Quick Kerry Genealogy Tips

U.S. Federal Census 1880

I think it might be better to keep my  opinion of Donald Trump to myself but I have to say that he seems to have awoken something in the Irish diaspora in the United States when he targeted  'emigrants'/ 'immigrants' .  These words seem to have resonated with Irish descendants who had long ago half forgotten about their  original ancestor who arrived in the nineteenth century.

I can't say for certain that it is the new man in the White House that has woken this sleeping giant but something has.   In the past two months, I have been inundated with requests to trace grandparents, great grandparents and great great grandparents of Kerry people.   Large numbers of these enquirers are already booked to visit the county this year or plan to do so.  And the expressions being used are similar - their admiration for people who took the decision to leave home and travel to unknown destinations, where they did not get a great welcome.   Their appetite for hard work while persevering  in a society that looked down on them,  enabled  their children to get a better life and education which in turn inspired the next generation to do even better.  There is a discernable emotional tie for the present diaspora with their Kerry ancestors.

So to help the enquirers, who have little or no knowledge of life as lived in Kerry in the 1800s, could I give a few short pointers:
  1. To explain records in Kerry in the 19th century – nobody had two ‘christian’ or first names. They only took on the second name when they emigrated (to the US or Canada) and found that it was the ‘done thing’.  The traditional naming pattern was adhered to in my experience nine times out of ten. The eldest son was usually named for the father's father.  The second son was usually named for the mother's father and their third son named for the father.  The first daughter was usually named for the monther's mother.
  2. Irish people in the 19th Century and before, were not very cognisant of their correct birth dates. So all indications (from Census, Naturalisation, Death Certificates) are only approximate. Compulsory civil registration of births, marriages & deaths began in 1864, prior to this, we are relying on baptismal records, if available.There is also the problem that as a result of the general religious restrictions and the Penal Laws from the late 16th century to the Catholic Emancipation Act of 1829, it was difficult and dangerous for priests to keep and/or maintain records. As a result only a small number of parish registers survive of baptisms and marriages before 1820. The urban parishes of Tralee, Killarney and Listowel have the earlier records – some from 1792 and others not available until after 1870
  3. It is very important for descndants to compile as much information as possible from home.  Check all US census records since the earliest date you think your ancestor arrived.  Log all of these including names of spouse, children, ages, address locations, occupation etc.  In the 1900 US Federal Census there are two very valuable questions to take note of - 'How long are you in the US'? and 'How long are you married'?
  4. The most valuable piece of information you can acquire from any US record is the marriage record of your ancestor.  This might not tell you which townland he/she emigrated from but it will definitely tell you the county and most valuable of all - the father's name of the groom and bride.

With the information above, you are now on much more solid ground to actually find the family of your Kerry ancestor' and we can even on many occasions find the actual field/location that your ancestor's family occupied in the 1850s


  1. Sheila Falkowski Sheila Falkowski
    April 4, 2017    

    Kay, this above writing of yours is so succinct and accurate in my opinion, especially after being one of the transplanted ancestors descendants from Kerry. I sent your report around this country to a few of my cousins just to make them aware of your services. I so enjoy reading your reports and updates!

    Sheila Mary Ryan Falkowski, still looking for her Kerry Stacks and McKennas as far back as I can

  2. Mary Christine Koch Mary Christine Koch
    April 4, 2017    

    Thank you for the tips you provided. As it happens I am travelling the Kerry in June of this yea from Canada. I was successful in tracing family back to Beaufort parush where my great great grandfather Jon Coffey married my great great grandmother Margare Coffey who had the same surname if Coffey. They had 9 children some born in Ireland and some born in Canada. I was able to find their eldest born, Timothy Coffeys baptismal cert. They seemed to have cone to Canada some where in the early 1850s. It’s amazing what you are able to find online!

  3. Anita Anita
    April 4, 2017    

    Well done My Kerry Ancestors that is a very good summary with practical information and tips. Keep up the good work.

    • Kay Caball Kay Caball
      April 4, 2017    

      Anita, are they not keeping you busy? Kay

  4. Rosemary Rosemary
    April 4, 2017    

    Kay. I love reading what you have to say, but why is Irish Immigration almost always pointed to the USA. One quarter of Australia’s population are of Irish descent, but most Web sites bring up ships to America, census records and many other documents.

    • Kay Caball Kay Caball
      April 4, 2017    

      Rosemary, thank you for your comment. Well in this case, most of the current queries are coming from descendants in the U.S. and I suppose that is to be expected as we know that Kerry had one of the highest level of emigration from any Irish county during the nineteenth century, with the majority going to the US. Now these descendants coming back and making enquires are also in the majority. But also some of my comments in this blog apply only to the U.S. For instance it is only in the United States that I have found that emigrants felt they had to have two ‘christian’ or first names so they promptly invented a second name. This can cause great angst to descendants when we find a baptismal certificate in one name only and I wanted to explain that. This didn’t seem to happen in Australia. You would have to ask yourself why? My interpretation is that Australians weren’t as keen on ‘keeping up with the Joneses’. The Irish in America in the 1800s needed to ‘fit in’ and really did their best to do so.
      Yes you are correct about the shipping records for emigrants to Australia. As Irish emigrants did not have the option to take a ship directly from Ireland, but had to go through two English ports – one to arrive at and one to depart from – it makes tracing the actual emigration journey problematic. Against that though, you have good records in Australia and also New Zealand and of course you have TROVE and the Australian newspapers which I found to be brilliant when I was researching the story of the 117 Kerry Girls who shipped out to Sydney and Adelaide on the Earl Grey Scheme in 1849/1850

  5. M Lucas M Lucas
    April 4, 2017    

    Very helpful information .Thankyou

  6. Jim Coffey Jim Coffey
    April 4, 2017    


    Sorry for this rant, but by stating you should keep your opinion of President Trump to yourself and on the heels of this follow it up with he’s “targeted ’emigrants’ / ‘immigrants'” you are most certainly expressing your opinion, as “target” has a certain connotation. MY opinion is that there’s a difference between people who come to another country legally and those who consciously choose to skip the process; the “targeting” is directed toward those who are committing crimes in the country that they chose to relocate in (yes, illegally), and receiving Get Out of Jail Free cards because the cachet of being an “undocumented immigrant” is a cause de celeb in certain circles which trumps (no pun intended!) the established legal system.

    Now that we have gotten our opinions out of the way, I certainly do appreciate the wealth of information you provide on your site and hope I can trace my Kerry line even further! 😀

    Thank you much,

    Jim Coffey

    • Thomas M Quirk Thomas M Quirk
      June 13, 2017    

      My feelings exactly.

  7. Elizabeth Shanahan Elizabeth Shanahan
    April 4, 2017    

    Thank you. The information in this has been very helpful. I really hope to visit but I don’t like to fly.
    Lissa Shanahan

  8. Michael Dunne Michael Dunne
    April 4, 2017    

    Merci . Au revoir.

  9. Julie Hu Julie Hu
    April 5, 2017    

    These are very helpful tips for beginners! I had to learn them the hard way. Especially the part about not having middle names in Ireland. Neither my grandfather or his three brothers were given middle names at baptism, but they all acquired them while in the U.S., though usually it was just an initial. For years I was mystified by my grandfather’s middle initial “F.” which was never written in full. My father claimed it was for “Ferdinand.” Later I though it might be “Felix” which seemed to be a common name back in his Irish townland.But then I saw the death certificate for my uncle who had been named Terence F. after him: it recorded my uncle’s full name as Terence Francis! And brother John was variously referred to as John E., John M., or John J.

  10. Suzanne Suzanne
    April 5, 2017    

    Thank you, Kay. This information is right on target with what I have found. In my findings, the middle name chosen is that of either a parent of sibling.

    Another helpful hint is to use census results to map out the addresses of where your ancestors lived when they came to the US. My ancestors came from Kerry, Tipperary, Cork, and Claire. They lived in clusters around Brooklyn. The families lived within the same few streets of other immigrants from their county. Members of the same family–siblings and cousins– generally lived in the same tenement building. This was true especially between the period of the potato famine and early 1900s. I’ve found that to be true in Brooklyn, New Haven CT, as well as Ohio.

    Many death certificates in Boston and NY during the late 1800s and early 1900s list the name of the deceased’s parents. I’ve found that more so than on marriage certificates in NY.

    One last tip is that most of the Irish, no matter how poor, would have obituaries published in the local papers. I have found an amazing amount of information, such as date of death, the town in Ireland in which they were born, names of siblings here in the US, as well as those left behind in Ireland, and year they arrived in the US. The obituary also gives the name of the cemetery, and during the late 1800s and early 1900s, provided the exact address of the deceased, which I then cross checked with census information.

    There’s a website called “Fulton History,” to search for northeast articles and obits. The “Brooklyn Daily Eagle” is also online. I’ve also found obituaries from Ohio newspapers as well. Most of the time, searching an Irish name yields too many articles/obits, but if you have the address from a census of the person you’re searching, you can search that instead, and you may find exactly what you’re looking for. For example, searching “200 Third Avenue,” in The Brooklyn Eagle, will yield many less articles than “John Sullivan.” I’ve found over 20 obituaries using that method, which resulted in the discovery of many important facts, including the married names of female siblings, which then lead to another branch of the family.

    Hope this helps! Thanks again

    • Kay Caball Kay Caball
      April 5, 2017    

      Suzanne, thank you for all these marvelous hints & tips. They should be of great interest to other researchers.
      One correction – could I ask all of you not to use the phrase ‘the potato famine’. No one in Ireland uses that phrase. The Great Famine (An Gorta Mór) was not just about the loss of the potato crop. While it was the proximate cause of the Famine 1845-1852, it was also just as much about endemic poverty, unemployment, an unfair system of land ownership and uncaring government. So ee do a dis-service to those who perished or emigrated by titling it the ‘potato famine’
      Thank you again, Kay

  11. Amy Amy
    May 7, 2017    

    I have to disagree that nobody had two Christian names in 19th century Ireland. In researching someone’s family, I found an ancestor, actually born in the 18th century, who was using two given names in the 19th century. Although some of his children lived in the US, he never did. In both Ireland and the US, he was being referred to in records as Michael or Bernard (or Barney, Bryan, etc.) Although he never was listed in a record with both given names at the same time, but he was referred to as “Michael B.” sometimes in US records.

    It may not have been common, but I can attest it did occur.

  12. Eileen Eileen
    July 27, 2017    

    Need info on a Finucane/Brassell connection. Ballylongford, Kerry

    • Kay Caball Kay Caball
      July 29, 2017    

      Eileen, why don’t you give me the details and I will have a look for them. Names, dates, locations – anything you know or believe you know already. Kay

      • Eileen Eileen
        August 2, 2017    

        Thank you Kay. It is believed that Joanna Brassell married Michael Finucane and my GGgrandmother was born Sept 1851…ish
        Found her married to my GGgrandfather in 1874 ish. Her Obit said that her father was Michael and she was born in Ballylongford, Kerry, Ireland. No birth date but census places her about 1853….Can’t believe I got a person…..TY
        PS I’m a Trump fan only because I live in CA

  13. Nancy McNaughton Nancy McNaughton
    August 2, 2017    

    I will be in Kerry late August/early September. My Grandmother arrived in Western Australia in 1895. She was born in Tralee to John & Johanna Sullivan (née O’Connor) in 1867/8.she was Ellen Sullivan. I would like to know if she had siblings. John was a Blacksmith – according to her Marriage Certificate. . Also if there are still descendants living in Ireland. I do not know if she had siblings. I know very little about her. She died when I was 4 and my father was an only child and rarely spoke of his mother.

    • Kay Caball Kay Caball
      August 2, 2017    

      Nancy, I am afraid that there is no baptism recorded in Tralee (or Kerry) for Ellen Sullivan with parents John Sullivan and Johanna Connor in 1867/1868. You might check the names and dates. The nearest would be Ellen Connor, with above parents, baptised on 31 August 1853. On http://www.IrishGenealogy.ie

  14. August 12, 2017    

    Hi Kay
    thx for the great information. I write to ask your help in tracking down some additional info on my grandfather Michael O’Leary. He was born in County Kerry and the family had a farm in Firies. @20 years ago, My Mom (now passed on) visited Firies and met a relative –Tim. I am hoping he is still alive. hoping to contact him or family

    I will be traveling to Dublin, Tralee, and Belfast for work on an international education forum. (I am the elected Superintendent of California’s 10,000 public schools.) my grandfather married Margaret Moriarty. My father’s father was Icelandic and married Joanna Driscoll. so 3 of 4 of my grandparents are Irish. (The company —Ancestry DNA —confirmed “70% Irish” heritage. the “Genetic Community” was researched to be “Irish in Kerry.”

    • August 12, 2017    

      Hi Kay
      i forgot to mention that my grandfather Micheal O’Leary was born in 1883. his brother Patrick came later to US and both lived in San Francisco. Micheal dropped the “O” and was known as Michael Leary.

      Tom Torlakson

    • Kay Caball Kay Caball
      August 16, 2017    

      On the limited information that we have (do not have father’s name or townlans) it looks as if your Michael Leary was born on 3 May 1883,. The parents listed on this baptismal certificate are Michael Leary and Margaret McMahon. A Patrick Leary was born on 16 April 1890, same parents with address fo townland for both of Ballinvarrig. There were a number of other siblings. As you can imagine I can only fish out basic info for you here as I am inundated with requests whilst tyring to fulfill my consultaiton jobs and National Library adviory dats. I would advise you to get hold of my book Finding Your Ancestors in Kerry and you shoudl be able to then get information to enable you to find the land that they emigrated from amonthst other history. Also my blogs on here shoudl give you lots of clues. Kay

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Subscribe to Blog via Email

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 1,026 other subscribers