‘Fake News’ , ‘alternative facts’, conflicting genealogical evidence, whatever title you use, how do you apply it when researching your Kerry ancestors? In other words, what ‘facts’ can you believe in?
Just because you are on a certain genealogy website, and you find a name exactly or similar to your ancestor who lived at approximately the same time, do you immediately ‘adopt’ this person into your family tree? Do you check where this information came from? Is it cited? Can you check back to the original birth/baptism/marriage record? Is this information that you are looking at, copied or just plain incorrect? I can understand the excitement of finding a name, a date that resonates, either on a genealogy site or a suggestion from a Facebook ‘friend’. But stop there, check it out, how genuine is it? Can it be backed up with documentary proof? Even then, is it YOUR ancestor or just maybe your ancestor. The best advice I can give to anyone searching for ancestors, drawing up family trees or just trying to find Who Do You Think You Are is to stick to the five rules of the Genealogical Proof Standard (below).
This week I want to highlight two very simple ‘facts’ which turn out not the be ‘facts’ at all.
A reader asked me if Peig Sayers mother might be related as he just saw on Wikipedia that Peg Brosnachán her mother was from Castleisland and his Brosnan relatives were natives of the same place. I happen to be an admirer of the same Peig, even though I know she is gone out of favour as it were but I have a family photo on display of my parents Dan and Margaret Moloney taken with Peig while on their honeymoon in 1939 in Dunquin.
Before I checked, it occurred to me that it would be very strange that a Castleisland woman would go fifty miles, most likely walking, in the month of March weather in 1851, in the dying days of the Great Famine, to meet the man of her dreams. Sure enough, when I went back over the documentary proof, while the marriage in 1851 of her parents Thomas Sears and Margaret Brosnan is recorded, there is no record of a home address of either party or of their parents. So how do we know that Margaret Brosnan was not from Castleisland?
Well firstly check the land records for the period. Here we are lucky in that Griffiths Valuation has been published for this part of the country dated 1852 one year after the marriage. And here we find John Brosnahan occupying a house at Coomeenole North at that time. (Spellings in the 19th century don’t come into ‘facts’, just ignore). This of course is not documentary evidence that Margaret is a daughter of John Brosnan. A phone call to a native of Dunquin, with longstanding knowledge of the area and its people, a check through Bryan MacMahon’s translation of Peig, the autobiography of Peig Sayers of the Great Blasket Island and I am satisfied that Peig’s mother was a native of the Dunquin area and her husband Thomas was from Kilvickadownig. Is this proof good enough that her mother is not from Castleisland? The good people of that town might not agree with me but I feel that this research is up to Genealogical Proof Standard whereas the Wikipedia fact is not backed up by any citation or research.
Another ‘fact’ which I discovered a few years ago was the birth date of Tom Crean, famous Kerry Polar Explorer.
I read in a respected book (published in 2000) that Tom Crean was born on 20 July 1877 and his birthday was celebrated on social media on this date for a number of years. This is a marvelous book about a a very brave Kerryman and I am not in any way being critical of the incorrect date. It was extremely difficult to find the birth certificate. When asked by the family go back over Tom’s history, I could easily find all of his siblings, his parents’ marriage etc etc but no baptism and no birth. Because I had the advantage of a genealogical training I was lucky enough to find it. Tom Crean was the son of Patrick Crean and Kate Courtney.
According to his birth certificate (above), Tom Crean was born on 25 February 1877 and his mother is named on the certificate as Kate Cournane. Both these names Courtney/Cournane are interchangeable in Kerry but not a lot of people would know this. His baptism is not recorded on www.IrishGenealogy.ie but there is a ‘Johanna’ recorded as being baptised in Annauscal on 15 February 1877! The same year and same month as Tom. There is no Civil Birth record of a Johanna Crean born to Patrick Crean and Kate Courtney/Cournane so this is an incorrect transcription of Tom’s baptism.
So what is a ‘fact’ ?
Stick to the Genealogical Proof Standard (below), cite your own sources as you find them and you can’t go too far wrong.
The purpose of the Genealogical Proof Standard is to show what the minimums are that a genealogist must do for his or her work to be credible.
There are five elements to the Genealogical Proof Standard:
- Reasonably exhaustive research has been conducted.
- Each statement of fact has a complete and accurate source citation.
- The evidence is reliable and has been skillfully correlated and interpreted.
- Any contradictory evidence has been resolved.
- The conclusion has been soundly reasoned and coherently written.
Any proof statement is subject to re-evaluation when new evidence arises.
Very interesting, I can relate to this article as I have been looking in a different direction on my G G Grandfather John Walsh who is said to be from Newtown Sandes born about 1810, This is inscribed on his grave stone. After looking for many years I am now looking at Doon in the Tralee area at a John Walsh married a Mary Fitzgerald and had several children one of them was a Patrick born 1832, His grave stone shows a birth date of 1834. It is about 29 miles from Moyvane to Tralee if I am correct. Some other names from the Irish naming pattern interesting to me as my brother who passed away in 2013 was named David Martin. There are no relatives on either side of my family with those same names such as David or Martin born before my David. I am told that the Irish in those days did not migrate far away from their birthplace in those days and I can understand why. I am still trying to put these items together as I have all of the time left to me to do this. A lot of water has gone under the bridges of our lives since the early to mid 1850’s. I have learned a lot of the plight of my Irish cousins as it has taught me to be a better person.
Thank you so much for your great articles.
Robert Patrick Walsh Fister
Very informative and entertaining piece., well worth reading.
Thanks for your advice in this article. The notional journey of Peig Sayers from Castleisland strikes a chord with me as I have made the same point to non-Irish relatives who were attaching baptismal records from a very-very-distant parish to the family tree.
Thanks Irene, and as I am researching everyone else’s ancestors, I never get time to do my own and establish our link!
All of these items are so very important, and it also pays to write comments to yourself and/or others explaining and documenting your sources. One can always expand selected facts with additional information gleaned from census data, and many other facts such as location, nearness of relatives, jobs held and family knowledge passed down through generations. (Always backed up with facts and explanations)
Great advice Kay. I recently came across someone’s family tree where we shared a distant relative. He listed 26 children born to the same woman during the course of 5 years! I’ll have to forward your blog to him.
Thanks Kay, most times it becomes obvious that someone has simply “copied” someones tree into there’s with absolutely no sources cited, just a tree with hundreds of people I do share my tree and wish that more,would,share there’s. My concern is, that while I’m still validating information and sources, people busily copy my info. I really like to use my tree not just to share but to organize my thoughts, especially with conflicts. Any suggestions?
Sheryl, I would advise, if your tree is public that you only add what you have documentary proof for and also reference that proof. We all have ‘notes’ in other areas of our computers – I find OneNote very good as I can assemble hundreds of cases each one can have its own number of pages with husband, wife’s family etc etc. And in the end you a pencil or biro and a blank page writing things down roughly to see if they make any sense can just weake you up also and sort out those ‘brick walls’.
Thank you Kay for the sound advice. Occasionally, when researching Church records they become sketchy with minimal information for 18th and early 19th centuries Kerry. While there is a risk of ‘getting it wrong’ regarding lineage for these times, a good working knowledge of Christian names, ages, localities and other references all help to make the case that these were probably direct lineage. When entering data on ones family tree, one can add the information making one form the opinion that they are our forebears. People ‘copying’ family trees are perhaps free to do so as they are related and have been invited to participate. It is likely however that they will only find that which has a direct bearing on their family tree of practical use. The challenge for most amateur enthusiasts is to see how far back they can trace their tree
There is a mention in the early pages of Peig Sayers book that her Brosnan ancestors came from Castleisland (Oilean Ciarraighe). Don’t have the exact quote. I think her maternal grandfather may have come from there.
I was involved in the Brosnan clan gathering in Castleisland in 2013 but we had no luck finding the exact family.
Tom, I would be delighted if you could locate that quote about Peig’s Brosnan ancestors coming from Castleisland. I have Brian MacMahon’s direct translation of Macnamh Seanmhna & I can’t see any reference to Castle Island in it anywhere.(Peig the Autobiography of Peig Sayers of the Great Blasket Island). I am open to correction if you can find it.
Congratulations on the great success of the Brosnan Clan Gathering in Castleisland in 2013. I was there myself on the Saturday of the event working on free genealogy advice in the Kerry Genealogy Roadshow parked on Main St.
Hello again Kay
You could be right about Peig Sayers. I don’t have the book but will have a look in a library some time for Irish version. Anyway the mystery deepens.
We found out in 2013 that some of the Brosnans in Killeentierna descended from a Sean Faley O’Connor clan from the Brosna river in Offaly who lost their lands 400 years ago. He had fair hair (buí) and some of the clan came to Dingle, where they were known as the Brosna O’Connors’, to distinguish them from other Connors in the area. One branch came to Killeentierna where they were known as Brosnan Buís. there are still some Connors in Kerry who refer to themselves as O”Connor Faley.
Anyway it seems that the Brosnans were originally O’Connors’, and it seems likely most of them originated from Brosna parish in East Kerry.
Congrats on the website. Keep up the good work.
Tom, thank for this information. I would do a blog on the KerrBrosnans and your clan get together if you could let me have some details and/or a link to any information that would be of interest. In Edward Mac Lysaght’s book on More Irish Families, Dublin, 1982, he says that Brosnan name probably did derive from the placename of Brosna. So you are really O’Connors? My own crowd believe they are descended from O’Connor, Carrigafoyle … of course!
Yes Kay we also think we are related to these illustrious people.
Sean Brosnahan New Zealand was appointed clan chieftain of the Brosnan Clan in Castleisland in 2013 and the following is his website with a lot of information on Brosnans.
Also there is a Brosnan Clan Gathering page which was started in 2013. Most of the relevant information was posted by people in 2013.
All the best for now