‘Sharing’ your Ancestors, whether they are from Kerry or anywhere else, has become a huge problem. You might wonder what I mean by ‘sharing’. I mean copying and sharing other people’s research into similar names. Genealogy has become a major hobby, online resources have become easier to search, just type in your ancestor’s surname on Google and it is bound to pop up somewhere. But is it YOUR ancestor? There may even be very impressive family trees, what looks like genuine information with full names and dates. But is the information accurate? Are all these names and dates backed up with verifiable sources – baptismal/birth/marriage records for instance.
Could I ‘share’ with you to-day, my experiences in my own research consultations and in my work on the Genealogy Advisory Service at the National Library, where I see the greatest problems arising.
Problems with sharing
- Not enough initial prep work done. It is no good deciding yourself that you think your ancestor was from Kerry or maybe it was Clare. I have had descendants asking me if I could find out who ‘James Connor’ was, where he came from, he arrived in Virginia in 1825. So it is easy to copy any James Connor’s tree on a genealogy website and make it your own.
- I have seen ‘family trees’ on a major subscription genealogy website (you probably know yourself which one) with a family, mixed up between Castlegregory and Castlemaine. If you live in the United States or Australia and you or generations of your family have had no contact with Ireland since the first ancestor emigrated, well then one ‘Castle’ is probably the same as another.
- I have seen a Dingle man ‘marrying’ a woman from Coolea, Co. Cork in 1810. Visualise this intrepid groom crossing the rough unmade roads & paths over the mountains (how many mountains?) until he met the girl of his dreams in Coolea. Just because there was a lady in Coolea with a similar name to the supposed bride.
- Getting stuck on dates. This is a major one. Deciding that an ancestor was born at a particular date. I have been given day, date and year for the supposed birth of an ancestor without any corresponding source or record. Until you actually see a copy of a baptismal or birth certificate, you cannot presume a date of birth for an Irish ancestor. You have to take into account that Irish people did not know (or care) about their birth dates in the 19th C. They didn’t celebrate 21sts or 50ths and when faced with Census requirements in the U.S., Australia/ NZ/UK, they just popped down whatever came into their heads. Ten years later, when the next census came around they had forgotten what they had declared previously and more than likely put down a new date.
- A ‘shared’ ancestor record that came to a standstill in 1845 – wife seems to have ‘disappeared’. A new name has appeared – maybe they ‘got divorced’. I am sorry, there was no divorce in Kenmare in 1845.
- Death Certificates. Again this is a problem with both dates and home locations. If your ancestor didn’t know his date of birth as explained, well then the person who signed his death certificate didn’t know it either. The same goes for home locations – did the deceased’s family listen correctly to him when he was recounting his stories of ‘home’. Where was it again? Was it Cork or did he say something about Kerry?
Finding Your Kerry Ancestors yourself
- Do the initial ‘digging’ yourself, without looking at anyone else’s records. Genealogy is very rewarding but it is also hard work. It needs patience, persistence and a plan.
- Start with what you know – your father, your grandfather, if it is your paternal line you have decided to follow. Make sure every name, date and location is backed by a source document or note that you are awaiting such proof.
- Construct a pedigree table, so as not to confuse the different generations. In my own research, I compile a simple table , five columns across and six or seven rows down (Kerry people had large families!). Knowing the parents of the family, I enter the exact date of the baptism or birth that I have found for each individual child, address on the baptismal/birth certificate, the sponsors names and the church where the baptism took place. This simple table will keep you alerted to confusing generation, by adding sponsors or witnesses names, this could be the detail that would copper fasten the fact that you have the correct family. The address column will alert you to the fact that the family may have moved around and this will help in locating land records.
- Work then from the known to the unknown – always trying to establish a connection between a known family member and a previous generation. Many Irish family names are locally common and it is easy to presume a connection that is not real.
- Marriage Certificates are gold dust – not death certificates.
- Put on your thinking cap and contextualise the different generations. What was happening in Kerry when your ancestor emigrated? Did they marry at a very young age (early 19th century) or at an older age (later 19th century). Were there roads to enable them to go to the nearest church to baptise their children? How did they travel? When did the trains come to Kerry? What might have been the nearest port to emigrate from? Read books on Irish/Kerry history.