Feature Article: Luck of the Irish

Tom Kemp, our Director of Genealogy Products, has been doing genealogy and expanding his family tree for more than 45 years. Before GenealogyBank was created in October 2006, he had difficulty tracking down the Irish side of his family. GenealogyBank's extensive archive of historical newspapers (more than 4,500 titles) changed all that. As Tom explains, "One of the lucky things about Irish family history research is that newspapers often give the county and even the exact town where a person was born back in the old country." This critical information can be difficult to find in sources other than newspapers, although (as you'll see below) some of the material in GenealogyBank's historical documents collection can be quite helpful as well.

In celebration of St. Patrick's Day, Tom gives a few examples of Irish genealogy gems he's found:

Here's an obituary I found for Mrs. Catharine Reilly (1770-1874). This is a good example of how valuable newspapers can be—this obituary has plenty of the genealogical facts we're looking for:

From this one obituary we find these facts about her:
  • Date and place of birth: May 4, 1770, in Cootehill, County Cavan, Ireland
  • Date and place of death: Oct. 3, 1874, in Media, Pa.
  • Entry point into America and date: through the Port of Philadelphia, in 1840, where she lived "for many years"
  • Descendants: 7 children and 24 grandchildren
  • Other family history: her aunt "recently died in Ireland at the age of one hundred and eight"
That's terrific—but look closer. There is another interesting fact this obituary reveals: it was first published in the Philadelphia Public Ledger and was reprinted in the San Francisco Evening Bulletin (Oct. 23, 1874).

Why? Because editors from distant newspapers routinely printed obituaries for relatives and friends of the family that had moved to their area. You just might find that the obituary you are looking for also appeared in a newspaper clear across the country, where you would not expect it. This could give you additional clues and lead your family research in unexpected directions.

Along with thousands of newspapers from big cities and small towns, GenealogyBank has a few specifically Irish-American newspapers, such as: And that's not all. Newspapers are great, but be sure to also look in GenealogyBank's historical documents collection. For example, here is a list of people in Ireland who were receiving a U.S. pension in 1883. Source: "List of pensioners on the roll January 1, 1883," giving the name of each pensioner, the cause of the pension, the post office address, the rate of pension per month, and the date of original allowance, as called for by Senate resolution of December 8, 1882. Volume V, page 638:

Notice the variety of reasons a person could have received a pension. For example: Ann Nolan, who lived in Ballon Tullow (County Carlow), Ireland, received a pension because she was a dependent mother. Edward Tierney of Athlone (County West Meath), Ireland, received a pension because he was a dependent father. William Cochburn of Ballingtre, Ireland, received a pension because he lost his left leg. Ann Moon of Ballygames, Ireland, received a pension because she was a widow. All received pensions because of their service to the U.S., or the service of their son or husband.

This five-volume list of 1883 pensioners is a fantastic resource for genealogists, by the way. It is a crucial source for identifying pensioners from all wars still living in 1883, and it pinpoints where they were living—anywhere in the U.S. or around the world. Volume V is especially helpful, as it lists people receiving U.S. pensions who were living in the following areas or countries: Africa; Austria; Belgium; Brazil; Denmark; England; France; Germany; Ireland; Italy; Madeira Island (Portugal); Malta; Mauritius; Mexico; Netherlands; New Zealand; Norway; Peru; Romania; Russia; Scotland; Spain; Sweden; Switzerland; Wales; and the West Indies:

Along with its extensive historical newspaper archive, GenealogyBank's historical documents collection can be an excellent source for documenting where in Ireland your family lived. It's certainly helped me with my family tree!