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Thread: Tracking family history

  1. #1
    Politics.ie Member Blacknorth's Avatar
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    Default Tracking family history

    I have recently begun attempting to trace back my family history and learn a bit more about where I came from. There were a few things I already knew, my grandmother on my mothers side came from a Church of Ireland family and married my RC grandfather, not the done thing in 1950's Derry! My grandfather's surname was Doherty so I definitely have "native" Irish blood, and not only that but local blood!

    On the other side I have also just discovered that I probably have Presbyterian ancestors (I'm guessing from Scotland due to my surname) who settled in Inishowen, County Donegal sometime before 1740 and then for some reason at a later date they decided to convert to Roman Catholicism which again, wasn't really the done thing. On this side I also know that at one stage someone went to America and possibly, very strangely actually came back years later. I have been told also that a relative (the youngest in the house) around the start of the 20th century went to America and was murdered by the Italian mafia. I always knew I was definitely at least quarter prod but had suspicions my Scottish ancestors may have been Presbyterian.

    I obtained this information from various sources, the 1901 and 1911 census results online, the national military archives online and parish records.

    What I would like to ask is this; where can I find out more, perhaps from earlier census results or emigration records? Where, if possible, could I view immigration records from Scotland? And where I might find further general information (preferably free). Also, does anyone know anything about the Earl of Shaftesbury? His name is on the deeds to our land. It was handed back to my family in 1922 but I know that the current Earl of Shaftesbury actually still owns Lough Neagh.

    I find this a very interesting subject, has anyone else been successful in tracking their own family history? Any shocks or new revelations?

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    Politics.ie Member Cruimh's Avatar
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    Probably easiest to contact a professional genealogist.

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    Politics.ie Member Blacknorth's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Cruimh View Post
    Probably easiest to contact a professional genealogist.
    I don't really want to pay for it if possible, plus I enjoy the detective work!

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    I too have Protestant blood on my Grandmothers side.
    She was Donegal Protestant who apparently was given an ultimatum by her shotgun pointing brother to ditch the Fenian boyfriend or leave the family home.
    She left and married him never to return (this was sometime pre partition)
    Other things I learnt from the 1912 census???
    Everyone worked. We aren't long finding work when there is no welfare State.
    And more curious was the fact that we (a working class Catholic family in Derry) had a Protestant live-in housemaid around 1912!
    This confounded me, as the given narrative of history, was not as black and white as I had previously thought.

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    Politics.ie Member Blacknorth's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Truth.ie View Post
    This confounded me, as the given narrative of history, was not as black and white as I had previously thought.
    It certainly isn't! I always find it strange that the east of Donegal wasn't given to the north considering the amount of protestants there. Also considering that Lough Swilly is located there and was a major port for the British in the First World War, you'd think they would have held onto it.

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    Politics.ie Member Cruimh's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Blacknorth View Post
    It certainly isn't! I always find it strange that the east of Donegal wasn't given to the north considering the amount of protestants there. Also considering that Lough Swilly is located there and was a major port for the British in the First World War, you'd think they would have held onto it.
    Regarding Donegal - the offer was made to swap East Donegal for South Armagh - the Free State freaked out at the thought of being stuck with South Armagh LOL

    In November 1925 the Morning Post disclosed that the commission would recommend the transfer of South Armagh to the Free State and of part of East Donegal to Northern Ireland, resulting in a net gain of 25,000 Catholics for the South, and 2,000 Protestants for the North. The Cosgrave cabinet preferred no change to the loss of East Donegal (it would probably be too unkind to say, to the gain of South Armagh!). Cosgrave hurried to London where he quickly agreed with Craig and Baldwin to suppress the report, and to accept the status quo.
    Ireland 1912-1985 J.J.Lee, page 145


    The reason I mentioned a professional was that a few days I met a lovely American from Chicago in a graveyard in Cavan. He too had struggled, his ancestors had gone to the USA via Scotland - and it took a professional to sort it all out for him. Very lucky he was - as his ancestor's gravestone was easily located and legible.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Blacknorth View Post
    I have recently begun attempting to trace back my family history and learn a bit more about where I came from. There were a few things I already knew, my grandmother on my mothers side came from a Church of Ireland family and married my RC grandfather, not the done thing in 1950's Derry! My grandfather's surname was Doherty so I definitely have "native" Irish blood, and not only that but local blood!

    On the other side I have also just discovered that I probably have Presbyterian ancestors (I'm guessing from Scotland due to my surname) who settled in Inishowen, County Donegal sometime before 1740 and then for some reason at a later date they decided to convert to Roman Catholicism which again, wasn't really the done thing. On this side I also know that at one stage someone went to America and possibly, very strangely actually came back years later. I have been told also that a relative (the youngest in the house) around the start of the 20th century went to America and was murdered by the Italian mafia. I always knew I was definitely at least quarter prod but had suspicions my Scottish ancestors may have been Presbyterian.

    I obtained this information from various sources, the 1901 and 1911 census results online, the national military archives online and parish records.

    What I would like to ask is this; where can I find out more, perhaps from earlier census results or emigration records? Where, if possible, could I view immigration records from Scotland? And where I might find further general information (preferably free). Also, does anyone know anything about the Earl of Shaftesbury? His name is on the deeds to our land. It was handed back to my family in 1922 but I know that the current Earl of Shaftesbury actually still owns Lough Neagh.

    I find this a very interesting subject, has anyone else been successful in tracking their own family history? Any shocks or new revelations?
    A couple of suggestions:

    1. Check with the National Archives to see if any of the surviving scraps of the early censuses are for your area. Isolated pockets survived the destruction of 1922. (My family's parish census returns from 1821 survived.) I doubt they did but it is worth checking.

    2. Check websites like Ancestry.com. You may find someone there has already put up a family tree that links into yours. (That happened to a friend of mine.) You may find a page on your family name there and you can ask a question. I once threw out a question as to finding any details of a relative who went to the US in 1915 as a total long shot. Next time I knew a woman got back saying she had gone through some shipping records and could tell me on what ship by grand-uncle went on, at what cost, what the arrival records said about him (height, weight, hair colour, eye colour, etc), how much money he had with him ($25), who he was going to stay with (a maternal first cousin), etc. I was flabbergasted. She wasn't looking for money for doing it or anything. She just had a genealogy bug and could access records I couldn't. So throw out a question there. But there is no guarantee of success. Another query about a relative who went a few decades earlier drew a blank.

    3. For 19th century and 20th century details, check Irish Newspaper Archives Search by location in your area in your local newspaper if it is listed there using your family surname as a link too. You may even find a local paper reported on the murder of your relative by the Mafia in the US. (It is best to do searches in say 20 year blocks or else you may end up with vast number of links showing up, none of which are relevant to you. So it is best to do it is small chunks.)

    4. Check the flax lists from the 1790s. They are on the net. (To encourage economic development the government gave grants to people in some parts of the country to either grow flax or to turn it into textiles. Lists of who got the grants are available. My ancestors cropped up in the list in my area for 1796. The list included my great-great-great-great grandfather and his father!

    5. See what other 'census substitutes' are available for the 19th century in your area (ie, do a google search for 'census substitutes' for your country. That should throw up a list of what local records may be available - any local censuses (a local rector in my mother's area did a census in the very early 1800s. No one knows why. But it means in two townlands there names survive!)

    6. Established church civil records exist from the 1840s, twenty years earlier than other faiths. Protestant families often cropped up in local newspapers in the early 19th century announcing things like 'To the lady of Mr Stephen Jones, a son - 15th October 1821' etc. If your ancestors were Protestant they are more likely to feature in media reports. It can quite literally involve initially a google search to throw up the names of what the local paper was at the time. Many local history groups have put up some records from local papers on the internet. For example, I came across records from a paper called the Drogheda Conservative -A Tory newspaper. The Tories and Liberals were electorally the dominant parties for much of the 19th century in Ireland and most towns had a Liberal paper and a Tory paper. For example, the Irish Examiner, formerly the Cork Examiner is if I remember correctly the surviving Liberal paper in Cork. The Tory paper was the Cork Constitution - whose name survives in the name of a rugby club even if the paper is long gone. So you may find there was a Tory paper and a Liberal paper in your area and your ancestors if Protestant might just crop up in them. (BTW don't presume there was one of two papers per county. Until the late 19th century many towns had their own papers.)

    7. Check sites like google scholar - where a google search may throw up references to books, academic articles, etc covering your area.

    8. The landholdings in Ireland were bizarre in some places so that might be the case in your area too. In many places there was an overall landlord, who then rented out much of a county to another family, who rented out parcels to another family, who sublet 100 to 200 acres to minor gentry who rented out land to tenants who then rented out an acre or two to sub tenants, some of whom then rented out even smaller bits to someone else. There is a chain of seven people in my area. All but the person at the top and the person at the bottom was both someone's tenant and someone's landlord. It was headwrecking trying to untangle it. Griffith's Valuation (which should be found somewhere on the net) may clarify who your family's landlord was, and whether that landlord had a landlord, and right up the chain to the top. Or you may find your family were in one of those areas where there was only a small chain.

    9. Check to see if any parliamentary reports were made on your parish to Parliament (often the House of Lords). They should show up with google searches. You may find a report from 1864 or something that includes information like what schools were locally, how many students they had, what year the school was created, what the crime rate was, whether there was a local RIC station, and if so why, etc. I stumbled by change through google scholar on a report to the House of Lords that covered by county and even included the name of the headmaster of the local school, when it was founded, and how a local village had effectively been wiped out by the famine to the point where its numbers were now below the level where it could be defined as a village.

    The KEY starting point, though, is simply to sit down with your relatives and have a long chat with no interruptions. They may start to remember bits that then allow you to work back, cross reference people with census returns and griffith's valuation.

    As to shocks and revelations in doing family history: oh boy are you likely to find them. Everyone does. I found out about a pregnancy outside marriage, a drink problem with a grand-uncle who was always in trouble with the law, one branch of the family heavily involved with the Fenians, and another branch where three brother went on the run from the Redcoats but ended up being captured and hanged. The three brothers created three branches of the family which continued for 300 years but two of the branches died out in the last 30.

    You find surprising things - like how even quite poor people had servants sometimes - the reason was simply because the workload in the 19th century was so difficult that in particular if a father was widowed he would hire a servant called a 'maid-of-all-work' to do the housework. For example, Victorian mattresses were so big and awkward that it took two people to make a bed as the mattress had to be turned to prevent damp developing. With cooking taking so long and washing taking so long and making beds so physically hard, many quite poor families had a servant to help them. In one case I came across a servant who had a servant!

    You will find a lot of presumptions you have (and everyone has) about what life is like will get blown out of the water when you start digging through the past. It was an astonishingly regimented society, one which sometimes had a lot more sexual activity than we presume, one where religion didn't always define class. For example, there were a hell of a lot of poor Protestants in manual labour, and a significant number of wealthy Catholics, particularly by the 19th century. If your family had Presbyterian ancestry, check with things like the Orange Order to see if they were active locally and have any records. You may find your ancestors crop up in it.

    As to the Earl of Shaftsbury, check to see where his family papers are. They may have been given to a university or library or the family may still have them. He may have an archivist fulltime who could help you out finding any records in his papers concerning your family.

    You will be amazed how much stuff you will find through the internet. But one thing: when you start doing genealogy research it becomes like a drug that you are hooked on and you end up digging up more and more and finding mysteries you just have to get to the bottom of or they will bug the hell out of you.

    I have been bitten by the bug and so have some of my friends. We have yet to find an antidote!!!

    Have fun.

  8. #8
    Politics.ie Member Campion's Avatar
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    A search of Griffith's valuation will at least let you know who was where and what they rented around 1840.

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    The LDS website familysearch.org is very good for free stuff. Whicle you may not always be able to view images, they have lots of indexes. They are constantly indexing new sources (an index of Irish wills is a current project being worked on) so the amount of information there is pretty impressive. If you had any naughty ancestors you may find them in the Irish Prison records.

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    Politics.ie Member Casualbets's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Blacknorth View Post
    I don't really want to pay for it if possible, plus I enjoy the detective work!
    Well I'm an amatuer genealogist if that helps....

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