly destroyed by his own ill-behaved supporters.

This was also the period when Irish immigrants began to be persecuted, even murdered, by mobs (see articles about the Duffy's Cut Massacre, for example) and when brawls in river towns encompassed a large part of the male--and sometimes some of the female--population and ears and fingers were bitten off, eyes were gouged out and of course murders happened (examples: 'Bloody Bill' Howard and Robert Wickliffe murders in the 1830's in Kentucky, which we found in our family history research into Collins' lines). With the lack of hygiene and sanitation, most severe injuries inevitably resulted in death, and seen as murder, just to a lesser degree of it.

Family history researchers have learned to be grateful that there were just enough literate sheriff's, deputies, judges and court clerks so that at least our barbaric, drunken, murderous ancestors, or their immediate relatives who were the murderers and thugs, made it into the county and state records, and newspapers, for their convictions. In our research, we've learned to be grateful for the occasional murderous thugs, whose identities were often described in court records as son of so-and-so and/or brother of whosis, but we've also hoped these barbaric thugs were only the brothers of our own ancestors, and that said thugs didn't have offspring of their own.

The Industrial Revolution forces change

The first requirements for standardized public education for at least four to six years of elementary school began in the cities and largest towns where regional commerce and light manufacturing began, in the 1820's--forty years after the Revolution. As the first few tentative effects of industrial revolution came to the U.S, we began our own early forays into manufacturing. Unspoiled fertile land with abundant water became less available to expanding, westward pushing families, and the demand for more education and skills began to slowly increase.  Change was very uneven, with only a few areas initially affected. Many more rural counties in these states had no such requirements until a generation or more later. Voting laws changed, and apprentices, so long as they were 21, and tenants could vote. Some states and counties had literacy requirements, many did not. All you still had to do was make 'x's' on the ballots in the places where someone else told you to do so.  But as the first few manufacturing towns expanded to accommodate industrial workers, manufactured goods began to be traded with other nations, and competition required attention to quality and production efficiency to earn profits. Keeping good records became necessary, as well as education for other skills.

Besides the problem of more people living on the same land, the primitive practices of subsistence agriculture were also wearing out the best land with the most water, and water was getting more polluted, endangering people, livestock and crops from agricultural and human wastes. As towns grew and they were using the same waterways as nearby farmers, the towns also contributed to pollution. By the 1820's in the more populous eastern states, children in large families, especially daughters, who could not get land, rather than move westward, were more willing, to stay closer to their families and communities, to take jobs in early manufacturing, trades and commerce. To do this, they needed more education and skills training than parents were usually providing.  Education, skills, and specialized experience were seen by factory owners, commercial and legal offices, and investors, and banking lenders, as increasing the quality of products and efficiency of production and thus profits.

Education, skills and experience became seen as 'tools' or 'assets,' of value. The results were that by the late 1820's, the perceptions of needs in manufacturing began to clash with the simplistic, emotional, religions that were teaching and treating everyone as equal, and placed no value on education. However, the pressures of manufacturing, commercial and professional needs did not affect all states, or even parts of states all at once. The industrial revolution spread slowly at first across the existing nation, as towns and cities slowly grew. So many states and parts of states continued to lag in even seeing a need for education for up to 30 years or more--to the eve of the Civil War. In Kentucky for instance, I discovered that the first public schools were set up in Louisville in the 1820's, and in one or two other large towns--the towns, not the counties surrounding them, but public schools did not exist until the 1840's in many less populous counties, where towns were what we'd call villages today and there was but one or two in the entire county. In Indiana, where Lincoln grew from child to teen, a governor using the broad powers he initially had tried to set up a major infrastructure building program and public grade schools for all in the 1820's.  Most counties had not yet set up their schools when the government began going bankrupt. In 1841, it did, also forcing changes in the nature of government in that state.  The bankruptcy, new state Constitution and organization left the counties, themselves to choose, or not, to continue to have and support schools. The new Constitution also restricted how the counties could support the schools, and in the 1850's declared several counties' taxation for schools, unconstitutional causing them to close for a few years while the counties tried to find other means of support. Two centuries later, these conflicts, including educational standards for successful employment, are all still unresolved in many states and the nation.

Alexis de Tocqueville

In 1831, Alexis de Tocqueville and Gustave de Beaumont were sent by the French government to study the American prison system, and returned with a wealth of broader observations that he codified in his famous book 'Democracy in America' (1835). We will strongly suggest that reader who is looking for corroboration of these problematic trends in Early America check this great work. With its trenchant observations on equality and individualism, Tocqueville's work remains a valuable explanation of America to Europeans and of Americans to themselves. de Tocqueville admired the American passion for moral principle and righteous behavior, but decried the lack of learning and intellectualism. Here is one quote:

'I cannot help fearing that men may reach a point where they look on every new theory as a danger, every innovation as a toilsome trouble, every social advance as a first step toward revolution, and that they may absolutely refuse to move at all.'

Civil War and Beyond

Then there was the Civil War and all the repudiation and hatred that had been practiced toward the English and their ways, was now practiced on one half of the country by the other, as slavery and rebellion were seen the products of the white southern culture. So, many zealous soldiers, and some officers, were very willing to use cemeteries for target practice, burn churches and burn courthouses, or use the courthouses for command headquarters and burn the contents. They never considered the fact that someday, afterward, the Union would be restored and the chain of land-ownership would need to be known for taxes to rebuild, and to learn what lands could be legally redistributed and to whom, and that they were destroying not only what had belonged to the temporary rebels against the U.S., but their ancestors who had NOT been rebels, but loyal patriots to the U.S. during the Revolution and War of 1812. They also were negligently destroying the records of, the dependent wives and children of the past and the Civil War present who could not vote and had no say in the rebellion any more than the slaves of the large landowners did.

In the southern and north-south Border States, the armies of the Civil War (1861-1865, with Union army occupation and more destruction up to 1874 in the same states) also deliberately burned churches and courthouses as they were seen as associated with the culture of one side or another. Many in the border states, such as the town of Osceola, in Missouri, suffered from both sides' armies attempting to shell and burn the local courthouse, although the Union under the madman rogue Senator Jim Lane--and brigadier general (never mind that his appointment was a direct violation of the Constitution) pillaged and burned the entire town, before Missouri even tried to secede (September 22, 1861) and left 150 dead, another equal or larger number dying, and over 2,000 homeless as winter was approaching. It was another period and form of deliberate rejection, just as Americans had rejected and discarded English culture.  While the Congress and top military officials of the U.S. army verbally condemned deliberate destruction of courthouses and churches, especially incidents like Osceola, the Congress never enacted any legislation, nor funding, to attempt to replace what was lost, causing bitterness and anger in many states toward the U.S. government, but particularly states seen as the perpetrators and victors, that is ongoing to this day. Reconstruction was seen as a bad joke, and in reality, anything but, except for some railroad infrastructure, and occasional river levees.


Even now, we Americans all struggle with the legacy of this deliberate, self-chosen period of ignorance and illiteracy, whether one is a family history researcher, a manufacturing company owner, manager or investor or a politician trying to secure a better economic future for all Americans. This U.S. 'Dark Age' legacy is one of ignorance of most Americans of both their own family's history and nation's real history, and a continued mistaken belief held by majorities in some states and parts of states, mostly those least literate between 1783-1870 that one can do well with very little education. Even a high school education is often seen as of dubious value, and some counties as well as certain urban neighborhoods have high-school dropout rates as high as 30 and 40%. There is also still persistence in the beliefs that the uneducated, unskilled are equal to those who have education and skills, and deserve to be paid to live as well as people who have studied and learned more to improve their skills and experience, that all taxes and governments are bad, that without education and factual information--and being able to know the difference between fact and fable, one can still understand and make decisions beyond one's family for communities, states, the nation--and even the entire rest of the world. The 'Great Awakening' has also left a legacy that unconstrained emotions and acting them out is just fine, even violence toward others, or murder, so long as it is in the name of religion or the priorities, or major beliefs, of this sect, or that sect.

It is a legacy that continues to fill the courts with more records of conflicts, and the names, and vital statistics of individuals involved and who is related to whom and how, which might somehow benefit historical researchers of the future, if we don't blow our courthouses to smithereens with our latest developments in pyrotechnics.

That works for a time, at least, for families, communities, states and a nation, if you have a lot of land, few people, no infrastructure to get goods and people around, nor need for it, and if you know how to farm, raise livestock, spin, weave and knit, keep your water clean, and if have a nearby doctor and pharmacist who accepts payment in kind or barter, whenever you decide you really need one, if your nation has zero relations of any kind with any other nation, and if you don't care that, eventually, no one ever remembers, or cares, that you or your family ever lived. We now see the damage of living like this upon our past and present. Is this what we want for our future? Will there come a time when the entire United States, by its own choices, is as forgotten as the kingdom of Bohemia, or the Kushan Empire of northwest India, Pakistan and Afghanistan? Alternatively, perhaps we'll someday be invaded by some more civilized empire or nation and what are now Americans will be seen as inferior savages to be eradicated, along with their culture, as we did the natives before us?


Darth Must Fight Abuse

Updates: Operations

'Oh, what a tangled web we weave…'

By Cecilia Fábos-Becker - Published 2018-09-07

About three weeks ago, I encountered a puzzling situation that caused me to look into's operations. I wondered how far along this company really was in restoring all of the free repository, Rootsweb, since the incident more than a year ago, when all of Ancestry and its "strategic partner" Family Search were compromised by hackers.

What I had found was that many of the landing pages of Rootsweb-genweb were restored, but many of the links do not work. So, I filled out the Rootsweb form to notify them of a critical broken link. After two tries, I was amazed to finally get a response, but not from Rootsweb, or its parent company, but instead from Family Search. Huh? According to the corporate website of, Rootsweb (of which genweb is part) is a wholly owned subsidiary of So what is Family Search doing answering a Rootsweb operations problem?

This led me to delve into the structure and ownership of and its significant, strategic partnerships, and I soon found a critical 5-year agreement between and Family Search that had been announced September 5, 2013 was due to expire, if not renewed, on September 5, 2018. That was yesterday. 

This very comprehensive agreement was negotiated by then new and enthusiastic CEO of, Timothy P. (Tim) Sullivan and management of Family Search, and said this was a long-term strategic partnership, a landmark partnership in which over one billion international records (on microfilms owned by Family Search) were to be digitized over the next 5 years and shared with The use of the word "sharing," was copious in several statements extending into 2014.  Much was made of what's paid subscribers would get from Family Search but none of the statements said what Family Search would get from Ancestry!

There was a second agreement in October, 2013 between Family Search and My Heritage, but this agreement was much more precise and specific about what each party was to get. Family Search was to have no access to trees and client data of My Heritage subscribers.  There were reasons for the much tighter agreement as My Heritage is an Israeli owned company.

Now Family Search is a wholly owned division, or affiliate (both terms have been used) of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (LDS), which has a religious ritual called "proxy baptism". In proxy baptism, names and data about ancestors of LDS members as well as their living relatives, are used without their knowledge or permission.   Prior to 2012, LDS temples were allowing members to submit names of ANYONE, dead and alive for proxy baptism and members were submitting lists of Jewish Holocaust victims and living celebrities. This practice has gotten the LDS church into significant 'hot water' in the past decade and more.

In 2008 the Vatican was incensed enough to ban any further sharing by bishops and priests of records of the Catholic Church to be digitized and uploaded by the LDS for either Family Search or By March 5, 2012, the outrage of Jewish organizations and Hollywood celebrities had grown so great that the President and governing council of the entire LDS church banned the submission of names of Holocaust victims and living celebrities for these proxy "baptisms,"--unless the submitters could prove they descended from them or were related to them. That might be marginally tolerable, if "proof" were ironclad. It's not.  Establishing relationships for the purpose of the LDS church does not require DNA samples, nor primary source documentation to show that individuals are the same individuals through census and other records. Names with "close to what we think is right" ages and locations are acceptable, among other things. Copying data from undocumented or minimally documented trees posted on or other sites, or their old LDS microfiche of previous "research" is ok. It's not hard to still "prove" one descends from a Holocaust victim or is related to a living celebrity.  Other descendants of victims are not asked if they are ok with their ancestors being ephemerally baptized in a church to which the ancestors did not belong and which those other descendants do not.

The expiring agreement between and Family Search included the digitizing and uploading of all the hundreds of thousands of microfilms that the LDS has made from government and (other churches') church records since 1938. By 2017, the project was very behind schedule.  Family Search had been using "volunteers" to do some, if not most, of the work.  Then, both and Family Search and their subsidiaries were hacked--twice.

In recovering access and bolstering their security, both entities required significant re-programming to recover functionality, and links and further delays ensued. As we found a few weeks ago, many of those links are still broken, more than six months after the second hacking.

I then searched the corporate website of for some answers. I found a press release, from April, 2018, the last issued to date.  This release stated that the CEO had been replaced and that some additional cash had been put into the agreement for Family Search to hire some more people in late 2017, but that as a result of the combined security breaches and reaction of 2017, a planned IPO of was "postponed indefinitely." Someone from the company also posted to Wikipedia in August, 2018 that the digitization of the microfilms was then complete, but not the indexing and arbitration (agreements as to where the documents will be placed in data bases, links, etc., and which ones will go to the free access Family Search and which to the paid subscription, would NOT be completed until the end of 2020.

This means that it will be over 3 years from when the two entities ended their microfilm rental program before all the data on those films is actually available online. This August, 2018 statement was not an official press release. It was a company official's call to investors and analysts--not something that went to the public. It is not on the corporate website, but an official of was cited on Wikipedia linking to the report of the investors and analysts call. Officially there has been no press release, nothing, nada, zip since April, 2018, almost five months ago. There has been no new information on progress, and no statement that the contract of September, 2013 has been either renewed or cancelled. Who is going to finish that last two years of indexing and arbitration, if it is ever finished, is unknown.

I then found and wrote to the "Media Relations" dept. of using Ancestry's email link for that entity. I asked them about the expiration of the 2013 contract, progress on the digitization, how it was that Rootsweb questions were being answered by Family Search, and what Family Search got out of the agreement, especially if it is being continued. It has been 10 days and I have not received a response. I also wrote to a reporter from the local (to the headquarters) newspaper asking the same questions and a few others.  I have received no response.

At this point, I'm not sure there is a Media Relations Department at any longer or if this company cares to respond to anyone. I'm not sure it hasn't been entirely taken over by Family Search somehow--that the investors haven't all bailed. I even emailed  a representative of a secondary investment firm who was last known to be on the Board of Directors of Ancestry and received, again, no response.  There is NOTHING current about this company, in the public press.

So, I also had a look at's "Privacy Statement." "Your information on/with Ancestry is shared with partners to allow them to offer you their services and market their products to you." However, I found that DNA results are much more restricted, and only shared in anonymous aggregates, as are some other forms of data. Names of individuals in these situations are not provided.

As a result of all of this, I'm urging caution in using, and Family Search. Use them for research but if you put any trees on either, you might consider omitting anyone who is living, especially children under the age of 21, and perhaps not even listing the immediately preceding generation to those living who are aged, to make it harder for either or its "Partners" including Family Search to be able to use your data or send their offers of services (including Church services?) to you or your close relatives.



Ancestry - Your Irish or Scots-Irish Immigrant Ancestors

Finding them and Visiting their Home Areas
Part 2: Using Griffith's Valuations

By Cecilia Fabos-Becker, Published 2017-11-24

If you want to visit the home area of your immigrant ancestors in Ireland, and they emigrated to the U.S. between about 1845 and 1870 or so, there is a good source, Griffith's Valuations, for placing your family surname, or the individual male ancestor's full name, in the Irish counties and the baronies within those counties. This source may narrow down the ancestral home of the surname, and WILL narrow down the ancestral home of an emigrant's FULL name, considerably. It is on-line, free and searchable. A good link for searching this valuable resource is:

This site explains how Griffith's Valuation and the search programming at this site are organized and can be used best to help you find your family.

Before the famine and the immediately following epidemics of cholera, measles, and smallpox ran their course, the English Parliament and Crown were concerned about decreasing taxes and land abandonment resulting from the famine and epidemics. To make a UK budget, including setting aside amounts for poor relief, they needed to know who was left to tax. Thus, they commissioned Lord Griffith to make a survey of all the counties in Ireland and determine who was living on what parcels of lands, tenants as well as landlords. This was done between 1847 and 1864, with most done between 1848 and 1854. The original pages of the valuation indicate each head of household, where he (or she, if a widow) was living, by county and barony within the county, and, if the person was a tenant, who his or her landlord was.

Now here is something we learned about using MacLysaght's The Surnames of Ireland and Griffith's Valuation. You will often find families listed in multiple counties, and many are neighbors to one another, or some families will be most heavily concentrated in a few counties, that are also neighboring counties, and then an area clear across the country. In many cases, where there is a concentration of a surname within neighboring counties in just one part of the country, it is because the surname originated near the county line of of the two, three or four counties, and as the family expanded in spread out, wherever it could obtain land around the original home. When there are two concentrations of a surname in two distant parts of Ireland, this is often an indicator that the surname is not originally Irish. Scots-Irish, Welsh-Irish and Anglo-Irish names will be found not just in Ulster and in and near Dublin, but in and near the largest port towns of Ireland, particularly Limerick, Galway and Cork.

Limerick, Galway and Cork initially were towns founded by Vikings, who themselves were outsiders, as trading towns, and initially the native Irish were wary of them, as the pagan Vikings took Christian Irish as slaves and sold them in these towns and elsewhere, as far east as Byantium and the Khazar empire. The Christian Irish were at war with the Vikings for about three centuries from the 8th to the 11th centuries. Some Vikings became Christianized and settled among the Irish or stayed in the towns that eventually became Irish. Sweeney/McSweeney is an example of a formerly Viking family found in more than one area of Ireland because of the original Viking trading towns' networking with one another.

Then came the Normans--Norsemen (and Danes--because the two lands often shared a ruler) who had settled in northwest France and become Christianized and somewhat intermarried with French and Flemings before conquering England and then taking over parts of Ireland, including the same towns that their pagan ancestors had founded. The first Norman families were in the old kingdom of Leinster in the southeast quadrant of Ireland, because the king of Leinster was the first to invite Norman knights from England in as mercenaries to help make him high king of all Ireland and the greatest numbers of Norman families for centuries stayed in Leinster and Meath. Norman-Irish families, like Burke, originally DeBurgh, are now all over Ireland, but rather rare in Ulster, and not much more common in Connaught. Munster has more Norman families than Ulster and Connaught, but less than Leinster and Meath. The Norman-Irish, as they all intermarried with native Irish, mostly stayed Catholic, which means they also were dispossessed, or forced westward into Connaught and northern Munster during the 17th and 18th centuries by Cromwell and the 1707 Penal Laws if they did not change their religion. Almost all surnames that begin with Fitz, such as Fitzgerald, Fitzsimmons, etc., are Norman Irish. Fitz is a derivation of "fils" meaning "son" (of). Fitzpatrick and Fitzdermot are two of the rare exceptions; use of these surnames is believed to have begun by sons of Irish families who wanted to behave more like the rising powers in southeastern Ireland.

The towns of Galway and Limerick stayed small for several centuries, because after the Vikings who were often well unified under kings that ruled Norway and Denmark, took them and used them for trade that included slaves, Ireland was again quickly divided into four or five warring kingdoms--each one's king striving to become high king of all Ireland, which was how the Normans came to be invited into Ireland, beginning in latter half of the 12th century. Additionally, within each kingdom was infighting over who would be clan chief, or king of that kingdom. The Irish didn't practice primogeniture inheritance for power but tanistry--consensus of the male kin of the last king, on the proven merit (mostly in warfare) of a contender from among them. All the male relatives of the last king, to a certain degree, had an equal chance to obtain the throne, by fighting for it and defeating all other contenders. The average length of reign was only about 15 years and it was seldom unchallenged, even after a consensus finally crowned a king. Tanistry was also the means of determining clan chiefs. This meant there was no nation and no national defense. The Viking slavers might have left, but the coasts of Ireland, particularly the small towns on the west and south coast, were prey to the raiders and slavers of a much more unified Muslim North Africa and the Turkish empires. Grania O'Malley, the female head of Clan O'Malley and associated families, including O'Flaherty of mostly Counties Mayo, part of Galway and Sligo, had a fleet of 30 ships to not only attack English vessels, when she and her clan or the Irish generally were fighting the English, but other Irish clans with which she was occasionally at war, and she was defending most of the west coast of Ireland from Muslim pirates and slavers, until the English took over Galway.

These towns were quickly taken over by the English during the reigns of the Tudors after Henry VIII had become Protestant who did not want the Spanish allying with or taking over the Irish and then attacking England from two fronts. The English, often along with Grania O'Malley tried to protect the coast, then, and expand trade. Grania O'Malley had enemies east (O'Donnells and O'Neills) and south (sometimes, but not always the English) and her power waned and her fleet was diminished. She also traded with the French, Spanish, and Italians, spoke those languages and was Catholic. Thus she was not trusted by many English who worked to gradually weaken her. By about the last fifteen years of the reign of Elizabeth I (or from about 1585-1603), in the towns Galway and Limerick, residence was prohibited to Irish. Only NON-Irish could live here. Irish could travel to the towns and visit long enough to do business there, but not live there until the restoration of Charles II (1660). After the Penal Laws banning land-ownership by Catholics were put in place in 1707, the Protestant families in the towns expanded their land ownership and prevalence to areas near the towns. Many of these families had originated in eastern Ireland, in the counties of Ulster and the English Pale, and obtaining warehouses, townhouses, etc. in Limerick and Galway during the later Tudor reign and that of James I/VI. If the surname for which you are searching shows up both in counties in Ulster, and also Limerick or Galway, or Dublin or some other county of the Pale and then also Limerick or Galway, then it is likely your family's original Irish home was in the eastern areas of Ireland, either Ulster or the Pale.

Last, if your family was in Antrim, Tyrone, Armagh and Down, and concentrated in Antrim, it is possible, even likely, your family was Scots-Irish in the truest and most ancient manner, feudal subjects and followers of Clan O'Donnell/McDonnell/McDonald--and likely intermarried with the Clan, who from the 5th century forward always had lands in BOTH Ireland and Scotland, and after being defeated in their bid for the crown of the whole of Scotland, largely RETURNED to Ireland, to the "Glens of Antrim" and "northern Down," just after 1585--a generation before the Ulster plantations created by James I/VI. The very name "Down" is actually from "O'Duinne" the ancestral name of O'Donnell, the patriarchal family of McDonnell/McDonald/McDugald/McReynold--and Campbell. The Campbells were just a part of the O'Donnells that had a genetic trait of a slight twist to one side of the mouth. Campbell was originally "Cam Beuil" "wry mouth." Most of Antrim, the northern part of Down, and much of eastern Tyrone and Armagh, were not part of the Ulster plantations because they were McDonnell lands that were allowed to remain in McDonnell/McDonald possession. Likewise, all their feudal supporters, tenants, etc. also remained in possession of their lands so long as the McDonalds/McDonells then stayed loyal to the Stuarts and later dynasties. The Earl of Antrim, well before 1641, was a McDonald.

Don't assume that because your family was in Ulster it was simply Scottish. There were real Scots-Irish, who had always been in Ireland, long before the Ulster plantations. Additionally, not all the O'Donnells and O'Neills joined in the treachery of the two earls who considered themselves heads of their clans. Many branches of O'Neills and O'Donnells were not on good terms with the self-appointed leaders because of the warfare and slaughter the two had waged, against other branches of their own families, to become earls. The "innocent" branches then were allowed to retain lands in Ulster and, for the O'Donnells, some in Counties Donegal and Sligo in Connaught, as well.

Irish Conundrum

The Conundrum of Irish Tourism and Americans 'Remembering' Their Irish Roots

Recently, the Irish government began its campaign to attract American visitors to Ireland, especially those with Irish ancestors, for the 2016 Centenary of the '1916 Easter Rising'. President Michael D. Higgins' 2015 visit to California began this campaign. It is well documented that over a third of Americans have Irish ancestors, but can these Americans find any record of their Irish roots?

The Forgotten Irish American Generations; The Coal/Copper Miners and Railway Workers

When one contemplates the Irish rebellions, especially the last one the Easter Rising of 1916, one needs to understand why rebellion was necessary, why no peaceful solution was possible, and why Irish Americans who had been in this country for up to four generations supported the rebellion, raised money for it, crossed the sea eastward to fight in it and rebelled even in this country, sharing the experiences of those still in Ireland.

Sadly, for a very long time, what many Irish immigrants found in the U.S. was not much better that: Prejudice against and abuse as Catholics and Irish here. American economic and political systems, here, in the U.S. were no less dominated by Protestants than there, in English Protestant occupied and ruled Ireland or England, where Irish often went to work in the 1800's. Until the American revolution, even in what is now the U.S., English law forbade land ownership if you were an Irish Catholic, except in Maryland.

Even after American Independence, public education, and even paid education, for Catholic Irish was greatly restricted, deliberately in many cases. Public policy reduced this perceived excess undesired population by a shortened life-span through malnutrition or deadly accidents in mills, mines and on docks. It further relegated them to these miserable, too-short lives by denying them any education that might provide better choices or skills for a way out.

However, in Ireland itself, public education, and even paid education, for Catholic Irish was greatly restricted, deliberately in many cases, and land ownership by Catholics continued to be prohibited. English public policy was to reduce the perceived excess undesired Irish population by a shortened life-span through malnutrition, and epidemics worsened by malnutrition or deadly accidents in mills, mines and on docks in the most dangerous jobs that required the least skills. English policy further relegated the Irish to these miserable, too-short lives by denying them any education that might provide better choices or skills for a way out, anywhere, including in the U.S., were they to find a way to emigrate.

In the U.S. and parts of the UK where manufacturing was allowed, in the 1830's, and 1840's before the famine, industry was just developing and not greatly varied. Weaving and railway building were among the most dangerous industries and the owners of the companies in these industries had the hardest time finding workers who saw the hard, long, dangerous work that so often took life or limb, as better than farm or construction labor. During the famine period, dangerous mills, mines and dockyards all suffered labor shortages and had to pay more for labor, from both the loss of life in the famine and succeeding epidemics, but also, in the U.S., because of the Mexican American War. In the U.S., for a few years army duty, which most survived, illiterate, unskilled Irish could earn enough to buy a piece of land at a time when good more southerly midwestern U.S. lands were available, and in Oregon and California. After 1851, though it was back to 'business as usual.' The same was true after 1865.

It wasn't until the mid to late 1880's that more industry choices became available for illiterate, unskilled, Catholic Irish labor, and labor began organizing more effectively for better working conditions and pay, and public schools for the children of these poor immigrants. With the exception of those who survived the famine and the Mexican American War to acquire and own decent midwestern farmland, though, the generations of Irish American emigrants between about 1830 and 1880 became largely forgotten generations, on both sides of the Atlantic, and those who ruled, owned the most land and mines and mills largely cooperated to make it so.

First bear in mind that the landowners in Ireland and England were Protestant English. Although there were Catholic landowners in the U.S., they were a very small minority until fairly late in the 19th century, except in California, Oregon and Washington. In Pennsylvania, Kentucky and West Virginia, the areas of the first big U.S. mining operations, and most extensive railroads who needed the mines, the mining lands were all owned by Protestants, mostly English in Pennsylvania, with some Germans, and English, Scots, and Germans elsewhere. I've yet to find any Catholic Irish mine owners. The Protestants, especially those of English ancestry, in the U.S., shared the same disregard for the Catholic Irish as did the English in Ireland or England. They all distrusted, even hated, 'Papists' who also refused to learn and speak English properly. As early as the 1600's the Puritans in Massachusetts described the native Americans as being 'wild savages, no different than the Irish; little more than beasts.' In the mid 1800's Protestant English, Germans and others were describing the illiterate, unskilled Irish immigrants as 'wild, uncivilized, no different than (our) natives; little more than cattle.' The language to justify abuse didn't change much in 200 years; neither did the attitudes.

The most dangerous, hardest jobs and industries, particularly their owners, needed and wanted illiterate people who couldn't read the papers about the accidents, and 'company towns' where the workers' hard earned wages were as quickly taken as dispensed in the stores that provided the only food, or the rented homes, all owned by the companies.

When the 'Duffy's Cut' massacre occurred, the owners of the railroad worried not for the lives and safety of current and future Irish railroad builders, but about how to hide the story so the Irish would continue to sign up for the dangerous work in hostile territory. To get the workers these industries wanted, the people taking the jobs had to be limited in education and information and very desperate for the hope of earning more and being able to save up for a piece of land of their own. They had to be willing and able to 'drink the kool-aid' of dreams that the U.S. industry hucksters and their paid recruiters sold in the cities and towns of Ireland and England where the most numerous of the most desperate Irish lived without hope of ever owning land in their own country. The industry hucksters were also looking for not the very poorest; after all they were not going to pay for the workers to emigrate. They were looking for mostly healthy young males and single females who were 'mind that's a-weak and a back that's strong,' to use the phrase from an all too true song by Merle Travis, '16 Tons;' strong and biddable, like oxen.

At the same time the English wanted fewer Irishmen and didn't want to dirty their hands with any more Cromwellian massacres. So, what better way, then to get rid of the unwanted Irish by preventing them from owning land, and/or getting an education and encouraging the U.S. industry hucksters to lure all the excess strong, but unskilled and uneducated Irish away. Remember also that England quite deliberately severely limited industrial development in Ireland and Scotland to keep most of the greatest and most profitable manufacturing in England itself and keep its own English persons employed first. England itself did not need or want unlimited numbers of uneducated, unskilled Catholic Irish in its manufacturing centers. It was a wonderful marriage by these Protestants on both sides of the Atlantic, but one made in hell for the desperate Irish and Scots.

If a person came to the U.S. as a single young, healthy man, there was indeed a chance that one could survive the mills or working out of doors in all weather building railroads, or work in the mines who paid hard money instead of scrip, and save for a farm somewhere far to the west. There was far less chance if one came with a wife and children. There was no chance to save up to get out if the wife was still having children and few, if any, children were able to work. Worst of all, though, was working for either a railroad or mine that only paid in 'company scrip' that was not real money and could only be used to pay for rent or food from company owned housing on company land, or in company stores, where the prices were deliberately set so high to keep the workers stuck as employees until they died. 'Company scrip' good only at company properties and stores was literally a form of permanent indenture. The prices were so high in these monopolies that workers often ended up in debt after working 6 days a week 10-12 hour days and paying for lodging and food. Entire families would end up in debt with both parents and children as young as 8 years old working. To quote Merle Travis'16 tons' lyrics again, 'I owe my soul to the company store'.

The only difference between the mine and railroad workers and the African American slaves in the south was if the mine or railroad workers ran away, the mine or railroad workers didn't go looking for them because they could just get more illiterate Irish as they arrived on ships in New York.

The mine, mill and railroad owners also didn't care if the youngest children died of starvation or exposure, either. Those poor babes were just mouths that needed feeding, liabilities not assets. Feeding cost money, and the supplies as well, as prices of the food were controlled by the same mine owners paying the poor miners. God help the woman who didn't have enough milk of her own to feed her infants. The mine and railroad owners wouldn't.

To try to make ends meet, children as young as 8 and 9 were put to work by their parents under willing mine owners breaking up and sorting coal, and trying to stay out of the way of machinery moving it about and dumping new loads to be broken into smaller bits and sorted. There is no exact number of how many children died in the 'breakers' or from the amputations, cuts, and more that resulted in deadly secondary infections.

There are large parts of old Catholic church graveyards in all of the mining counties of Pennsylvania that appear empty but are not; this was where the thousands of children whose parents could not afford monuments, and died from coal breaking, malnutrition to even outright starvation, and exposure are buried, while the owners and supervisors of the mines enjoyed wealth and comfort. The Catholic bishops in Pennsylvania have never put the old parish registers on line, and it is hard to get the cooperation of the parish authorities even now to access the old registers and find the written scraps of the lives and deaths of the poor children, husbands, fathers and mothers who all died in Pennsylvania, sacrifices on the altar of Greed, (or Mammon).

Mining, which was vital to heating almost all homes in the eastern U.S. by the 1860's and most industry, and of course the running of all the railroads, was a big industry and big money for the owners, and upper managers and supervisors. It was nothing more than a death-trap for the poor Irish immigrants lured into it by the promise of enough money to save up for a piece of land of their own. Very few families that entered that trap escaped intact. There are many tens of thousands of forgotten graves of miners, and particularly their young children all over the now quiet mostly forest lands that cover the forgotten mines.

Many, to get out, did what Tony's great-grandmother did, when her beloved, but illiterate and unskilled, once strong and hopeful, Irish husband died. More women survived than men and children, and there weren't many decent, paid jobs for women at that time. They looked at their remaining children and then buried more than their husbands; they buried their past and married non-Irish. The non-Irish were literate, and had more skills and opportunities. The non-Irish could earn more money, real money, not just company scrip, and save up for land and get out. So many desperate Irish widows with starving children married non-Irish.

George Neubauer was an educated Bavarian Catholic, a widower who had recently lost his own wife and had four younger children who needed a mother. He took pity on the widow Mary Coyne-McNerney and her five remaining children, only one being a son, and married her. That was the last time she spoke Gaelic, for more than 15 years, until her brief third marriage to another Irishman in Minnesota. Mr. Neubauer spoke German and English, had the money, and his children were more numerous than hers.

He chose their next home, because he had the education and means; the Austrian-German community of Stearns County, Minnesota. Once re-settled in Watkins, they went to St. Anthony's Church, where only English and German were heard, never Gaelic. Within 30 years of the death of Michael McNerney, his youngest daughters' children had no idea they were partly Irish, at all. Their Irish blood and heritage that they still had within them had become just as forgotten as the graves of their father and five other children were left behind in Locust Gap, PA with no grave markers.

For over 50 years this was the same fate that awaited most Irish who emigrated to the U.S., hard work, early deaths and eventually, being forgotten by both their kin in Ireland and their own grandchildren in the U.S. It was a shock to Irish who came in the 1880's and 1890's to find so few Americans who descended from the 50 years of previous emigrants who acknowledged or remembered their Irish heritage and they deliberately made greater efforts to keep language and culture alive in their generation and build stronger communities.

However, it is still a shock today to more recent Irish emigrants and Irish government officials who seldom can find any Americans whose Irish ancestors arrived before sometime in the 1880's and remember and cherish them. Even when there is a dim memory of someone having been Irish, there is no understanding of that person's life, because there are so few records. As a result, too often, today, the heritage of Irish traditional music has no meaning when it is played or sung. If there is no longer any connection or memory to the real lives, experiences and culture of the people who first wrote, played or sang the music, there can be no life and soul in it now. It is like someone parroting, for some reason, the Latin 'pater noster' without knowing Latin, or having been raised and educated as a Christian.

That is why AmeriCeltic's mission begins with ‘restoring awareness' of this heritage to those who have lost their connection to it.

I have been researching my husband Tony's Irish family history, with a goal common to many persons who do family history, to identify and visit the old family areas in Ireland, and visit them some day. The celebration of the 100th anniversary of the Easter Rising would be a good opportunity. Our frustrations in finding these ancestors show the problems generally faced by millions attempting the same task. In almost no other area of family history research do the mix of politics, religion, and forced illiteracy, combine with emigration to make the task so difficult. The problem has roots on BOTH sides of the Atlantic.

For all these deprivation, tracing Tony's Irish grandmother, Mary Catherine McNerney (1872-1969), was very difficult. Just that surname presents a problem; there are five spellings, at least, depending upon who made the record and when, since most of the records after 1707 were NOT made by the family itself, or even other Catholic Irish. Early on, we had personal interviews with two of her children. One of the children, Tony's aunt Harriet, was older and her mother, Mary Catherine, had lived with her in her final years.

Harriet gave us a copy of a family tree that she herself had prepared long before we first asked her for help in the mid 1970's. The tree had a lot of data but few dates the earlier in time events occurred. As we were going over the tree, we interviewed Harriet further gleaning more data. Then there was the problem of Harriet's mother, Mary Catherine, having changed her memories and thus her stories as she aged and her descendants then having to figure out which place or event was true. This is common with older people and sometimes their memories for events long past sharpen with extreme old age, and just as often, it goes the other way--the memories worsen or change entirely. It's literally a 50-50 chance. So, we had to find corroborating documents, starting, of course, with 19th century U.S. documents.

In these family history searches, the census record, as simply a record, is only a beginning. One really needs ALL, or as many as can be found, children's names and some idea of the several possible spellings of most Irish surnames, plus the first name of at least one parent. For a smaller family (almost all in the old kingdom of Connaught in western Ireland and just a few counties), McNerney had, surprisingly, many variants in spelling--and families connected with them. In the early to mid 1600's, when the family was a 'somebody' family and owned land, the original spelling, McInerheny, barely resembles most of the later variants. Also, certain first names are VERY common: Michael, Patrick, John, Joseph, Mary... Mary is often, but not always used in combination with a lot of other names: Mary Margaret, Mary Catherine, Bridget Mary, and so on. God help you if all you've got is a Mary with a daughter named Mary as a starting point in your Irish family's research.

In many cases there is a real problem even with census records, wherever the family lived, Ireland, England, Canada or the U.S. Many Irish families who emigrated throughout the 19th century--literally in all decades, were illiterate, or all but the father started out illiterate until the first few years after the family settled in a place where discrimination on the basis of religion didn't also prevent public education. In Ireland, their own country, Catholics were not provided with universal public education. They had to buy private education, as they could afford it, from someone willing to provide education to Catholics. There were few schools attached to churches as Catholic churches themselves were often torn down or destroyed as the English conquerors tried to obliterate the religion. Between 1707 and sometime in the late 1800's, Irish Catholics, also, could not even own their own Irish land! So, understandably, few Irish Catholics could afford to have all their children privately educated and very few did. This resulted in many spellings of surnames as other literate persons, usually Protestants/English who had little regard for the Irish Catholics, made written records of them. It also meant there were few of their own family's written records until they got to a place and point in time when at least some of the children were educated, could read and write and wanted to keep a list of family data (such as often is on blank Bible pages at the beginning or end of a Bible), or journals, letters, etc..

So in Ireland, and for the first decade or so in the U.S., researchers into Irish families must rely on records made outside the family--usually some form of government records, or employers' records, or newspapers, etc. and few of these entities had any regard for the low-class, economically, politically and socially, Catholic Irish.

In fact, there were self-serving economic incentives for the employers, newspapers--who were supported by the employers, and the others to hide the actual lives and deaths of Irish; the reality could dissuade them from emigrating and being exploited by employers who wanted plenty of cheap labor for low class, often dangerous jobs.

There is a very good example. The historical incident, called 'The Duffy's Cut Massacre'. The facts of this atrocity only came to light 170 years after the fact. This illustrates just how much the miserable lives and deaths of many Irish emigrants were initially covered up when it happened in 1832. Modern researchers are still trying to find all the bodies. Fifty-seven Irish workers were massacred in a single valley where they worked as railroad laborers because a cholera epidemic that had appeared came to be blamed upon them. Private railroad papers, inherited in 2006 by an Irish descendant of a Pennsylvania Railroad executive, noted the deaths and said the report must ‘never get out' because if it did then other Irish would not want to emigrate and the railroads would not have workers.

It wasn't much different in the coal mining areas, as we discovered when we tried to find out how Mary Catherine McNerney's father, Michael McNerney, asl well as her oldest brother, and three sisters died in the small 'cooperative mining village' of Locust Gap, in Northumberland County, Pennsylvania, where the family first settled. It was a place they tried to forget, almost as much as the mine owners wanted to forget them.

By the time Mary Catherine McNerney was sharing her memories and stories with her adult and near adult children (she had 11 who survived infancy and 10 who made it to adulthood), she could no longer remember the name of the hamlet in which she'd spent her earliest and most poverty stricken years, where so much of her family had died. She also had apparently gotten tired of explaining that although she was Irish she was not born in Ireland and started saying she had been born in Ireland. Likewise, since everyone knew where County Cork—mentioned in so many old songs-was, County Clare for her father's origins became County Cork. County Cork and County Clare are separated by pretty much the entire country of Ireland only adding to the research headaches.

Fortunately, for us, Aunt Harriet had sorted out some of the stories. Harriet had also known her maternal grandmother, Mary Catherine's mother, Mary Coyne, and Mary Coyne had not altered her memories or stories over time. So, she had a bit of data from the previous generation. However, even that had a problem. Harriet explained to us that the official death record for her grandmother was wrong and that we'd eventually see the problem. We did, alright. Harriet recorded her grandmother's maiden surname as Coyne and emphatically stated this and some particular circumstances of her grandmother's early life, some of which we later found in emigration records and the first U.S. census record for the family. She was correct, but it was another death record that was wrong--her own mother's, not her grandmother's. The death record for Mary Coyne-McNerney-Neubauer-Kennedy (she was married three times) was filled out in part by a son-in-law, but he got it right for Mary's maiden surname, 'Coyne.' This shows up in at least one other death record for a child of Mary's where the clerk asked for the MOTHER's maiden name. Then we checked the actual record for Harriet's own mother, and Harriet had been the person giving the information. Well, somewhere between the handwritten notes made by a doctor or nurse and the final typed version, someone lost part of the notes. The person who did the typing couldn't really remember what had been hand-written about Mary Catherine's mother's maiden name, just that it had an 'oy' in it, and typed 'Joyce.' After all, James Joyce was a famous, well-known Irish author and poet--just like County Cork was famous in song. If the name had an 'oy' in it, it must be 'Joyce,' right? Thank heavens we finally accumulated multiple records that agreed on the surname 'Coyne.' Now imagine the problem if one has only two records with two different surnames because clerks weren't particularly careful, and there were no other family records. It was only in recent weeks that we had accumulated enough records through records of the children and grandchildren of Michael and Mary, some only recently placed on-line, that we now know the following: Mary Coyne was actually Mary Anne Coyne and her parents were Michael and Cecilia Coyne, besides Mary Anne having a sister named Harriet. We're still missing the name of at least one daughter of Michael and Mary who died young at Locust Gap. This is after almost 40 years of research off and on by persistent and experienced persons.

However, now we had papers with enough names and birth and death data, and limited documentation on this side of the Atlantic. Next, we had to find cross references to the records in Ireland, and some in England as well, and here's where it really gets ugly--for everyone doing Irish family research. The Irish stupidly help their English oppressors destroy their own Irish heritage and history.

Though promised independence at the end of WWI, by 1922 Ireland had not yet received it and violence began anew. Britain and the United Kingdom could not get into the League of Nations without giving up Ireland and had been dragging its feet. So, as part of this renewed violence, the Irish Republican Army, (IRA) used Public Records Office (PRO) in Dublin as a munitions storage depot, and when the British shelled it, two truck loads of lignite outside the PRO exploded, triggering two more explosions within, and 1000 years of Irish State and Religious archives were destroyed.

Unfortunately, this didn't destroy land and tax records for the Anglo-Irish or Protestant Irish or English families, it destroyed tax records for everyone. More significantly, the IRA fire-bombing destroyed the records that identified the population, their major life-events such as baptisms and marriages, and also connected them to places. It destroyed records going back to when native Irish and Norman-Anglo-Irish families were pretty much all that was in most of Ireland and still lived in ancestral areas and still owned their own lands. It destroyed also CHURCH records--all the baptismal registers, marriage registers burial registers, the records of where the old cemeteries were, where the old villages associated with the churches were, for both families who were members of the Church of Ireland (to which many formerly Catholic Irish belonged after 1707, to retain lands) and the remaining Catholic Irish. All churches had, at the end of the 19th century, been required to send their old registers to the PRO. It also destroyed the Irish census made and collected by the UK beginning in 1831, and being taken every 10 years afterward.

As a result of this IRA bombing, there are no longer any Irish census records prior to 1911, or at best, a few bits and pieces where copies were made of some civil parish in a particular county and retained somehow in that county. There are no church records prior 1922 unless the church failed to send the registers to the PRO or some far-sighted deacon/rector or priest made a hand-written copy and kept a copy in the church, or sent it to some regional library. There are some genealogies prepared from original records and these copies of church records that were made in the Registered Church Body (RCB) library in Dublin. These include records from a few Catholic churches as well as Protestant.

These collections vary in size. We went through the on-line catalog of collections and identified about 50 large sets of such records that could be made available to family history researchers. Few, however, are on-line. Between them, the library policies and bank transfer regulations don't make it easy to pay to get even a single collection on-line. We succeeded with one smaller collection costs about $400 to get on-line--and the bank fees to transfer funds from the U.S. to Ireland and convert dollars to Euros are ridiculously high, given that the only things that are really moving these days are electrons representing numbers; about 10-12% of the transaction above the actual transaction cost.

Some of these 50 collections are very large. Most of County Cork, ironically, did have foresighted local church officials, unlike other counties. And actually, all of the deeds, including many lease agreements that had to be recorded in the same office, were NEVER in the Public Records Office, but in the Registry of Deeds which was spared. So, the majority of destruction in 1922 was to Irish history, particularly family and Catholic Church history, and not land ownership and taxation. However, though the deeds and most leases are complete, going back even before 1707 to the 1500's, and then forward to the present day, none of it is on-line. Not even a complete deed index with a tad of abstract is on-line. In fact, for deeds before 1831, they are not indexed on an in-house computer. If you had any ancestral family who might have owned land and emigrated before, say, 1840, the only way to find a deed or lease record about them is to go to Dublin and visit the Registry of Deeds IN PERSON, or employ a researcher there--and those are not inexpensive. In the U.S., the going hourly rate for a professional family history researcher is anywhere from about $20 an hour to about $60 an hour. In the UK, it's about triple that or more; in Ireland, it's about $50 an hour and up.

Well, we thought we had a little hope in determining more about the families with the unique bits about Mary Catherine's mother that Harriet had written down, and which showed up in a few records on this side of the Atlantic. We found the January, 1866, emigration record for Mary Coyne McNerny and her oldest two children--which exactly matched data in the 1870 census record in Locust Gap, Mt. Carmel township, Northumberland County, Pennsylvania. The family first went to Liverpool, England, just before emigration in 1865 and 1866. The ship, indeed, arrived from Liverpool in New York. A surprise was that the oldest two sons John and Joseph were actually also born IN ENGLAND. However, Mary Coyne McNerney had lived in England for a time before her marriage. She had been enrolled in a private school in England for a year or so. However, she was mistreated by schoolmates and teachers for being Irish and complained to her parents and they pulled her out. She never went to school again and what little education she obtained was at home. It was very little and she was functionally illiterate and described as such on all U.S. records. We found through English census records that were indeed, Coyne families that had gone to England and one family had enrolled its daughter in a private school not far from Liverpool and Manchester where most of the few Coyne families lived in Lancashire. It's very possible that Mary had been enrolled at this very school, but not proved. This all suggested that Mary Coyne married Michael McNerney in England, shortly before the birth of their eldest son. Unfortunately, though we found records of both families in the Liverpool / Manchester area at the right time, the particular families did not line up with the data we had. For one thing, the marriage for Mary Coyne to Michael McNerny was written down by Harriet and consistently stated on other records, including a census record, as having occurred in 1854--and in Ireland. We found two marriage index records for a Mary Coyne in England, but for 1857 and 1859. So, what historical documents exist show that the marriage did not occur in England. However, though it probably did occur in Ireland, the marriage record per se, either no longer exists because it was part of the parish registers destroyed in the PRO, or it will be very hard to find, because the bishopric of Tuam doesn't have all it's parish registers online, and we don't know in which parish the marriage was performed.

We have to hope that 'Mr. Coyne,' Mary's somewhat well-off father, left a will and related deed of sale after his death that all ended up in the Registry of Deeds, that mentions a wife named Cecilia, and two daughters, Mary and Harriet, among children who lived long enough to be 'heirs at law' and identifies his daughter, Mary as 'Mary McNerney.' County Clare, where the McNerney's lived, and adjacent Galway, one of the two counties where Coynes were most prevalent, have fewer copies of records in the RCB Library. It also makes it more likely that John was not the oldest child, at least one or two more were born who died before the family emigrated, or were living in England.

From 1815 onwards, Liverpool was a major port of emigration for millions of Irish and here is why and how. The poorer Irish Catholics were uneducated and thus not skilled labor and, if they had owned land, owned very little. There was very little money to use for emigration until the would-be emigrant made his way to a city with docks or heavy manufacturing to work for a time to earn money to emigrate. Liverpool and Manchester, both in Lancashire, had both huge docks and a massive, labor-intensive, shipping loading and unloading industry, as well as heavy manufacturing. There was good money to be made if one lived long enough to use it.

Many rural Irishmen went to the Cities of Cork or Dublin, or hopped a ferry across to Liverpool or Glasgow, worked until they saved passage money, then took a boat for New York from those cities. On the ship's manifest, it would have said, 'arrived from Cork/Liverpool' etc., and that's another way the stories got started that would have all Irish Americans believe they all originally came from County Cork. It looks like, though, in our Coyne-McNerney's case, Michael McNerney and Mary Coyne hopped back and forth across the Irish Sea a couple of times before emigrating. There's no marriage record for them in England, and they are not on the 1861 census record, yet their sons, John and Joseph were born in England, in 1859 and 1863, respectively. A baby son, Michael, was said to have died at sea during the emigration. 'Steerage' was an apt description of the two lowest classes of transport (3rd and 4th) for the lack of generally healthful conditions at the time. However, the ship's manifest did not show any extra baby born and died during the passage, so the best evidence is he was actually born and died upon arrival in either New York or Pennsylvania. The mother of the child was emphatic about his existence and the connection with the time of emigration, and the oldest brother remembered the baby as well, but no one had a written record of the birth and death in the family because when it happened, no one could read or write at that time. Although they were Catholic and would have given the child a proper funeral, we don't know exactly which parish in which state in the U.S. the poor baby died. This is a typical problem of families who arrived in New York City and were only there a few weeks or so and yet lost a child at that time. The same is true of an older child marrying, particularly a daughter. No family record means no location for the event making it very hard to find that daughter again.

After our own experiences, we conclude that IF the Irish government and the National Board of Tourism really wants to help Irish Americans discover their Irish roots, and so have a sense of belonging and a reason to visit any more than Dublin, then both must work, and put some money into getting those 50 or more collections of church records and genealogies on-line at the Registered Church Body Library, likewise the private family collections at the Library of the Royal Irish Academy of Sciences and Humanities, and all the pre 1911 or 1922 deeds and leases at the Registry of Deeds.They also need to make certain that all the Catholic Registers are at the National Library of Ireland (NLI) or Roots Ireland, (the paid subscription site) as well as fully indexed (the current index at NLI is inadequate). Otherwise, not many tourists are going much further than Dublin, or Cork, and the few most famous general historical/archeological sites, and even fewer will ever know or feel a real connection with their real Irish roots.

Meanwhile, we're looking for family Bible records on this side of the Atlantic from descendants of the oldest surviving son and daughter who lived to adulthood, of Mary Coyne and Michael McNerney, and then Mary Catherine McNerney and John Henry Beckers, that might narrow down the search a little more and lower the expenses of hiring professional Irish researchers, and hoping to get this all done before April, 2016.



Review: Sean Connelly: Golden Gate Ancestry

Finding the Bump in the Boreen: Irish names and Place names in Family History Research.

Presentation to the Santa Clara County Historical and Genealogical Society, Tuesday, April 17, 2017

By Cecilia Fabos-Becker

Sean Connelly, of 'Golden Gate Ancestry', spoke at The Santa Clara County Historical and Genealogical Society, on Tuesday, April 17, 2017, 7:30 PM at the Central Park Library in Santa Clara. His presentation was titled 'Finding the Bump in the Boreen,' Irish names and place names, in Irish family history research. This title refers literally to finding the 'bump' in the tiny, usually dirt road (Boreen), that was the turn off to commonly small ancestral home for many Irish whose ancestors became emigrants for lack of sufficient economic opportunities at home.

Click Here for Seans handout for his presentation, Irish Genealogy Websites(Sean Connelly).pdf

Sean focused his presentation on how to find the village and home site of your Irish immigrant ancestors, to get beyond merely, 'my great-grandfather/mother came from Ireland,' especially if you'd ever like to visit and reconnect with distant cousins, today, which often makes a trip more individual and enjoyable. His talk emphasized mostly 19th century and later family history research for descendants of Irish immigrants.


Mr. Connelly is very experienced in 19th and 20th century Irish family research for primarily Irish Catholic families' descendants in the U.S. and California and speciallizes in this area. Much of his presentation would be very useful for persons whose ancestors emigrated from Ireland in the 18th century, or were Protestant and arrived before about 1830, but its greatest relevance would be to those whose ancestors were primarily Catholic and left between about 1825 and 1925. The following is a combined summary of his talk as it related to doing family history research and our own experiences that illustrate some of what he discussed.

Tony and I, ourselves researched Tony's Irish lines, who arrived in this time frame, and much of what he said was familiar to us, but there were some reminders of things we had discovered and were not in the general 'finding your Irish roots' popular publications that we had started from, as most people do, and which would be very useful to other researchers today.

Most people doing their family history research generally know how to use the U.S. census records, and to find their immigration and naturalization records on such sites as, and Family Search. If their immigrant ancestors were alive, and so on the 1900, 1910 or 1920 censes, they probably know that the 'years' and in 'what state or nation' are also listed and in at least one, and that the year of immigration was recorded there. They can generally guess at what city port their ancestors arrived in the U.S. to find some immigration records, if they don't know for sure, especially if they've found a year of emigration from a census record. Many people also know about the county and state death records and that they often have birth dates, names of parents and other data that might not have been set down fully in the old Family Bible 'family' pages, or other family records that were, or were not, passed around family descendants.

However, that being said, how many people know how accurate the death records are, and that the Irish did not celebrate birthdays the way we do now, and people didn't always remember their exact birth dates? How many people know that, after they've found their immigrant ancestors, and have at least a rough idea of a year or maybe the season or month of birth, and year of immigration, where to find them in Ireland? How are the records sorted and how do you use them? Why can't you sometimes find the name of your ancestor in the records when you do find records?

Sean answered many of these questions in his talk. However, first let's cover something that needs to be introduced for the Irish emigrants in the U.S., which was evident in our research. Not all of these immigrants were literate, especially those who arrived before about 1880. Prior to the UK government's decision to provide some years of basic public education for all, Catholics were educated mostly privately in a system often referred to as 'hedge schools, or hedge schooling'. For a time, Catholics were not admitted to civil or Protestant educational institutions and were educated by barely tolerated Catholic priests and teachers who subsisted on private donations from mostly poor families denied the right to own land and businesses because they were Catholic. The Penal Laws of 1707, impose by England upon Ireland after the unsuccessful revolt of 1798, only began to be repealed, bit by bit, starting in the 1860's. This Penal Laws, denied Catholics many basic economic rights, including education, so long as they chose to remain Catholic. As a result, sometimes only the oldest and youngest sons, and maybe the oldest daughter were educated, and none of the rest if the family, because they could not afford it. Being poor also meant celebrating birthdays was a luxury and not done. So, many Irish who arrived in the U.S. were the middle, uneducated children who may have known their usually given formal name, but not even necessarily how to spell it, what approximate year they were born and little else. They themselves did not leave many written records for their descendants other than what someone who was literate and knew them wrote down for them.

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In the U.S., there were some types of church records, but some Catholic churches did not record even burials for poor Catholics until after 1880. Baptisms and marriages were all that was recorded. The civil counties required marriage registrations, and will and estate administrations (great if they owned property, which many Irish did not), but not simply deaths, and births until very late in U.S. history, also. Immigration records were not well and consistently made and kept prior to about the 1840's. One has to look for all of these and, bear in mind that even when death records are found, the person filling out the record is NOT the person who died and may not have had accurate information. Often for a family with few sons, and none present, the person recording the information wanted and took it from a son-in-law, who as most people today know, are, being male and an in-law, notoriously unreliable for remembering any important vital information such as birth dates, names of parents, marriage dates or anything else that women usually consider more important. Sexism definitely has affected record keeping and has had an impact on family history research and mostly not for the better. Clerks (also usually males until the 20th century) and others often took notes in long-hand first and then after typewriters became available, typed the information later, not always consulting their own notes. Errors, from simple transposition of numbers in dates to spelling or setting down entirely the wrong surnames for the deceased and/or his or her parents are not rare at all. We saw all of this in just one Irish line for my husband's family and we know from other researchers they have encountered the same things, over and over.

Record keeping in the U.S. is rather sloppy compared with some other countries, and even varies widely in the churches. It helps to have and use multiple records sources for the greatest accuracy in determining what really happened, when and involving who, in any event.

Now assuming you eventually figure out that your emigrant ancestors came from Ireland, what records can be used to determine WHERE in Ireland to find the place they were born, their parents, and any current modern relatives? The first clues are actually on this side of the Atlantic, as Mr. Connelly pointed out. Some of the naturalization records, particularly after a certain date, required more than just 'Ireland' for place born, but also a county and village or some other local identifier. However, before about 1880 or so, the naturalization papers, when required by states at all, demanded less information. The ship's manifest may have a port listed where the person boarded often will begin to tell you where the ancestor lived, as a region of Ireland. Certain ports were used more by people from the region closest to it.

One thing that Mr. Connelly pointed out, that we noted also, was that the Irish arrived in a few U.S. urban ports and, being mostly poor, didn't often immediately move westward. The Irish community in the U.S. and other countries, beginning in the late 1830's, began organizing support groups and businesses, like benevolent societies and banks who helped the recent immigrants. They recorded members and those who were being helped. The Irish Emigrants Bank in New York, whose records are now on-line, had a means of even creating accounts for illiterate persons by clerks asking for certain pieces of information to set up an account and then use it, 'tests' to make sure no unauthorized persons accessed the usually meager, but very vital to the owners, funds in the accounts. One of the questions asked, and recorded as part of an identifier list, was the birthplace of the account holder. Not all Irish individuals had accounts, but many Irish emigrated with sisters and brothers and/or cousins and they all came from a narrow area in Ireland. If you find one individual of the surname you are researching, at the bank or in a ship's manifest for a given year, or in a county naturalization record, or in a county court record or county newspaper record for involvement in some labor conflict, that has the same surname as your own immigrant ancestor, and who emigrated/arrived in a place at about the same time and, based on the census records, lived in the same area as an ancestor of yours with the same surname, and who listed a place name in some record, you are likely to have found, at least the county, and general area, where your own ancestor originated. Family members often traveled together and at roughly the same time. Neighbors also often did so also, especially since they were usually actually cousins to one another. We identified the county for Tony's great-grandfather from just such a bank record and then confirmed it further with a review of Griffith's valuations, which helped us narrow down the baronies and townlands where Tony's great-grandfather's family most likely originated in Ireland.

There are other records. In the coal mining areas of Pennsylvania, for instance, after about 1870, the state required the mining companies to track deaths, by name, and serious injuries as well. That's how we found the ultimately fatal injury to Tony's grandfather, and death year, with the help of a county historian. Once you know a surname, forename and can figure out at least the county where the family likely originated from in Ireland, from the foregoing combination of records on this side of the Atlantic, then you can jump to searching records on the other side, in Ireland to narrow the search to the village and/or townland your ancestors originated and maybe find current relatives in or near those places.

This is where Mr. Connelly's talk goes to Ireland and becomes very important. Irish surnames are mostly regional, and not just to counties, but smaller entities in those counties, baronies, parishes and towns or villages. MacLysaght's Book of Irish Names, widely available for a reasonable price in paperback form, indicates some of this and covers many, many families in Ireland, of many types of ancestry. In several early national records, such as Griffith's valuation of property in the 1850's (on-line) and the 1659 Hearth Rolls index (not on-line, a few published copies are in a few libraries in the U.S.) indexes show the frequency of surname by county, and showed the baronies, civil parishes and towns, villages and 'townlands.' It becomes clear that surnames are associated with some counties, and smaller identifiable areas in those counties, far more than others. Additionally, Mr. Connelly noted and presented the fact that some fore-names are more rare than others, particularly in the mid and late 19th century, but to some degree earlier as well, and associated with regions and families. For example, a saint's name from some ancient monk or nun connected with a locally known holy well or shrine, often became used by families local to that area and appears among some family member of most generations. A county history or travel guide sometimes helps to find local features associated with saints that might have contributed to local forenames.

While after the mid 1800's a naming tradition in which the names of father's father, brothers of a child's parent, etc. for children's names was not as frequently used, in middle and upper class families, or those who aspired to be such, it continued to some degree. The oldest son of an individual male, thus, is often an indicator of that father's father's name. The name of the oldest daughter of a mother is sometimes the name of the mother's mother.

Starting in 1831, censes were taken in Ireland, every ten years, just as in the U.S. However, only bits and pieces of censes before 1931 still exist, because of the nearly complete destruction of the national Public Records Office in Dublin in 1922. Vital records were required to be registered civilly starting in 1845 and many of those still exist in the counties' public records offices. Also civil records of license fees, such as dog license fees, fines for not paying the fees, and civil disputes still exist. The Catholic parish registers which go back in time farther are more complete and on-line, but not indexed. You must know the county, barony and parish, which is not the same as the civil parish to find families and individuals. The civil parish is the old Church of England/Ireland parish name and within the civil parish boundaries are often two or more Catholic church parishes which may or may not include a parish name that's the same as the civil parish name. There are on-line aides that show where the civil parishes were and their names, within baronies and counties, and often in or close to what towns, and Catholic on-line sites that show the Catholic dioceses and parishes also. Comparing the two will usually help identify the Catholic parish that a researcher wants to examine.

Sean explained how, in the civil records, the names are not always the same as the form names in the vital records registers of either the counties or the church. It's often said that if you are Irish and don't have a nickname, you're a nobody. Most people have names that are not always the same as their formal christening name, or don't include any part of it. Nicknames often include terms, in Gaelic, for a characteristic, or the exact opposite of a distinguishing characteristic, such as 'Slim Will', for someone who weighs 300 pounds or more, or for someone who is actually as skinny as a rail. In Tony's family, the name William was popular for a time, and the family did use an Irish-style tradition for distinguishing the same named cousins and uncles: such as 'Plaster Bill, the painter and plasterer, 'Chicken Bill' who owned a large chicken and egg ranch, etc.. This is how you will find names in some Irish civil records starting in the 1800's but in some cases before, and often in Gaelic. There are a couple of on-line sites that have common words used in these nicknames and Mr. Connelly has lists of them also that he is willing to share.

Additionally, in civil records, names could include three names that were actually the individual, his father, and his grandfather as a means of identification. For example, Sean Donagh Padraic O'Connor, or Sean og (younger of a family in a small area with more than one person with the same name, or junior to Sean Sr., his father) mac Padraic (son of Padraic) O'Connor (O' generally meant of the family of and was used prior to the Norman and English colonizations and after the mid 1800's when interest in Gaelic language and culture was reasserted). Among the Scots-Irish, though, mostly found in the Ulster counties of northeast Ireland, 'Mc/Mac' has come to means the same as 'O'' roughly 'of the sons of the first man with that surname.' A clue is when the 'mac' is in a string of names and is not capitalized, it is usually the Irish Gaelic meaning son of the specific next person in the string of names. For women, you may find variants of the word 'bean' next to a man's name, indicating the wife of that man. Some words with a short pronoun are a location, that some individual was from some estate, village, townland, etc.. Are you confused yet?

Here's something else very important in the church records and, for those trying to find records prior to 1800, even civil records like wills and probate records. Most of the church records, and some earlier civil records, recorded the names, and events being recorded, etc., in Latin. While many names are fairly easy to decipher such as Josephus for Joseph, and Maria for Mary, some are not. James becomes Jacobus. William can be either 'Wilhelmus' or 'Guillelmus.' Patrick, which is 'Padraic' or 'Padraigh' in Gaelic becomes Patricius in Latin. Cecilia is fine in English and Latin but becomes 'Seala' or 'Sheila' and other variations beginning in 'S' in Gaelic. In the mid 1800's and later civil records, and later, many names that appear elsewhere in English are turned into Gaelic. To identify one's family and find the history of it, in all kinds of Irish records, and it helps to have lists from either a published or on-line source of the name translations from English to both Gaelic and Latin to make one's way through the records. Sean Connelly mentioned a number of lists available on-line that people have made available to help the researcher identify family members in three languages in the records.

Regarding places, Ireland was divided into counties and by the 1500's most counties were subdivided into baronies. Below baronies were civil parishes which came into use in 1800, and based on the old Church of England/Ireland parishes. Prior to 1800, the next smaller area designation to barony is a parish, which could be either Catholic or Civil/Protestant, or town area. The smallest area designation was the townland, which varied in size from as small as a few acres or as large as several hundred acres or more, and after 1650, may or may not have had an associated village with the same name on it. This is how church records, census and tax records such as the hearth tax rolls, and many other records have been sorted and filed. You must have lists of the post 1800 civil parishes and the older parishes to find people, as well as maps showing the baronies within the counties and the counties within Ireland. Above the counties, you will sometimes find one of the four or five old kingdoms as multi-county regions given: Connaught (northwest quarter or so of Ireland), Ulster (northeast), Leinster (southeast), Munster (southwest) and occasionally Midhe (Meath--that once also included West Meath, most of Louth, and Dublin) as the arch-royal 'middle kingdom.'

Other than the aforementioned bodies of records, there is another good source of family information, but much of it is not yet on-line and is only available in Ireland. When you examine the 19th century records that you do find, you will note that many people are tenants of large area land-holders. Many types of records list the landlords of the tenants as a way of describing where the tenants were located. These land-holders all had collections of estate records that included every transaction with their tenants and named the tenants, oldest sons, and more in them, year by year. Some are on-line and can be found at on-line 'county heritage centres', and other sites, such as under the surname of the land-holding family with any title it held and the county or barony in which the principal residential seat of the family was. Many of the estates were broken up after 1921 and some of the owners, those who had long been absentee landlords anyway, went back to England. A large number of the old large estate collections of records ended up donated to the National Library or the National Archives and many have not been indexed and fully catalogued even in these institutions much less put on-line. They may be identified on a list, or in a simple card index, which may or may not be on-line, as 'so-and-so's (titled landlord's surname) or such-and-such's (estate name) collections of papers.' Both the National Archives and National Library are in Dublin, Ireland and plan on several days to go through them on any visit. The estate collections, like the original memorandums of deeds and leases in the Registry of Deeds, are all in archaic long-hand script prior to the 20th century.

The aforementioned 'county heritage centres' will also have other useful items. Some have transcribed a number of cemetery inscriptions with the appropriately referenced associated churches and towns. Some have indexes to some county records by surname and year. Some have county histories that give some description of great and/or more sizeable families in an area. Many list the most common surnames of the county, and some by baronies within the county as well. All of this material helps the family history researcher find that little 'bump in the boreen' that is his or her particular ancestor's.

Regarding deeds and leases; some are on-line, many are not. However, the LDS microfilmed the entire contents of the Registry of Deeds and the pages of those many old books, and the indexes for them were (until November 2017) available to be examined by renting the LDS microfilms through Family Search at See LDS Records SNAFU.

Last, for those pursuing their roots prior to the 19th century (1800's), to discourage them from retaining the Catholic religion, in the 1600's, large numbers of the Catholic and many native Irish families were pushed into the West of Ireland by the plantations set up by the English kings and later Cromwell. The West had less arable, less desirable land areas. Cromwell's famous comment to one group of Irish Catholics was 'to hell or to Connaught, I don't care which, just remove yourselves from here', is an actual historic fact. Connaught and parts of Munster, notably much of County Clare and parts of Kerry and Cork, were actually a form of 'reservation' for the Catholic Irish (just like the U.S. has for native Americans). The U.S. actually got the idea for forming reservations for the Native Americans from what the English had done to the Catholic, 'native' Irish in Ireland.

As the penal laws began to be repealed and Irish Catholics were allowed to engage in business and own lands again, starting in the 1860's or a little earlier, those who had come from further east did begin to move back into areas their ancestors had lived. However, many stayed in the western counties that comprise Connaught and Munster, where they had been allowed to own lands and conduct business most between 1609 and the 1860's. In contrast, the Protestant Scots-Irish started out in Ulster, but by the end of the 1600's many had expanded southward and to port cities, including Cork and Limerick. They continued to do so in the 18th century.

Thus, some families in the two old western provinces have not always been there, and if you are looking for them in the much earlier records of the early 1600's and late 1500's, they may be actually found in more eastern counties. With few copies in libraries in the U.S., not on-line, the published 1659 Hearth Roll will help find some, and, for Ulster, the 1629/30 census done to help the king determine whether the grants of 1609-11 were being distributed and managed according to his original charters and which lists Irish tenant families, are helpful to finding the families. The 1629 census and other records of the settlement of Ulster after the Earls' Rebellion were published in a series of volumes by George Hill and are on-line as well as available in published form. Also the civil records, which remain and which the LDS has microfilmed, of wills, legal disputes, etc. are helpful. These are organized in groups by both surnames for some and counties for others.

For more information about where and how to do Irish family history research, there are some on-line materials at the Santa Clara County Historical and Genealogical Society website and Mr. Connelly can direct you to, or provide uploads of others (provided the request is for relatively short items). We also have some sources for records on-line, but we emphasize history before 1850, in our> website under 'Ancestors' and then either documents or sources (links to collections of records or other sites with data).

Email Sean Conley at with additional questions.

Researching Irish Ancestry in the 17th and 18th Centuries

by Cecilia L. Fabos-Becker,

1 March, 2018

Many Americans with Irish ancestry had ancestors who arrived before the American Revolution (1775). Some were 'Native Irish,' Catholics or recently become members of the Church of Ireland to hold onto family lands after the 1707 penal laws, who were still regarded with suspicion and discriminated against. Others were Anglo-Irish or Scots Irish, some of whose families had lived in Ireland for many centuries, and who were tired of the religious warfare and didn't agree with determining who to marry, with whom they could or could not do business, or with whom they could have general social relations, based on religion and surnames. Others were the younger sons of all kinds of families that had limited land in a country agriculture was the principal occupation for nearly 90% of all the people and families held on to land leases for generations. By the 18th century, many chose to earn income by leasing and subletting properties for income, and after a few generations, even oldest sons had little land to pass on to their children,. Land was not often for sale after 1707, and social and political status was often tied to land or business ownership. Finding the records of ancestors who emigrated from Ireland, as Irish or Scots-Irish from 1650 to 1775, or even in the period 1784-1830, is not the same as finding records for those Irish who emigrated after 1845. There are fewer and different types of records.

The Importance of Land: Location, Location

Prior to the 1840's, Europe, but especially Ireland, was heavily agrarian. Almost 90% of people in Ireland fed their families primarily by farming. In Ireland land ownership had also developed differently from other parts of Europe. The farmlands originally, prior to the 12th century, were held by Irish families and clans, or by monasteries, not by individuals, and holdings changed depending upon one's relationship to a clan chief or family head at any given time. Worse, succession to family head, clan chief or king was not automatic, and not always the oldest son of the last one. The Irish didn't practice Salic law or conventional Latin/Roman law but Brehon Law and had old non-Christian traditions of determining fitness to lead–violent traditions.Between the 12th and 16th centuries, Norman-English knights began to acquire land in Ireland by serving as mercenaries for the four Irish kings warring to become high king of all Ireland, or the leading contenders for the kingship of one or another of the four kingdoms, or contenders for clan leadership of large clans. Leadership usually went to one of the oldest males related to the last king, chief or clan leader, a brother, first cousin, uncle or son, who proved himself strongest–in warfare against his own kin, even if he used foreign soldiers to help him. Often the contenders promised their oldest daughters in marriage, along with a land dowry, to knights who brought in additional soldiers beneath them. The Norman-English knights also brought in the custom of inheritance by the oldest son and eventually took over some of the titles and responsibilities under Irish kings, particularly in the eastern kingdoms of Leinster and Ulster, as these knights sometimes became the only stable and continuous force in the area. They were Catholic however and intermarried again and again with the Native Catholic Irish.

There was one big fatal problem with this arrangement, besides the lesser one of being able to bump off one's wife's brothers more easily and take those lands also. The knighthoods of these Norman English knights came from the Kings of England and the knights swore fealty to the Kings of England. They then sent their own sons to be knighted, in England. Ultimately they began to get traditional Anglo-Saxon titles in England, such as Earls, from the English kings, also. Even the 'Native Irish' were doing this. This permitted the Kings of England to claim sovereignty over more and more of Ireland wherever the knights, earls and their descendants continued to hold lands–and expand. For the earliest period of Irish history to about the time of Queen Elizabeth I, what little still exists of genealogies, of mostly the highest ranking families of the four kingdoms are found in a series of volumes of Irish 'history' called The Four Masters. These are not organized in a manner familiar to most researchers and include ancient mythology as well as events and persons actually documented by monks and others. There are published series, and parts of these volumes are on-line. Most people won't be interested in this until they can get their ancestral documentation back past the period of religious warfare and conquest and colonization by England, roughly 1570-1710.

In 1536 Henry VIII rebelled against the Pope in Rome, making himself the head of his own religion in his island realm. Henry of course included Ireland as part of 'his realm', but most of the Irish earls and knights, both Norman-English and Native Irish, did not agree and continued to recognize the Pope as their religious leader. To Henry, this was treason, and thus began a series of civil wars and rebellions which continued for 160 years. These wars led to land forfeitures by the losers and more Protestant families being brought to Ireland from England, Wales, and after 1595, Scotland. The destruction of monasteries caused those lands also to become part of the forfeitures given to Protestant families, through grants by the kings and queens of England. This all led to great displacement of Irish families, even Norman Irish families, for centuries. Then after the mid-1800's and the Great Famine (1845-48), and changes in British laws regarding Ireland, families began moving back to lands they had owned prior to the warfare of the 16th and 17th centuries. Without knowing about these major land-ownership shifts, it makes finding one's Irish ancestors all the more difficult.

The Establishment of the 16th and 17th Century Plantations: English, Scots & Welsh

The first big forfeitures came with the Earl of Desmond's (Fitzgerald –a Norman-English-Irish family by that time rebellion during the reign of Queen Elizabeth I. Desmond had lands in the old kingdoms of Leinster and Munster–southern Ireland. Elizabeth, who had been moderately tolerant of the Irish up to the Desmond rebellions, was particularly harsh with this extended family as it had been a Norman family with its knighthoods and later titles all granted by English monarchs, and the Earl had invited the Spanish to aid him and rule all of Ireland. This was at the same time the Spanish were threatening to take all of England and kill all Protestants who didn't convert back to Catholicism in England itself, justifying this partly because the Pope had declared Elizabeth's birth illegitimate and thus her rule of England, also.. The Earls of Desmond and their kin actually tried this twice, once after the Spanish Armada tried to invade. By 1589, Elizabeth, and the English, had more than enough of the Fitzgeralds. Several heads of branches of this family were executed and large amounts of the land of the entire extended family were forfeit to the Crown, under laws and customs of virtually all of Europe at that time. In part, even other Irish nobles ignored the Earl and his immediate kin who supported him, because the Fitzgeralds had not consulted them about inviting in the Spanish. Many Irish did not wish to trade one foreign ruler for another, nor one foreign language of governance for another. Phillip II of Spain didn't have a reputation for any greater tolerance of any kind of dissent than Elizabeth I of England. Elizabeth I, then set up the first plantation in which English and Welsh were deliberately settled in Ireland after the failed rebellions of the Earls of Desmond.

One of the families who profited from the forfeitures of the Fitzgeralds was the Parsons family, of which several members held titles as Lord Surveyors. The Parsons eventually acquired lands in more than a dozen counties of Ireland, mostly in the counties of the old kingdoms of Munster and Leinster. For titled Irish families between roughly 1570 and 1760, see the first and second edition of John Lodge Esq's Pedigrees. The 1789 Second Edition was done 30 years after the first and is available on-line here: - the first edition is available for purchase only as an e-book. These are the oldest documented pedigrees of Irish noble families, both done in the mid 18th century. Look at BOTH editions, because some families lost titles when a senior line had died out without male heirs and the title had not yet been 're-created.' The Parsons were one of those families: they were Earls of Rosse in the first edition, and missing in the second edition. Between the two editions, the then Earl died without sons and any other near male relations descended from the first Earl, and the second creation of the title was not until the early 1800's and went to about a fourth cousin twice removed from the last Earl. Lodge's pedigrees, as described by himself, were based on original family records he himself examined, some of which were two hundred years old, and included the less noble history of the entitled that preceded their loftier titles. Lodge also described, in detail, many, if not all, the holdings of the families by counties, baronies and townlands and precisely when they were acquired and how.

Between 1597 and 1603, two more Earls in Ulster and Connaught reneged on an agreement with Elizabeth and rebelled when they knew she was dying, and found, to their dismay, that her very able ministers had arranged a smooth succession to James VI of Scotland who became James I of England and who was a fervent Protestant, despite his Catholic mother. James made no secret that he thought his mother was a fool who pretty well deserved her end. James VI, as James I of England promptly went after the two Earls who quickly fled. James then set up the Plantations in Ulster, and part of Connaught, where McDonell and O'Neill earls, the two rebels, had their some lands. They lived out their lives in comfortable exile in France, unlike many of their kin and tenants they left behind. The plantations were not originally James' idea. He got his idea in part from Sir Hugh Montgomery, Laird of Braidstane in Ayrshire, Scotland who made a deal with a junior leader of the O'Neill's who had claimed he had not joined his senior in rebellion and was unfairly imprisoned. This O'Neill offered Sir Hugh, one half of his land if Sir Hugh could successfully intercede with King James VI/I to obtain the O'Neill's release. Sir Hugh was interested because he was a junior laird from Scotland, which had neither abundant arable farmland, nor ideal climate for growing families. Sir Hugh wanted land for his family, in-laws and more junior Montgomery's. Sir Hugh was successful in his petition to King James, but a more senior member of the Hamilton clan then urged a three-way split, arguing that Sir Hugh was too junior in feudal rank to be given such a huge grant of land. The first plantation in Ulster was not created by the king on his own, but as a result of a three-way deal involving Hamiltons, Montgomery's, a branch of the O'Neill's and approved by the king. The first plantations of Hamiltons and Montgomery's on the former O'Neill lands were in the northern part of County Down, and parts of Antrim and Armagh. Irish were allowed to stay on these lands as tenants. Since they had been effectively tenants to their own O'Neill lords, the status for most did not change. Montgomery and Hamilton set to work immediately building more 'modern' farms, fortifications, towns and ports, and brought in other Scots settlers who helped make all the lands prosper. The 'Montgomery Manuscripts' which can be now found on-line, free,, describe the history of this area and the families, both Irish and Scottish, in some detail covering over 100 years of history, from 1603 to the mid-1700's. The king was quickly favorably impressed and decided the rest of the lands forfeited by the O'Neills and part of the McDonnells should also become plantations under Scots and English ownership. Between 1609-1612, most or all of the following counties ended up 'Plantations of Ulster,' (though some were actually in Connaught): Donegal, Sligo (small part), Leitrim, Cavan, Londonderry (originally city of Londonderry and County of Coleraine: merged later), Antrim (part), Armagh, Tyrone, Fermanagh and Monaghan.

Note that County Down is NOT among the Plantation counties. County Down, the northern half of Louth, and most of Antrim were always a mix of Scots and Irish, (See Scots-Irish) and so was part of Sligo and Leitrim. Whatever of Ulster and Connaught was NOT part of the 1609-1612 plantations is also NOT in the Pynnar Survey: Special Census of Northern Ireland (census of Ulster and adjacent counties) of 1629-1630. Everything that was part of the plantations is in the survey. The survey lists prominent families, including some tenants, not just land-owners, with forenames and surnames. The rest of the families are listed by surnames and numbers of the individuals with those names in the parishes and townlands of baronies within counties. The Rev. George Hill transcription and printing of the Pynnar Survey is indexed and has been reprinted and can be purchased from The Irish Genealogical Foundation, Kansas City, MO. It can be ordered on-line and the best price is if one purchases the four volume set of The Conquest of Ireland, which also includes one volume entitled Names in the Original Land Grants of the plantations with location by township and parish within barony, within county and the amount of land issued. Again, this includes the names of many tenants, including Native Irish tenants.

The McDonalds/McDonnells had several branches and started out in Ireland, went to Scotland but never completely let go of their lands in parts of Ireland and when they lost their bid to claim kingship of at least the western half of Scotland and Isles, mostly retreated back to their original lands in 'the Glens of Antrim and Down,' taking allied families, who were often intermarried with them both ways, including McCormicks. Down, and northern Louth, had other families who were Scots and Irish who had built up port towns and engaged in heavy trade between northern Ireland and Scotland–only 12-20 miles away. Sligo, Leitrim and Down also had Scottish families that had been there since Robert the Bruce sent members of his family to help the Irish drive out the Normans, and the O'Neills themselves and others in Coleraine, Antrim and Down had long intermarried with Scots families in Argyllshire, Renfrewshire and Ayrshire. When you are researching families in northern and northeastern Ireland, you will find many old families who are Irish and Scots-Irish who pre-date the plantations and who were never completely dispossessed and displaced.Because of the situation in Ulster and adjacent counties, in the rebellion of 1640, most of the Irish leaders had initially not wanted the Scots harmed but did not have complete control and failed to insist on this tenet with disastrous results. Scots were killed in Ulster, even some Norman Irish elsewhere, and the return vengeance was awful.

The 1641 Rebellion and Cromwellian Invasion

Then bad turned to worse. Although this rebellion was over in under a year, Ireland, along with every other part of the British isles soon was involved in English Civil War between the Stuart monarchy and the English parliament. Irish families took sides again, and ultimately lost again. The land ownership of three-quarters of Ireland was disrupted. The first partial survey of the losses of life and movements of families is the extensive collection of 'The Depositions of the Rebellion of 1641' (indexed) at Trinity College, in Dublin. This is accessible on-line. The Hearth Tax Rolls of 1659-60 were the result of Parliament doing the first post wars survey of all the surviving inhabitants. These surviving sections–all but a few parts of a few counties–were published by the Irish government in the 1930's and a few copies are in libraries in the U.S. including one at the University of Santa Clara in the San Francisco Bay area. There were previous surveys, particularly muster rolls and tax records, some of which still exist and were photographed and turned into microfilm reels by the LDS, which used to be available for rental and accessed at LDS libraries. See LDS Records SNAFU. But notably, the 1659-60 Hearth Tax Rolls and related surveys show that almost 3/4 of the families that had inhabited Ireland (known from previous records) were either exiled to continental Europe, displaced (mostly to Connaught, Scotland, the Isle of Man or London), or dead. It was reported that in some areas a person could travel for over 5 miles and see not a living human, cow, pig or dog.

Some of Cromwell's officers had been willing to kill all Irish, regardless of surname and religion, as believing no Irish of any religion to be trustworthy, even those trying to stay out of the fighting. If you weren't in Cromwell's armies, even if you had relatives in his armies, you were automatically regarded as enemies of Cromwell and Parliament - as even the Parsons saw, firsthand. Notable families who had held high rank under Elizabeth I and James I also were abused and dispossessed. By 1655, London was filled with heads of hundreds of dispossessed Anglo-Irish and Scots-Irish families, all pleading with Parliament for return of their lands. You will find some of the wills of these persons in LONDON, where they died between 1650 and 1660 while waiting for hearings and redress, not in Ireland. Some of the wills have been published in historical magazines as 'Irish wills found in London.' The JSTOR website,, has a collection of them in several magazines that have been uploaded to this site.

At this time, Cromwell and Parliament exiled 17,000 Irish families mostly to Spain and France, taking all their lands and redistributing them to mostly English soldiers, but also some Scots. Some of the exiles of 1649-1660 died in Spain and France leaving wills, and family memorials there. Note also that at this time, English who lived in the northern English counties of Cumbria, Northumberland and York were referred to as 'Scots' in the records of Parliament and the 'New Model Army' since the Scots-English border had been only firmly settled in 1513, and many of these people spoke a dialect that was believed to be closer to lowland Scots than to English.

About six years after Cromwell's first redistribution, Cromwell died and the Parliament agreed to restore the Stuart Monarchy under Charles II in 1660. Charles then reviewed the forfeitures ordered by Cromwell and his Parliaments and restored a significant part of the lands back to the exiles and London petitioners.. Often what happened, though, was large estates were split between some of Cromwell's men who had not participated in regicide or extreme acts of mass murder, and the original owners. Charles was attempting a compromise that would satisfy most and leave his reign in peace.

The one region that was relatively untouched by all of this was the old kingdom of Connaught, which had the poorest agricultural land in Ireland. Cromwell literally made Connaught a reservation for 'native/Catholic Irish' and is famously quoted as saying to one group of Irish, 'to hell or to Connaught, I don't care which, but go there.' Connaught, to Cromwell, and the English parliament, was roughly Counties Sligo, Mayo, Galway and Roscommon. Cromwell generally included County Clare in the area left for Native Irish because it was heavily 'Burrens'–barren lands with mostly shallow topsoil and many outcroppings and formations of limestone bedrock. Some Irish and Norman Irish families who had originated further east in Ireland fled to Connaught and stayed in Connaught after the mid 1600's until after the mid-1800's.

The Willamite War: William of Orange versus James II

In 1688-90, the extreme Catholics in Ireland joined James II in his effort to regain his throne through Ireland. Many had not been fully restored to what they thought was their due by the compromises of Charles II. They wanted to completely redistribute all lands assigned from the time of the first plantations, including that of the Montgomery's and Hamiltons as a result of an agreement with the O'Neills themselves, and restore all land ownership in Ireland to what had existed prior to Elizabeth I. The extreme Catholics were allowed by James II to create their own Irish parliament, which lasted about one year. The one major act of this parliament was to attempt to redistribute land all over Ireland in a very deadly way.

Over 3,000 heads of families deemed to have received lands 'wrongfully' were proscribed against and put on 'List of Attainted,' Intro, Extracts of Walter Harris 1749 Book & List of Attainted, by the Catholic Irish Parliament in Dublin of James II in 1689-90, and many were arrested and imprisoned and, of course, abused. Some were killed. Their wives and children were sent begging, driven off their lands, or were made poor tenants. Anything and everything of value they had owned was taken by the agents of this parliament, led by the Earl of Tyrone, to support itself and the army of James II including the French units sent to aid him by the King of France. Many learning or believing that their names would be added to the lists, fled to Scotland, England and the Isle of Man, particularly the latter. The 'List of Attainted' survived and were put in published histories. They include the names, the principal estate (seat) of heads of families, the counties in which they lived and often notes that they fled to particular places or joined the army of William of Orange.

One copy is of this Lists of Attainted is on-line, another is in print form and at several libraries, in the U.S., including Stanford University Library in the San Francisco Bay area. If persons on these lists were caught in the armies of William of Orange, there was no quarter for them, they were immediately killed. For this reason, William did not demand those on the Lists of Attainted join his armies in Ireland, yet many volunteered anyway. Even Irish Catholic families who disagreed with the extremism of the Earl of Tyrone and James II, were put on these lists, including members of the O'Brien family–descendants of the high king Brian Boru, who after St. Patrick was among the most revered of all Irish historical figures. This resulted in another massive Irish civil war, but ultimately William of Orange prevailed. He forgave a number of the families who had fought on the side of James II, but exiled the leaders who had not been killed in battle. Eventually many of the widows and children of both groups were granted part of their original estates, rather let those who had not actually participated die in poverty. William III, like his uncle, Charles II, wanted a peaceful reign.

The 18th and early 19th Centuries

Compared to the 16th and 17th, the 18th century as a whole was relatively peaceful and not many families were displaced until the Irish Rising of 1798. Land ownership did change though, significantly in many parts of Ireland, and social and political status was often tied to land and business ownership. Catholics in Ireland were not permitted to own land or businesses after 1707. What William III did not do to repress Catholics in Ireland and punish them for their past rebellions, his sister-in-law and cousin, Queen Anne was willing to do, despite the fact that many, many Irish had fought for the Crown under Marlborough in Continental wars between 1702 and 1707. In 1707, the English parliament passed the Penal Laws for Catholics, primarily affecting those in Ireland, but also Scotland. There were already earlier versions that had become more and more restrictive. One notable Scots baronet, Sir Duncan Campbell, the 4th baronet of Auchinbreck converted to Catholicism in 1698 and was forced to give up his seat in the Scottish parliament in favor of his son. Many Irish families with a lot of land did publicly become members of the Church of Ireland and records for their families kept by their Protestant parish churches. Many changed their religion again in the late 1800's and after 1921 when these laws were repealed. Irish families will sometimes be found for a time, back to 1707 or 1688, in Protestant, not Catholic, Church records prior to the late 1800's.

Many of these Irish records, but not all, were lost in the explosion and fire of the 'Four Courts' Public Records Office in 1922. However, some wary rectors and ministers made copies of the parish records ordered to be sent to the PRO and kept those copies in the parishes. Many of those were microfilmed by the LDS, and originals are at the Registered Church Body Library in Dublin and a few other places in Ireland. In addition to parish records are the wills that were filed either in Dublin or within the archbishoprics and stayed in their archives, some of which were also microfilmed by the LDS. Often the administration of wills was overseen by the bishops and archbishops, so most wills were filed with the dioceses and archbishopric offices. Sir William Betham, in the very early 19th century, went to Dublin Castle where prerogative wills, for families from all over Ireland, were then stored. Betham transcribed many will abstracts and pedigrees of gentry families (gentlemen, esquires and above) for the into a set of pedigrees and those were also microfilmed by the LDS. (Microfilms can be rented. Place the rental order through Family Search: Records of some civil disputes in various parts of Ireland also survived and ended up microfilmed with old muster rolls by the LDS in a roughly 50 reel collection of microfilms all under the misleading heading, 'Irish Muster Rolls.' These are sorted by county and surname into two sets. The records dates are from the early 1600's through the mid 1800's. Researchers need to go through both to not miss family ancestors. I found there was a newspaper called 'The Irish Builder and Engineer' whose records of old copies survived and had obituaries, marriages and other events of note for prominent, or wealthy, or notorious persons of Dublin and several nearby counties. Articles and obituaries go back to about 1600. The obituaries and more are on-line, though some are not free, but only available through a subscription to one or another of the 'newspaper archives' type web-organizations. In Ireland are collections of 'Estate Records' covering all the transactions between land-owners and their extended family members, tenants, neighbors, local businesspersons for centuries, from the 16th to the 20th centuries. All transactions name the parties, the dates and the locations, and some give additional history of the transaction and prior parties,' such as fathers of current parties, involvement. Thus some estate records give multi-generational data and tell you when many less prominent people died, or came of age to hold land or do business, and where. Most 'Estate Records Collections' are in the National Archives and National Library in Dublin, Ireland, and are not on-line. Some do have on-line indexes, and the indexes are available from a surprising variety of websites, including U.S. libraries who sometimes obtained a print copy of an index and digitized and uploaded it.

There are records in prominent Irish Catholic families where a head of the family dying around 1707 urged his oldest son and heir to at least publicly change his religion to keep the land in the family and be able to look after his younger siblings and other members of the family, and many families had older sons do exactly that. However, some families refused to change their religion and ended up tenants on what had been their own lands. Combined with the long-term ownership of leases, passing them on through generations, this meant less and less land for Irish each generation in Ireland. When the Parliament of 1707 also ended rent controls and other restrictions on Plantation Grant Owners, the rents in northern Ireland also skyrocketed encouraging more Irish to leave to find places where they could own their own land, enough acreage to pass on to their children and grandchildren. This is why emigration of Irish--native Irish, Scots-Irish and Anglo Irish, to what became the U.S., exploded after 1707 until the American Revolution, and then continued after the Treaty of Paris was signed (1783).

For 18th century and early 19th cemetery records, many have been transcribed and are in print form or on-line, sometimes at 'County Heritage Centre' sites. One of the best of such sites is the 'Ros-Davies County Down Heritage Centre' site that has many cemetery inscriptions and abstracts of indexed records found in the Public Records Office for Northern Ireland in Belfast and other places. AmeriCeltic has a link to this site under sources. Additionally, unusual or large cemetery headstones and memorials, some centuries old, were popularly visited by antiquarians of the 18th and 19th centuries who transcribed and drew or photographed them and published articles about them and described where they were located in antiquarian magazines and travel gazetteers popular in the late 18th and 19th centuries. Some of the old gazetteers are on-line as such, others and the antiquarian magazine articles with these items can be found on sites like JSTOR, a research service which has digitized and uploaded thousands of series of magazines, and more. There are two choices for using JSTOR and downloading materials: a free limited number of downloads service per month and a modest fee per month with more downloads possible.

Tithe applotments were made for all heads of households in the 1820's and 1830's and most of those people named had been in the locations also named and described for some years, even decades. These give the forenames and surnames of individuals and locations, by county, barony, civil parish, etc.. Tithe applotments can be found on-line by county and surname.

Coming soon on-line is the 1760 Religious Census of Ireland, in which all adults were named and their location given and the religion to which they belonged. The National Archives is still digitizing this the only comprehensive, still existing census of all Ireland for the mid-18th century. Portions of it are already on-line at a variety of websites, including some county heritage centre sites. Some of the county heritage centres have print copies for their counties and will do inexpensive or free look-ups from an email query.

The need for maps and atlases

In going through the records, there will be many place names, that existed prior to the Famine of 1845-8, and either ceased to exist, had their governments merged with a larger nearby community, or had their names changed. One valuable resource recommended to me by another researcher to find many old communities prior to 1846, under the old names as they were in the older records, is The Genealogical Atlas of Ireland, by Gardner, Harland and Smith, Deseret Book Company, Salt Lake City, Utah. I was lucky enough to find a 1964 edition in a local used books store. This book has two sets of county maps from an 1846 and an 1885 atlas, side by side, showing the changes and existence of many communities that, before the famine, were little changed in name from about 1660 to 1846. The book shows a researcher where ancestors actually were, based on the old place names. Two other sources of old and new place names with maps are: The Atlas of Irish History, edited by Sean Duffy, 1997, Gill and Macmillan Ltd. Dublin, Ireland; and The Complete Road Atlas of Ireland by the Ordnance Survey, Ordnance Survey of Ireland, Phoenix Park, Dublin, Ireland (I have the 1997 one). The Atlas of Irish History shows not only old towns and villages and when they were founded or known to exist in early times, but battle sites, monasteries and the large clans and tribes associated with the early kingdoms and tribal lands, and then later waves of invasion and immigration into Ireland and some prominent families associated with those. It also shows where the Catholic Irish were concentrated and where the most emigrants to North America originated, prior to 1845, by county and which counties had the largest numbers of emigrants at different periods of time. Additional sources have been given in talks on Irish family history research by Sean Connelly and we have link to the sources he usually gives in his talks on our website.

Click Here for Seans handout for his presentation, Irish Genealogy Websites(Sean Connelly).pdf

Click Here for our Review of Sean's Presentation on Irish Ancestry Research


Genealogist & Family Historian
Cecilia L. Fabos-Becker

Genealogy/Family History

How to trace your Celtic Ancestors (Starting in the U.S.)

If you are reading this article, we can assume that you are interested in tracing your ancestors through the records they left behind. It is very important to bear in mind that Genealogy/Family History is NOT an exact science. Good sites' researchers/contributors try to find and analyze all the primary and secondary source records available for families and individuals and the general histories of the areas in which they lived and put it all together in a logical manner. However, many areas have suffered fires, wars, floods, etc. and not all the records that once were made of individuals and families still exist. The same is true of family records. Additionally, mistakes were made by the persons recording events, whether they were family members recording something some years after it actually happened, or a county clerk, or minister who made a spelling mistake, or even a factual mistake and didn't want to go and correct it. Allegations in court cases are not the same as testimony and actual evidence. The reason for trials is to prove or disprove allegations including those of relationships. Hearsay is not the same as first hand observation for any event, trials or otherwise.

Census records are not all microfilms of original pages. Some, particularly those in neat alphabetic order are reworkings of the original records often done shortly afterward, but those reworkings are already interpreting another person's handwriting and spelling. Parts of the censes for 1790, 1800 and 1810 for several states are missing because they were burned when the British set fire to Washington DC in the War of 1812, and "reconstructions" of some of these missing census records have been made from a combination of land and tax records and voter registration lists and are used in place of actual census records. Unfortunately, a person could own land and be taxed for it in several counties and states and only actually reside in one so use of these years' records have their limitations.

Then there is the content of records and what's missing. Until 1850, for instance, the census records only had the name of the head of the household, NOT his wife nor his children, and age was expressed in terms of range of years, with the numbers of members of the family in those ranges. Also census takers were not always allowed to ask women their ages but asked the husband for information instead, or the oldest male in the household, or instead guessed at them, if the head of household did not volunteer an exact age or know it (husbands, then, were as notorious as now for not remembering birth dates and ages of wives and children) or was a widow with small children. Also until the middle of the 1800's not many individuals had middle names or initials, and even when they did, sometimes the census taker didn't indicate them. Certain names were very common and it is possible to find family groups with a large number of the same names, first and last, and ages. This causes the reader-researcher to interpret the records in one way or another. Analysis and interpretation, which are parts of all historical presentations, are subjective, based on all the foregoing.


Using, Rootsweb-genweb, and Family Search to Find Family Records.

There are now four main research services that have quantities of records that are very helpful to people looking for actual family records that can take the researcher back to the early 1800's or earlier. One is a paid subscription service,, which is very useful for census records and some states' marriage records, death records, and more.

However, there is a big catch to using the census records, that most researchers figure out over time, but not all family researchers discover right away.

Do NOT do a shotgun search by clicking on just "census records," or "U.S. census records." First click on 'census records' under 'search,' THEN use the next menu to select ONLY U.S. census records. This brings up a scroll of DECADES of the census records below the large main search box. Now, select your choice of decades, one at a time. Then in the related large search box enter the last name and check the box beneath that for exact spelling and sounds like. Do something of the same with the first name, such as checking a box for exact name and initial. If you know the state in which they were born, or resided in the appropriate boxes, enter the state and check the box beneath that for either exact state or this state and neighboring states.

You can also get a narrower search if you have county and state for birth and residence, and just check on the box to see adjacent counties, not the broader adjacent states.

The reason the census search is done this way is because the index seems to be different for the shotgun search of multiple decades from the individual decades search. Too many people, myself included, have discovered that when you click on the census search or the U.S. Census Records search and expect a list of all census records in which an ancestor actually was, the full list doesn't happen. You'll be missing some decades. However, when you search for exactly the same individual decade by decade, surprise-suddenly they are in the records that didn't appear in the wider all decades search. There is a big bug in the search and indexing. The bug has been there since was created and since the company is being sold to another owner that has said it largely intends to just maintain the site, there is no assurance this situation will ever change.

As for county death records, most states didn't start requiring the counties to record deaths and send to the capitol for a statewide registry, the death records, or copies of them, until sometime in the 20th century. A number of the 20th century statewide records are available through or "Family Search". For 19th century records, try "family search." You may find that they've been grouped under states but offer a choice to search all the counties or select counties, if you have an idea where your ancestor died. This is a mostly free service. Also look for will/administration records for the family under "family search county records" under the counties' names. Other family members may show up in these, such as brothers and sisters which may help identify a family better.

Rootsweb-genweb, sometimes under "genweb archives" which is sorted by states then counties, often has obituaries or some obituaries, some marriage indexes, some deeds, and sometimes county death records. This is also a free service, supported by volunteers, though contributions to the sites have declined in the last decade. Still some materials are here that can be found, as yet nowhere else.

Next, the county library, the central one in the county seat, if there are several branches, is often the library that has historical and genealogical society files in some alcove or room. There often is a librarian or reference librarian who can do a few look ups in items they have, such as the old newspapers, for an obituary. Sometimes this will be a free service, sometimes there will be a modest charge of a few dollars. It's a good service, either way, and often the only affordable help to be found in less populated, older, eastern counties.

Last, don't forget "Find a Grave." This is a free, volunteer-supported service to transcribe and upload all the still existing, readable headstones in all the still existing, known cemeteries and graveyards. You can search for people by names, counties, states, and individual cemeteries. This is a search service still in development. Not all the largest cemeteries in many states and counties have been completely transcribed, as yet. Some cemeteries have thousands of graves and some of the cemetery management companies, to deter vandalism have limits on visits, and individuals, even groups ranging through the cemeteries.

The family trees and postulations as to what happened to whom and when, what probably happened, what most likely happened (I hope I didn't use "undoubtedly" anywhere) are based on the availability of records at the time the last entries were made and analysis based on those records. As more records become available, and a greater body of records leans more in different directions, there may be changes in family trees and analytical essays and notes.

I welcome additional contributions of documented facts and especially the copies or full transcriptions of primary and many secondary source documents and records. Bear in mind, though, that any changes in trees depend upon not only the strength of those records but how consistent they are with other strong primary source records and documents. Any items that are scanned in as attachments to emails or for which I've been given permission to scan in from snail mail communications will show who contributed them.

I am hoping to turn this part of the AmeriCeltic website into a real net eventually for others to put trees that link to what's here, and more pictures and documents, if they don't have their own sites that they wish to link. For communications regarding the information in this site and contributions to this site please send me an email:

This site has several related webpages found in the drop-down menus. There are documents and pictures sorted by family and time period. There are also special documents that connect a number of families to special events, such as "The Early Settlers of the Borden Grant," "The Early History of Greenbrier County," and some court cases. There are family trees that go by main family names of a more recent descendant and will have a list of additional related family lines and more (indexing).


What are REAL Primary Sources?

What sources are"Fake," in Family History Research

by Cecilia Fabos-Becker published 2017-08-04

This past few weeks I was confronted again by an issue I had hoped was receding. Instead, it seems to be getting worse, again showing the ignorance, poor education and sloppiness of far too many American researchers. It also says nothing good about public education in the U.S., including some states' junior colleges, as some of the worst offenders, I've seen lately, indicate on their profiles they have "some college education,", or "junior college." It also continues to support the expressed opinion of many college history professors that family history is not real history.

Accurate, documented family history depends on valid primary and secondary sources. What are they? A valid primary source is an eyewitness account of an event, set down in writing at the time, or near to the time it happened. Examples are family Bible records where individuals write down, within days, their own live events, such as marriages, the births and deaths of children, the deaths of siblings and parents. A county recording of a marriage license, death record, probate record, or deed are other examples of primary sources, as the counties required such registrations within a very short period of time around an event. Obituaries are another primary source, because newspapers also had requirements for timely announcements for items to be current and noteworthy. Cemetery register records and headstones are also primary sources. All of these have either full dates, or a month and year of the event.

Family Bible records become also a valid secondary source for the individual owners/keepers parents', and uncles' and aunts', data when the individuals ask their parents about themselves, and their siblings, and write down the responses, such as where and when their parents believe they were born, and when and where they were married and the names and data of their own parents' and siblings as they knew them. However, there are limitations on the data on the parents' generation. No one remembers his or her own birth; children's memories that last to adulthood don't start until about age 3 for some people, and age 4 or 5 for many more. So, if a child was born in one state and brought to another before age 5 and his or her parents arrived in the new state with other relatives, without the child asking where he or she was born, the assumption will be that he or she was born in the state where the earliest memories are and where he or she was raised and married. If the grandparents are not alive to confirm what parents are telling their children, then some data could be wrong. This is also true for the responses to "where were you born" and "where were your parents born" in the census records.

For Bible records accuracy, it also depends WHEN the child was interviewing his or her parents for setting up his or her own Bible record going forward, and how old the parents were at the time of the interview. Even in the 18th and 19th centuries, there was senile dementia, and alcoholism, or untreated diabetes (sometimes called "the sweet sickness") and they sometimes went hand in hand over time. Younger children of older parents, where the parents where in the late 50's or 60's when bein asked about their early lives, often found the parents' memories on MANY things, including event details and dates, were slipping. The county court records show this in testimonies in civil suits. The most accurate marriage event recordings of parents' marriages are usually found in the OLDEST children's Bible records and when those children were starting their own Bible records at the start of their own marriages and households.

The two most valid primary sources of marriage records are then, family Bible records of one of the parties, or the county registry of the marriages/licenses. A primary source record for marriage is NOT just a year and names with NO documentary citation for the individual event from an assembly of data from uncited and undocumented group sheets submitted for publication then titled euphemistically, "Marriage RECORDS 1560-2000" as has on its site. These are NOT actual records but unknown persons' assertions of the existence of marriages with NO actual proof. They could be made up entirely out of imagination. Many are created on assumptions that, because the wife's first name is in a census or deed record, and the earliest records of children are a particular year or date then a couple with a wife of the same first name and an assumed last name, were married a year prior to the first record of a child. That's a guess, not a record. How do you even know if the listed wife's surname is accurate with these so-called records? It might be, because the wife's full name was listed in a deed record because the land being sold came to her as dower right from her father, but you don't know that the submitter of this "marriage," had ever found such a deed record because the "Marriage Records 1560-2000" has NO citations of any primary source records for most of the marriages in this data base. Some, but it's not even a majority, list a marriage license number in a particular county. If you wish your family tree to be considered credible and real, don't ever cite anything from that data base where there is no county marriage license number or citation. If there is a marriage license citation, there will also be an exact date, or at least month and year (some counties first only required month, or quarter, and year, similar to civil registries in England).

Next, Find a Grave used to be very reliable, as the persons submitting to that data base, initially went to the cemeteries, and were reading either cemetery registers of burials in the cemetery or transcribing data from headstones. The data could usually be cross-checked with county or state death records, always a good idea to make sure what the stone carver did was accurate or that either the person paying the stone carver or the person contributing the information about the deceased was a close relative and in good, regular communications with the deceased. It's unfortunately rather common to find that the clerk taking the death record information went to the nearest male relative, even an in-law rather, rather than the women of the family for information, regardless of how well that male remembered anything. If you think about all the comedic jokes and cartoons in which men can't remember their own wives' birthdays and anniversaries, comedy based far too often on reality, how likely is it that the same males are going to remember their parents' dates and particulars well? It is also not uncommon to find death records, headstones, and obituaries with slightly different dates and even some other particulars. Finding exact death dates, ages at death, etc. depends upon having MULTIPLE primary sources; Bible records, county/state death records, obituaries, and headstones to look for the greatest number of consistencies.

However, there is now an additional complication. Find a Grave is now allowing people to enter into the data base, which is supposed to be real graves, "memorials" based on something other than an actual eyewitness to the headstone or cemetery register, with the result that the deceased is frequently being listed as having died in the wrong county or state and in the wrong cemetery. The memorials sometimes have NO citations of any documents for them, just as those so-called marriage records. My husband and have now encountered at least four such instances in recent family history research. The two worst are the following.

A cousin of my husband took a photo of a real headstone of a mutual ancestor, some years ago, and failed to put on the back of the picture, or anywhere else in any notes or Bible record, where the headstone actually was, not even the state and county. Then when she couldn't find any notes about the location, she made an assumption that the ancestor had died in the county he was living 18 months before his death, as per the 1880 census. She could have looked at the on-line death records for that county and realized he did not die in that county. She did not. She also did not write to the nearby county library who had the cemetery registers. She simply put up, on Find a Grave, a "memorial" with the gravestone photograph, and said he died in a particular county and was buried in the nearby city cemetery. At this point, the keepers of the cemetery data and county records want her, or Find a Grave, to remove the memorial because it is a FRAUD and sending people to county agencies for additional non-existent records.

In a worse instance, a cousin of mine obtained a death date, from God knows where, for an ancestress and posted a memorial with NO photo of the gravestone, assuming there is any at all, and then listed it in a cemetery that was not created until about 40 years after the death of this individual! Again, that cemetery's records are available on-line, and through a county library, and show that there is NO burial nor gravestone there at all. I privately wrote to the cousin and told her this and asked her where she got the data. The only answer I got was that she, like I, was a descendant of the deceased ancestress, as though that's the only assurance I should need that the data is accurate--never mind the official cemetery records.

At this point, I now have to say, don't trust the data on Find a Grave unless you see a combination of a photograph of an actual gravestone, a picture of the cemetery gates entry, etc., a date of the visit to find this cemetery and gravestone, and then confirm what you see with a county or state death record, or an obituary, which will often list the mortuary and cemetery that was designated to handle the remains of the deceased. Don't cite "Find a Grave" as a "source," unless you've done this. "Memorials" are now too often unsubstantiated claims, just like those so-called "marriage records" in the "Marriage Records 1560-1600."


ClareHeritageCenter 2


Finding Celtic Ancestors Example 1


Our Family History Trip to County Clare, Ireland

Sometimes It's A REALLY Good Idea to Hire a LOCAL researcher.

If you know our Mission, you might well ask how aware we are of our own Celtic ancestry. In Tony's case, he knew of all his Irish ancestors since they emigrated to America, but nothing of their origins in Ireland, except that his Great-grandfather had come from County Clare. (Found in one of the American records).

Generally, the great difficulty in tracing Irish ancestry is that the central depositry of public vital records at the Public Records Office in Dublin was completely destroyed in fires of the Four Courts Disaster in 1922, leaving only the private collections of Churches and Schools scattered all about the island.

Over the past 94 years, some of these private records have been gathered into 'Heritage Centers' in some of Irelands many counties. Tony was lucky, because in 1982, a truly remarkable Clareman, the late Dr. Naoise Cleary, was struck with the idea that, this information had the potential to be turned into a very marketable product.

Today the records of baptisms, marriages and deaths of the 47 parishes throughout Co. Clare, going back as far as the 1820s, have all been properly collated and indexed, and the indexes are mostly transcribed into a searchable computer database, available at the Clare Heritage & Genealogy Centre in Corofin and Family History Reports may be ordered online for a reasonable fee. The Clare Heritage & Genealogy Centre and researcher Antoinette O'Bryen are both highly praised on "Trip"

Celia has been doing family history research for 45 years, had narrowed Tony's Irish emigrant ancestor, to the possibility of two parishes in County Clare, with the help of the scant records found on this side of the Atlantic, the family lore about siblings, two ship manifests, and Griffith's Valuation and a few other sources in Ireland that are available on-line. Celia knew exactly how to go about providing data needed to make such a search efficient and maximise the accuracy of the results: They were Tony's Great-grandfather's Name, his Birthdate, his Father's name and his Siblings Names.

Using the first three of these, Antoinette found that there were only 9 families in their database with the same Name, Birthdate, and Father's name, and had these 9 families parents and children listed for review when we arrived at the Clare Heritage & Genealogy Centre.

As we reviewed these children's names and compared them to the names of our ancestor's children, grand children and great-grandchildren, there was only one of the nine families that used the same names. Five of the six children had given names that matched the following generations, and the other 9 families matched only one or two. We had found Tony's great-grandfather!

This family had been living in an area called Garruragh Townland, adjacent to the town of Tulla, County Clare, Ireland, and Tony's great-grandfather was born there. Expecting this result, Antoinette had prepared a map showing the Garruragh Townland and it's position relevant to Tulla, and on our return trip to Dublin, we had our driver take us there. Using the map, we were able to take this photo of the Tulla churchyard with the Garruragh Townland in the background.

As you can tell, besides the hard work, there was some Irish luck involved in this happy result, and not everyone with Irish ancestors will be able to find their origin County, and that County might not have gathered and indexed their parish records. However, we hope this story will help someone who is trying to find their roots.

Here is the information on the Clare Heritage & Genealogy Centre
Church Street, Corofin
County Clare
Phone: +353 65 6837955

Communicating and Researching remotely

Before contacting the Clare Heritage & Genealogy Centre, I had narrowed Tony's McInerney family's emigrant ancestor, and yes it really was McInerney, not the Americanized McNerney and all its variant spellings, to the possibility of two parishes, with the help of the scant records found on this side of the Atlantic, the family lore about siblings, two ship manifests, and Griffith's Valuation and a few other sources in Ireland that are on-line. The National Library of Ireland had parish registers also on-line. Unfortunately, they are not indexed and the download six to only about three or four months ago was slower than a glacier's melt in Greenland in January. The pages were also coming in very dark, with low resolution. Those situations have improved by spring 2016, but it's still slower than most people are used to and it is still unindexed. Before you begin, you neet to have an idea of which parishes to go through, as what little sorting is done besides county and diocese is parish, not town or village. I finally decided it was time to find someone in County Clare at a good county heritage centre there and see if they had either better access to the parish registers or some other means of accelerating the parish search. That's how we met Antoinette O'Bryen at the County Clare Heritage Centre. Antoinette and this heritage centre were praised highly on 'Trip Advisor.'

We mostly communicated on-line and I gave Antoinette everything I had on Michael McInerney (and all the spelling variants) McInerney is actually related to an ancient title, by the way, not a real name, and actually part of the McNamara family, hereditary marshals to the O'Brien kings of Munster. The praise was well-deserved. She was a miracle worker. She and her predecessor and current staff of volunteers have created a card index of surnames and forenames with notes of all 47 parishes in County Clare and half of it is now searchable in a computerized database. It saves God knows how many hours of research for anyone. They are working on entering the other half, inbetween finding where many, many emigrants originated for Americans who have found the on-line unindexed parish registers a bit too daunting or had even less information than I'd accumulated to begin. We paid the fee with a debit card on-line and it was one of the best spent few hundred dollars ever. Antoinette even took off her Sunday afternoon to meet with us to go over the results in person and give us tips about the area we were to visit and a map that showed exactly where Tony's Michael McInerney had been born and raised.

County Clare Sights

The building for the County Clare Heritage Centre in Corofin, County Clare, is also the gateway to one of Ireland's most interesting and scenic national parks, The Burrens, and the museum there was worth a visit. It also holds the office and a museum for, The Burrens, which include the renowned Cliffs of Moher. This is a 350 million year old geologic wonder with many other unusual features about its flora and fauna and areas that have done best to preserve it all, surprisingly, with a specialized form of grazing practices. The rock formations look a lot like lava flows but are actually limestone layers from an ancient sea floor, one of the oldest such geologic areas on the planet. The repeat ice ages stripped off overlaying sandstone and other layers, so now you see what a 350 million year old sea-floor once looked like, under the sea, and with some additional post-glaciation sculpting by Mother Nature.


The map Antoinette gave us directed us to the small town of Tulla, amid the beautiful hills and streams of County Clare that reminded us of areas of Wisconsin, eastern Minnesota and the piedmont area of Virginia. Just north of the ruins of the old St. Peter and Paul Catholic Church and its cemetery on the top of the hill at the end of "Church Street" (of course!) in Tulla, which the family had attended, literally on adjacent land, was the now sparsely inhabited townland of Garruragh--no village or town; it's technically part of Tulla at this point. We were able to take a picture of it, from the churchyard. There is no longer a dwelling standing that we could see, though there were a couple of spots that might have been ruins of dwellings from long ago.

Present Day Tulla, and the Shannon River

Flappers 2

So, we next headed back into town to visit the restaurant owned by descendants of the same McInerney family. The restaurant is called "Flappers," which for members of Tony's family given Tony's mother and maternal grandmother, is very appropriate. It's a popular, well regarded place known well beyond the town. Unfortunately for us, Tony has a fourth cousin or so on this line, David McInerney, who is a star player for the County Clare Hurling Team. Hurling is close kin to Scottish shinty or U.S. field hockey, a major league sport in Ireland, and county teams are close kin to our professional city major sports teams. The County Clare team was in an important match with Tipperary--in Tipperary, and of course, the entire McInerney family, and more than half of his entire town, meaning also the owners of most other eating and drinking establishments had gone to Tipperary for the game. Nothing was open and very few people were on the few streets, as it is a small town, anywhere. The game ended, by the way "leveled" (a tie) after two "extras" (extra periods of post game play). So, we'll have to plan on meeting the cousins the next trip to Ireland and make sure we don't visit on a game-day Sunday when County Clare Hurling Team is playing.


We had a wonderful driver whom we'd found in Dublin, among the taxi drivers outside the Gresham Hotel, but who came from Kerry, a neighboring county to Clare. He knew the area, and knew whom to ask among those still in Tulla that day, where to take us to a really great, very old restaurant and pub called 'Gooser's' in Killaloe, a nearby scenic town, along the shores of the incredibly beautiful Lough Derg, on the east shore of the Shannon River. I think the pictures say it all, except, no we did not photograph the terrific meal--we were too busy enjoying eating it all! We had an excellent meal of three courses of different sea-foods, all local, with local vegetables. We topped it off with a nice creme-brulee and a shot of Tullamore DEW which is again being made in Tullamore by someone with roots there, and every bit as good as Jameson's better offerings.

On our return to Dublin, we had more beautiful County Clare scenery, and fell asleep in the car.

Finding Celtic Ancestors Example 2

Our Family History Trip to County Offaly, Ireland

Birr Castle and Parsons Family Research

BirrCastleGate 2

We went to Ireland in part to research several family lines. Tony's families had emigrated from Ireland in the mid-late 19th century and were Catholic. Celia has Irish ancestors who were Anglo-Irish, Protestant and emigrated in the early 18th century. Researching the two groups often requires different sets of records. The Catholic parish registers of baptisms, and marriages, and often burials, are mostly intact from at least the early 19th century, and often a century or two earlier. The Protestant parish registers have seen much more destruction.

In the rebellions of the 17th century and again in 1798, Protestant churches and their ministers and records often were targeted. The goal of more extreme elements in the rebellions was not just to wipe out Protestant families and ministers, but the records of their existence--genocide. Extremists extended their murderous efforts at times even to Catholic, Norman-Irish families who had lived among and intermarried with Irish families for many centuries. Likewise extremists attacked more recent Anglo-Irish families that had bought land and not come with Cromwell. The Crown decided after all this that it wanted all the Protestant parish registers that remained, in one place, the Public Records Office which was then completely destroyed in the Irish Civil War of 1921-22. A few smart clergymen made copies and had them elsewhere, but not all did. Those copies of registers that still exist are mostly at the Registered Church Body Library (RCB) in Dublin, and only some are on-line.

Two other sources exist for records of families. One source is family archives, such as those of the Parsons' family at Birr Castle. In our search for remaining records, we met the Earl and Countess of Rosse, Brendan and Alison Parsons, and their archivist, Lisa Shortall, email, who fully appreciated our search for these primary sources and the truth of these matters. The Parsons live with their family's history and that of Birr Castle and the truth is important to them for many reasons. They invited us to visit and our trip to Birr opened our opportunities for of the rest of our research in Ireland making it all the more instructive and enjoyable.

The other surviving records come under the name of estate records held mostly in the National Library of Ireland (NLI), but other libraries besides, and the Abstracts (called "Memorials") of Deeds after 1708, which often include references to the history of the deeds and the parties in them, and include leases. Leases were to Protestant and Catholic families and thus help researchers of both. These are in the Registry of Deeds in Dublin, with an index, only there, as well. Some of the estate records have on-line indices through the libraries, mostly. Iif you can't travel to Dublin and visit the libraries yourselves, then when you employ researchers, direct them to specific libraries/archives and specific manuscripts and save money, time and frustration.

For her book subject, Celia needed to sort myths from realities in a line of alleged in-laws to the Parsons family, who were first baronets of Bellamont and then later Earls of Rosse. At one time there were two lines of Parsons, related, but with separate titles and separate seats. This is not widely known. The first two Earls lived in Dublin and had originated from the Bellamont "manor(s)" in the County and City of Dublin area. They had properties primarily in County Kildare, Wicklow and Wexford, as well as County Meath, from where Celia's ancestors had emigrated. This line died out and their cousins, the baronets of Birr became the Earls of Rosse, with lands primarily in Cork, Offaly and Laois.

What papers of both Parsons lines still exist are primarily at Birr Castle. Most useful is the Calendar of Rosse, a book which indexes all the papers that are known to exist in the Birr Castle Archives, and which the Archivist is updating regularly. Happily, will soon be available on-line, at This is a joint project between Birr Castle and the Offaly Historical and Archaeological Society (who own the website and will host the document), and is funded by the Offaly County Council in conjunction with the Offaly Heritage Council. The updated Calendar documents hundreds, if not, thousands of families in at least 15 counties in Ireland who had transactions across three and four centuries with the Parsons, and have descendants there and in America will have a large body of additional leads to help determine their family histories.

Another useful item that Celia did not know about until she got to Ireland is the John Lodge, Peerage of Ireland published first in 1754, in four volumes, and then updated, revised and expanded in 1789, with seven volumes. The first set is not on-line and must be purchased at: The second set is available for free, on-line at Google Books. These two sets only cover the peerage as it existed at those times. In 1789, the title Earl of Rosse had gone temporarily extinct, so the genealogies associated with it were mostly NOT in the second set. It was lucky that Celia did not find the Lodge series, right away, as her visit to Birr Castle led to a wider range of archives and materials that ended the myth of one marriage, but showed others that were not even suspected,and helped sort out other materials for County Meath, and expanded the understanding of the Woods' among neighbors and relations.


The train trip to Tullamore and drive from there to Birr was also one of the best days of our entire visit, smooth, relaxing and great scenery. Birr lived up to its guidebook and magazine articles reputation, with extensive beautiful, unusual gardens,architectural and scientific wonders, and the best and most eclectic conversations of our trip, and an eye-opening 3-d trip into living history. Archivist Shortall showed Celia the Parson's 400 year old cook-book with recipes for food and medicines that illustrated what was grown and how it all was used in the estates of the 17th century. This is exactly the sort of primary source that will help make her historical novel about the Woods family real for its readers. We also ended the day with a toast to it in Tullamore with, what else?--Tullamore DEW, now made again in Tullamore.

There are, today, millions of descendants of a Woods' family that came from County Meath to settle in Pennsylvania and Virginia, and whose descendants then spread from there, all the way to California. They were long believed to have, in part, come from a marriage of an Elizabeth Parsons, a sister of the second baronet Bellamont to a Sir Thomas Woods who had lands in Kildare and Meath, and how he acquired the latter was a mystery. Then there was a tradition about a second Woods family in Meath and how children of the two married and produced the lines of emigrants. These stories were handed down and even published for at least a century and a half and not one bit of firm documentation for any of them.

Based on our extensive research, we now know that the Parsons-Woods marriage didn't happen--directly. Elizabeth Parsons did marry Sir Thomas Worsopp. However, her aunt Jane Parsons is another matter. Jane Parsons married Sir John Hoey and had daughters, and her oldest son and grand-daughter shared ownership of lands with a son and grandson of Sir Thomas Woods. The circumstantial evidence is that a daughter of Jane Parsons, by Sir John Hoey, was the person who married Sir Thomas Woods. So, there probably is a connection, a kernel of truth in those old "family traditions," but it was not exactly the storied marriage passed down, and erroneously still published today on Wikipedia, and in two very old editions of Burke's Peerage and a biography on William Parsons done in 1895 by Robert Dunlop. You can't believe everything you read in, Wikipedia, Burke's, etc. without primary source documentation.


They were very hospitable to us, personally. We learned a lot about how castles were built in the 17th century, how Birr Castle has been upgraded and remodeled since, how people lived in them, survived civil strife and how they and the families evolved to become an integral part of modern Ireland. Birr Castle is one of a very few in Ireland that is 400 plus years old and has been continuously inhabited by the same family. Considering all the war and mayhem surrounding them, this record is a serious "WOW!"

Today, the Parsons family are as Irish as any and wouldn't think of being anything else. They supported Irish independence and didn't leave during the revolution. They are involved in historic preservations/restorations in several places, involved in encouraging more woods plantings. One of Lord Rosse's current projects is the restoration of Redwoods to Ireland.

Yes, redwood forests were native to Ireland prior to the last Ice Age! They have had many scientists and engineers in their family and recently restored the nearly 180 year old huge telescope on their property which set precedents around the world when it was built with the then largest aperture, 6 feet across. Every piece of it was designed and made on the estate and it is still functional and being used by students on occasion.

The Parsons family and friends also have created the registered non-profit entity with annual memberships, "The Birr Scientific and Heritage Foundation" for donations for all of this preservation/restoration work, including getting the Calendar of Rosse on-line and scientific papers and biographies of the scientists themselves. Call them at +353 (0)57 912 0336 or email them at

Irish April and Travel Tips

A few words of advice for those visiting Ireland in late April and early May: take the Lonely Planet's _Guide to Ireland_ (the larger expanded book) advice about the weather literally. They aren't kidding about "unpredictable weather." We saw rain, sleet, hail and even bits of sunshine all in one day, every day for a solid week, and the temps never reached more than about 50 degrees with a stiff north Atlantic "breeze." At some elevations we even saw snow--along with all the rest in a single day. Pack for it: layers with sweaters, warm corduroy trousers, thick socks and lined woolen slacks, gloves and a decent warm hat, and a lined car coat or something like that. A muffler is optional--buy a really lovely one of the Arran woolens in Ireland instead of bringing a blah Chinese made one bought in the U.S. at a ho-hum chain department store, if you feel the need for one. The sun does come out and the days are long, as Ireland is close to the "lands of the midnight sun," but most places, except for restaurants that also serve alcoholic beverages, which most do, close well before the late sunset so the owners and operators can enjoy their own lovely land and spring, also.

Last, if you even think you have ancestors in Ireland, save up and make a trip there. You'll be glad you did and count it one of the best experiences you ever had in your life. Do go beyond Dublin: in fact, spend more time outside of Dublin in various counties than in Dublin to see more of the real Ireland. If you get stuck climbing the family tree, DO employ someone at one of the county "heritage centres" that do genealogy assistance. It will be the best money you will have ever spent doing family history. Then meet with that person, in person, because he or she will have a lot of good tips about where you are going next and might turn out to have an office in a really interesting old town, besides.

Our best experiences getting around were by rail and Irish drivers, (not recent emigrants to Ireland). Both rides were very comfortable, very scenic and we learned a lot. You also get to enjoy much more if you're not the one doing the driving--or navigating.

There will be other articles about doing family history research in Ireland and other places we went to Ireland in later issues of our AmeriCeltic newsletter. You can also send us an email at for more information.

Finding Celtic Ancestors Example 3

Tony's Scots-Irish Ancestors

Dead End in Kentucky Cholera Epidemic

Tony's great-great grandfather, Sanford McCormick, was orphaned as an infant in an 1840's cholera epidemic in Kentucky, and perhaps raised by his mother's sister. We don't know the name of Sanford McCormick's father, and we don't know the given name of his mother's sister, just the surname, Sanders.

Celia is working on finding a professional genealogy researcher in Kentucky to identify which of three possible McCormicks was Sanford McCormick's father. Famous inventor, Cyrus McCormick, was contemporary with Tony's great-great grandfather, Sanford McCormick.  In his lifetime, Cyrus McCormick employed professional researchers to assemble most of these Virginia, Kentucky and parts of Pennsylvania McCormicks' family history. That research has held up to modern evaluation, and it clearly shows that ALL these McCormicks in Virginia, Kentucky and parts of Pennsylvania in the 19th century were fairly closely related to Cyrus McCormick, and trace their roots to Ulster Scots in the 17th century Williamite war period.

In this line, the direct ancestor of these McCormicks was present with the defending Scots in Londonderry during the siege of 1689.  Celia has notes from other research which show that the McCormick family of these Londonderry defenders was in Antrim and Down toward the end of the 16th century, having come from Argyllshire with the McDonalds after their defeat by the Campbells.

The Crown's investigators into the 1641 rebellion regarded these McCormicks as a sept of McDonald/McDonnell in 1641, and in their interrogations accused them of serving the McDonald Earl of Antrim. These McCormick's are identified by the Crown's census enumerator, Pender, as Scots, in his 1659-60 'Hearth Rolls'.  These McCormicks are also identified as Scots in the 1630 Pynnar census. Many of these documents are available on or elsewhere here on our website,


Ancestry - Your Scottish or Irish Immigrant Ancestors'

Finding them and Visiting Home Areas Part 1 Public and Parochial records

By Cecilia Fabos-Becker, Published 2017-11-17

Most people, when they visit another country, are looking for at least a few experiences and areas to see that aren't just the same places that everyone else has gone. For many U.S. citizens, Scotland and Ireland are at the top of their travel lists because they are the countries grandparents or great-grandparents originated, and the countries' people speak forms of English. In this article, we will give you some of our insights on how to go about identifying where your ancestors were living within the Celtic homelands and from where they emigrated.

Along with other Celtic societies, Clans, etc., AmeriCeltic often hosts a hospitality booth at Irish and Scottish festivals, where these questions are often asked. Hundreds of times a weekend, festival visitors ask us for help in determining, at least the county, and if possible, the particular part of the Irish counties or Scottish shires that their Scottish and Irish families came from. Most of these visitors take notes, or photograph pages of our reference books and or maps. Many intend to travel to those countries someday, and visit their ancestors lands.

There are many useful reference materials where such information can be found, but visitors don't often realize a lot of the information is time specific, and that is very important and useful in understanding what the materials can tell us.

To help find the locations of Irish and Scottish families, we use most often three particular books, and three particular maps.

For a Scottish Clan Map, Click Here!

For an Irish Surname Map, Click Here!

For Scottish Clans and families, Collins' Scottish Clan and Family Encyclopedia by, George Way of Plean and Romilly Squire, and most of the Scottish maps, such as "Collins' Tartan Map of Scotland," or Bartholomew's Clans Map of Scotland are the most widely used. They offer, from general history and knowledge, where the larger clans, larger houses of clans, and larger septs (allied families) were, in the middle of the 1700's or a bit earlier, before Culloden and the destruction of large parts of the highland clans, including entire villages, in 1746. After the Highland Clearances, which started just after Culloden, and continued through and after the Napoleonic Wars, in the 1820's and 1830's, hundreds of thousands of families and, again, entire villages were removed, literally, and their Scottish highland inhabitants were shoved into coastal towns or paid to emigrate and replaced with sheep.

After 1830, many  villages and houses in clan areas no longer existed, except as ruins and rural scenery. If you are a descendant of one of these displaced Scottish families, the best you can see is the shire where ancestors originated and the larger towns and "county seats" in the shire, which ancestors would have known, as those were market towns to them and often still hold old churches where the records of smaller churches now gone went, and the county records as well. This is where you are also most likely to find "heritage centres" with other materials and persons willing to help those who are looking for more in depth family history for families who were once in these areas. Though your immigrant ancestor's individual home, and maybe the tiny village, might not be standing, other parts of the shire well known to your immigrants still are and have their charm. There are still plenty of ancient churches, romantic ruins, and market towns with historic architecture and interesting shops, and pubs with good traditional foods and beverages to enjoy that many descendants have yet to visit.

For Irish families, finding their lands is a bit more complicated, but the principle of identifying where the families were longest and in greatest numbers is the same. The were two major disruptions to the centuries old traditional villages and lands in Ireland. The first began with the rebellions of three Earls in the mid-to late 1500's to 1603, at exactly the same time England was struggling with religious change from Catholic to Protestant. England claimed rulership of Ireland because, beginning in the late 1100's, many Anglo-Norman knights, sworn to serve the English kings, had gone to Ireland as mercenaries for the four and five kings of Ireland and the in clan fighting over who would be high king of Ireland, they had intermarried with those old Irish kingly families, and had acquired large swaths of land as in-laws and in payment for their services. Unfortunately, all their knighthoods had been granted by the king of England and they also owed feudal loyalty to the kings of England and were not allowed to renege upon that oath, and so all these lands became the English kings' property. This was the beginning of the English Pale, which for over two centuries, initially consisted of mostly Dublin, Meath, the eastern half of what is now Westmeath the southern half of Louth, and most of Kildare. Then the Fitzgerald Earl of Desmond, and the O'Neill and O'Donnell Earls of Ulster all made the same fatal mistake: they reneged on a previous agreement with the Queen of England--and invited the Spanish King to rule ALL of Ireland. They neither consulted with their own extended families and clans, nor the rest of the Earls of Ireland, but everyone under them, by feudal traditions and laws, suffered when they lost, but most especially those who were most closely related to the three earls. O'Neills, O'Donnells and Fitzgeralds who were within about two degrees (first and second cousins, children, nieces and nephews) of the leading rebels ended up losing all or parts of their land and being forced to move westward into the kingdom of Connaught--the earls there allowing them, or into exile on the Continent of Europe. James I/VI and his son Charles, allowed the return of some of them between 1609-1639 in the rules of the new Ulster plantations in the counties that had been dominated by these families and allowed the new land-owners to sell, give or lease lands to the remaining families who had the same surnames but were not close to the rebels and had not participated in the rebellions.

For most of the lower-status Irish families, their situation did not change and they continued to live on the same lands they had before. A Scottish branch of the O'Donnells, the McDonnells/McDonalds who had lost a major battle in Argyllshire, Scotland in a bid to claim the Scottish throne and forfeited lands and were forced to return to ancestral lands in Ireland, actually became the Earls of Antrim. It's important to remember there were families who had lands on both sides of the Irish sea, where Ireland is only 12-20 miles from Scotland, from the 5th century forward, who never let their Irish lands go. The McDonalds were one of them, and so were a number of sept families of theirs. The Scots-Irish families of ancient times forward were mostly in Counties Down, Antrim, Armagh, northern Louth, and eastern Tyrone. Many branches of Ayrshire and Argyllshire Scottish families had lands in these counties, and quays, townhouses, warehouses and shops in well and long established trading ports in Antrim, Down, and Louth all through the middle ages and forward. County Down, most of Antrim, northern Louth and eastern Armagh were not part of the forfeited lands of the rebellious 16th century earls and thus not part of the plantations set up by the Stuarts to replace original inhabitants with Scots, Welsh and English.

The next biggest change to the Irish, after the three plantations, came after the 1641 rebellion followed by the overall civil war that occurred in all parts of the British isles and lasted until 1652. After Cromwell and the New Model Army set up by the English parliament were victorious against Irish, Norman Irish, Scots-Irish, and all supporters of the Stuarts, the Parliament attempted to remove all Catholics, regardless of origins, to the kingdom of Connaught and the Burrens of County Clare and Galway. "To hell or to Connaught, I don't care which," was one of the most famous and long remembered statements of Cromwell. Just over 17,000 families--that is entire families of an average of 5 or 6 persons each, and closest servants, were sent into exile to France and Spain. Catholics, and Stuart supporters, which included Protestants were all seen as traitors and in 1653 and 1654 there were large redistributions of lands to the soldiers, English and Scottish (though far fewer of the latter) who had been in the New Model Army. Many did not take up the lands but sold them to others and returned home to England and Scotland to buy up forfeited lands, or lands of those who died in the warfare, closer to their own homes. In 1660-2, however, Charles II restored at least part of most lands that had been taken from Irish families, so many of the 17,000 exiled families returned home--but to smaller holdings of what they once owned.

Most Irish, however, were already reduced to being landless tenants and so did not need to move to Connaught. Their landlord changed from Irish Catholic to English, Welsh, or Scot, Protestant, but not the landless Irish tenants. After the wars and massacres that went both ways in 1641-1652, there never was any clearance of these Irish tenants for sheep or cattle as there was in Scotland.

The next change occurred in 1707, with the English parliament's adoption of Penal Laws for Catholics. Catholics were no longer allowed to own lands, not even Scottish Catholics in Ulster, nor old noble Anglo-Irish or Norman-Irish families throughout Ireland who had lived in Ireland since the 12th or 13th centuries. Up until 1707, at least the old clans and families, regardless of religion and whether they supported the Tudors or Stuarts or not, owned land, even if the seniormost former royal families (now mostly earls) didn't own as much. In 1707 they had the hard choice of remaining Catholic and becoming tenants on their own lands, or changing religion. Some changed religion, at least the senior-most members of the families to retain their lands and be able to look after their Catholic, now tenant, relatives, better.

Some did not, and after 1707, these staunch Catholics were generally allowed to own lands in only one of the four Irish over-kingdoms (Old Irish cóiceda, Modern Irish cúige), the cúige of Connaught on the rugged west coast of the island. Connaught was generally regarded as the least arable land in Ireland while having the harshest climate and after 1653 Connaught became a "reservation for the Catholic Irish."

Most Irish emigrants to the U.S. were the survivors of both the warfare in the 17th century and the 19th century famine. This means their towns and villages largely survived, unlike those of the Scots. A descendant today can go and see the villages, and maybe even the original home of his or her Irish grandparent or great-grandparent. Churches are another matter, however. Those that weren't destroyed by one side or another between 1641-1652 were usually taken over by the Protestant Church of Ireland and any Catholic Churches built (greatly discouraged in most of Ireland between 1707 and 1867) were built more recently. However, records were often saved and simply moved from the old churches to the new. Catholic parish records going back to the early 18th century and even to the mid 17th century, are more complete, now, than the Protestant Church of Ireland records, which were, at one point, fatefully ordered to be sent to the Public Records Office in Dublin. In Ireland, one can see not only the village and possibly the home of an immigrant Catholic, long-time Irish, ancestor but the churches, and the Catholic Churches' records as well!

Like the Scots, Irish people lived in clans, with allied families (septs) and regions specifically owned by them. Most people stayed on these lands where their families had lived for many centuries. After 1867, Catholics were again allowed to own land, some began to buy back their ancestral lands and some of those who had been forced to move away, moved back to their traditional lands.

The two Irish family books most often used to help determine family's' ancestral area homes go by several ancient sets of records, particularly Griffith's Land Valuations of 1852-1855 (right after the famine), and the hearth rolls of 1659-60 and Pynnar's 1620's census of most of Ulster--unfortunately excluding County Down and parts of Antrim, Armagh, and Louth, as non-plantation lands. The 1620's census were to determine if the landholders of the plantations were following the mandates and SELLING or GIVING enough lands to Scots, Welsh, and even "loyal" Irish settlers. If they were leasing too many lands and had not made enough improvements to the area, the landholders could, and some were, be required to forfeit the lands, and the grants were then given to someone else.

So the Irish books list where most Americans' Irish immigrant families were most likely to have been at the time ancestors emigrated to the U.S. The best two books are: The Surnames of Ireland by Edward MacLysaght, who relied heavily on the 1852-5 Griffith's Valuations, and The Book of Irish Families Great and Small by Michael C. O'Laughlin. The latter book was published by by The Irish Genealogical Foundation, Kansas City, MO, and sold through the organization/website "The Irish Roots Cafe" also in Kansas City, MO.

The best map, which generally works well with the MacLysaght book, is Collins Heraldic Scroll and Map of Family Names and Origins of Ireland.

Now there is one last complication to all of the foregoing. Many Americans have Irish or Scottish ancestors who emigrated to the U.S. not from Ireland or Scotland, but from ENGLAND, particularly after the U.S. Civil War. After the two "Acts of Union" (a better description is "shot-gun marriages") between England and Scotland and England and Ireland, in which both the Scottish and Irish parliaments were abolished and very few seats in the "Union" parliament were then granted to Scots or Irish, the English dominated parliament did not see fit to invest much in infrastructure or provide for services, such as famine relief, in either Scotland or Ireland. Most people don't realize it, but there was a major famine in Scotland, in about 1837-8, for precisely the same reason--failure of the potato crop from change of climate, in Scotland, ten years before the better known famine in Ireland.

The English or Anglophile landowners in both Scotland and England invested little in infrastructure, themselves, or in manufacturing, or if they did, failed to maintain and upgrade it. Many of the land-owners by the 1830's were absentee land-owners with homes in London and nearby London in ENGLAND, where there was greater social life, more economic opportunities, and they could enjoy greater political influence and benefits. The English parliament favored ENGLISH manufacturers and merchants. Even most trade had to go through English ports and most goods and raw materials from Ireland and Scotland were required to go to England to be turned into manufactured, finished goods. The canals and railroads were first built in England and, only decades later, were some built in Ireland and Scotland. The weaving industry collapsed in Ireland and weavers had to go to work in Scotland or England. This all particularly happened at the end of the Napoleonic wars, in which the Scottish and Irish industries had still been important in providing for the British troops. By the 1830's, hundreds of thousands of younger sons of tenant farmers with little land in Scotland and Ireland, sons of craftsmen, and others, ended up working in England, particularly in the midlands, the big port cities, or in the mines of Northumbria, Cumbria and Wales.

The good news is that the English, Scottish and Welsh censuses of the 1800's survived and are mostly online. By 1841, they also included the names of the wife and all the children, their ages and in most cases, if they came from Ireland or Scotland, the COUNTY where they had lived before coming to England. We found Tony's Coyne family, at long last, in the English census records, in Wolverhampton, Staffordshire, where the family had moved in the late 1830's. The brothers, sisters, and uncles of his great-grandmother all had additional records and in them it was stated they were from County Mayo. Additional history of the Irish in Wolverhampton described how many people from a particular part of that county had left when the weaving industry in and around Westport collapsed. We also discovered from Griffith's valuation (see Part 2) that a small part of the original family stayed in Mayo but went to the far southeast of the county, near Coynes who were ancestors of the current First Lady of Ireland, and her ancestral family had also come from the same civil parish near Westport in County Mayo. Westport is also specifically mentioned in the Wolverhampton and Staffordshire histories of the Irish there as the place many Irish from County Mayo boarded a packet ship that brought them to England.

There are also records in the U.S. that may indicate where an immigrant ancestor originated. The ships' registers often only listed the country of birth of emigrants, but not the county, but they listed approximate ages of passengers and usually had family members together, particularly if they were minor children traveling with a parent or parents, and sometimes adult brothers and sisters were together. Naturalization--citizenship--papers were required to be filed by some states, but not all. Pennsylvania did not require naturalization until much later than many states. However, most Irish immigrants arrived through a few ports, especially New York. In New York they often stayed a few months or a few years before relocating elsewhere, often with the help of the Ancient Order of Hibernians and church groups. When they were in New York, some members of most families had bank accounts with one or two Irish American banks and those records are now online. Even if one's immediate immigrant ancestor did not have an account, it is likely he or she had a brother or sister, or first cousin who did have an account and in those account records is listed the county, and sometimes even the town of birth of the holder, and it will be the same location for all members of the family who lived nearby in New York at that time. We found Tony's McInerney family's county and two possible towns through those very same bank records. After more research by us and a researcher in Ireland, one of those two towns proved to be the very place his great-grandfather was born and baptized. We were able to go and visit the town, see the cemetery where family was buried, the ruins of the hilltop church where his ancestor was baptized, and drove through a part of some of the best, most dramatic scenery in Ireland, the Burrens.

All in all, it's really not that hard to find at least the county in Ireland or shire in Scotland where one's immigrant ancestors originated. There are three good books, several maps and if you don't have an subscription to access census and naturalization records, the chances are pretty good you know someone who can do a couple of look-ups for you, a family member or a friend, or you can see us, or any of a number of volunteers, at society or clan booths at any of a number of annual festivals.


By Cecilia Fabos-Becker

Published 2018-03-09

Some family history related materials are neither online, nor in published format available at libraries or for purchase. The Church of Latter Day Saints, (LDS), aka The Mormon Church, has many microfilms containing far more family history records than most people realize. Unfortunately, since the fall of 2017, these very useful records are only available in their entirety at the LDS library in Salt Lake City, Utah. For northern California, copies of some of the films in the large microfilm collections are still available in the Oakland (largest Bay area) LDS library. Unfortunately, even at the Oakland LDS library, very few of the entire collections are there. Consult, then 'catalog,' select a library location, use keywords e.g. 'Irish,' then click on the 'collection' that interests you to see how much of that collection is actually available. The LDS through Family Search has been digitizing these microfilms as fast they can, but made a major 'Business 101' mistake by ending the microfilm rental program before it was fully replaced with the new substitute providing the same service. Only SOME of the materials once available on microfilm can as yet be identified and viewed in digital format at You will have to keep checking frequently for updates at for further updates.

In March 2018, I checked what is currently available as 'digitized' and was dismayed to find that they had NOT yet digitized the largest important collections of pre-1845 records, including what was misleadingly called but very comprehensive: Irish Muster Rolls and was described as A Genealogical collection of Muster Rolls, Householders, Wills, Deeds and Parish Registers. This also included civil dispute court records abstracts, some as early as the late 1500's. I called my local LDS library and was told by a staff member, that 'Family Search' is rapidly digitizing volumes of material, and the 3-5 years before availability of all has been cut in half. However, many people, understandably aren't happy waiting 1 to 3 years before being able to resume family history research. Thus the staff at Family Search are taking suggestions of collections for which to expedite digitizing, and will do so if enough people request it. On the website,, under 'feedback' there is a form for 'problems and suggestions.' Use it.

You do not need to be a member of the Mormon church to use the materials they have at their libraries. Besides the Oakland LDS library is the Sutro Library in San Francisco, which also has some microfilmed and published parts of collections of pre-1845 Irish records. Unfortunately the Sutro Library was moved about 2 years ago to the heart of San Francisco State University where it is nearly impossible to find parking. You can even access several paid-subscription genealogical research sites, there, such as, as the libraries have their own subscriptions. The libraries, like all libraries, gladly accept the occasional monetary donation to keep their community services going. Like many other entities that offer community services, the church libraries are, together, a 501(c)3 organization.

Here are several extremely useful collections of pre-1845 Irish records that were on LDS Microfilms and should be requested to be digitized ASAP. There are Irish Muster Rolls (and Civil Court Records --54 microfilm reels of records), organized by counties and surnames. The records are mostly from the 1600's through 1800's. Another set was Sir William Betham's Pedigrees and Prerogative Wills Abstracts for Irish families of many types, prior to 1840. These covered everyone he knew of to be 'gentry,' roughly gentleman and Esquire and above, and including prominent merchants, whose records he could find in Dublin Castle where the prerogative wills for the whole of Ireland were in his day. There were some mostly Protestant, but also some Catholic, Irish Parish Records that were copied from the originals before the Public Records Office Fire and Explosion (1922) and ended up in the Registered Church Body Library, and other libraries, that were microfilmed by the LDS. Irish Catholic records do not consistently exist prior to about 1800, but are on-line, though with slow downloads of pages and unindexed., There were LDS microfilms of additional Groups of Irish Pedigrees/Genealogies, done by at least three other researchers besides Betham, made in the 1800's but actually covering multiple earlier generations of hundreds of families, taken from various collections of wills and other records that once existed. Much of the Contents of the Registry of Deeds, prior to 1841, which includes leases and sub-leases, as well as property sales and property gifts (such as dowries). The indexes to the Deeds and Leases were also microfilmed. These are the abstracts of the original deeds and leases and will include all the names of all the parties, their relationships to one another, dates when the transactions were made, locations, and some detail, but not all the detail of the original records. All in all, there WERE over 300 rentable, accessible LDS microfilms of pre-1845 Irish records that are NOT yet digitized, representing a tremendous interruption to Irish researchers. Do as LDS members themselves are recommending: Complain about this--in writing!