To-day I would like to give a few hints to any Kerry descendants who have an idea or who are even at the planning stage of coming to Kerry to walk in the footsteps of their ancestor who emigrated from there, probably in the 19th century. I get a large number of online enquires from the United States, Australia New Zealand and Canada from great and great-great grandchildren of Kerry emigrants who are passionate about visiting, finding the ancestral home if possible while here and ‘walking the land’ where their forefathers were born and reared before leaving, never to return.
Many descendants have done some research, many have done no research but all have the same impression – that somehow there are records in Kerry that will allow them to find the elusive family and associated townland. This year in particular, I have had a number of emails from descendants arriving in the next week and hoping that all will be revealed during the visit. This is not the case and I hope this blog to-day will set the record straight.
The first bit of research should be done at home and you need to start this research at least six months prior to the proposed visit to Kerry. ‘At home’ means in the records available in the U.S., Australia or New Zealand or wherever the emigrant settled. You need to come with a parish or townland of origin. I would like to quote from FamilySearch.org:
Seek to discover the immigrant’s Irish origins using U.S. (Australian/Canadian etc) records. Consult family papers, parish registers, vital records, censuses, naturalization papers, passenger lists, probate records, city directories, local histories, and many more historical documents. Every community where the immigrant lived created records that may provide meaningful information. To begin your U.S. records search on FamilySearch.org, start here
To-day I want to give you an example of the right way to go about this. Peggy Nute whom I will quote, has given me permission to record her research and visit which was very successful – what every genealogy visitor would like to achieve.
Peggy initially contacted me last March asking me to take on a commission to trace her grandfather John Fitzgerald. She had very little information except an older relative had stated that ‘John Fitzgerald was from Cty Cork and came to the USA as a young boy of 14-15’. However his marriage certificate 20 Sept 1866, when he married Frances Ellen Barnett in Charleston, Mass., stated that his parents were listed as William Fitzgerald and Mary Connors from Ireland’. Peggy believed herself that ‘all family records point to the fact that he was from Tralee and born Sept 1845’.
I started by accessing baptismal records for Counties Cork and Kerry but I also took on board the fact that the (a) port of embarkation in 1860 could have been Queenstown and many descendants looking at shipping records assume incorrectly that Co. Cork is the home location of all passengers and (b) the date of birth recorded at death is never exact – it could change by up to as much as 8 years.
After an exhaustive search of both Irish and U.S. records and much emailing back and forth to Peggy for further clarifications, I identified the elusive John Fitzgerald, baptised in Killarney on 17 September 1843. Identification of townland and land records followed. William Fitzgerald, John’s father was occupying land in the Parish of Molahiffe in 1853. All of this research and clarification process took up to six weeks. Peggy then made plans to visit, booked her hotels in Killarney, booked a driver, Helena, to take her to Farranfore and to visit the surrounding townlands.
Peggy and her husband Boyce Nute, eventually arrived in August and the visit was an outstanding success. Arriving in Firies and making local enquiries led them to the Fitzgerald family of Gowlane. They were received most hospitably They were treated to tea and members of the family then took them to Molahiffe graveyard and showed them the tomb of their Fitzgerald family. Peggy got phone numbers of other older Fitzgeralds in the parish who were not home at the time and she intends contacting those also.
So it takes time, research at home and well-laid plans to locate accommodation for a few days ‘on the ground’ of the target parish. I continually tell descendants that Irish people and particularly Kerry people have no problem at all with genealogy tourists turning up in villages asking questions, one contact will lead to another and another, tea or something stronger will be part of the search experience and you will find your roots and feel part of the great Kerry diaspora.