Do You have an Irish Family History Puzzle Like This One?

Do you have an Irish Family History Puzzle? Many of our readers have a problem locating an ancestor's place of origin in Ireland. In this reader's letter we illustrate a few ways of breaking through this puzzle in a question and answer mode. I hope you enjoy!

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Do You have an Irish Family History Puzzle Like This One?

Last week, I shared a letter from one of our Green Room members – Annie Keleher. She was feeling frustrated as she tried to track down one of her elusive Irish ancestors. So, we will use her letter today to tease out a typical puzzle that many of us face on our Irish family history research journeys.

I published her letter and asked you to:

  1. Read through the facts and story provided by Annie.
  2. Ask yourself: “What would I do next if I had these facts and this puzzle to solve?”.
  3. Include any suggestions/ideas/comments on what YOU would do to track down the origin of the elusive David Keleher in the comments section below.

And boy did I get a lot of responses – so many useful suggestions, ideas and more. In fact, I would like to thank the 547 people who took the time to help out and made their suggestions. I wish I could name everyone, but do realise that we read all your ideas – and you may see some of them in this week’s letter below where I make observations and suggestions as we go along. It’s a bit of a long one – but I think you will find some useful ideas for your own family search:

Right, here we go – this is the letter I received from Annie Keleher – and my replies are given in a conversational format:

Annie: Hi Mike,  I am hoping to gain insight into my family and to help others when I am able to do so.  My Kelleher family is a question to me. My great grandfather was David Kelleher born/baptized on 5 June, 1850 in Cork.

Mike: Hello to you too, Annie! Insight is always a great goal to have – and I’m also happy that you are aiming to help others, it’s always a good idea to pull yourself away from your own “puzzles” to look at other people’s challenges – and hone your own research skills in doing so.

Kelleher comes from the Irish “Ó Ceileachair” (derived from a term of endearment). From the mid 1500s, this surname would have been anglicised as Kelleher, Keliher, Keller – and other spellings. They were a family of the Dál gCáis tribe that originated in what is now County Clare. From about the 1300s, the family drifted south west into what is now counties Cork and Kerry. Today, it is the second most numerous surname around the Parish and town of Macroom, County Cork.

Annie: Below the information that I have been able to ascertain from compiling various records:

  • David Kelleher – Birth/Baptism: 9th June 1850
  • Parents: John Kelleher and Mary (no maiden name provided)
  • Immigration Date: 24 Aug 1866 from Liverpool, England and Queenstown, Ireland, Ship’s Name: City of Paris
  • Date of 25 Aug 1866 was given on his Naturalization papers, however the ship actually arrived 24 Aug 1866.  His birth location was given as Cork.

Mike: Great to have that information, Annie. Sometimes, people have a hard time ascertaining dates of arrival. Given that David’s birth location was given as Cork – I would tend to treat County Cork as the most likely county of birth (sometimes it’s tempting to look at records that fit the bill but are from adjacent counties).

I also had a look at your tree and records – and it appears that John and Mary are consistently given as David’s parents – and also that David is consistently called David. Both useful facts to tie down! On David’s date of birth – while an individual’s year is often unknown/guessed, the day/month is often remembered quite well (e.g. a parent might mention: “you were born a few weeks before the longest day”).

However, when I see a person declaring them as sixteen on immigration – it seems like the truth to me! If David was born before 1850, why would he give himself as only 16 years of age? Unless, it there was a transcription/clerking error.

Annie: His mother Mary, and sister Abby, also came to the States. David’s sister Abby also lived in Lawrence, MA and married a Bostonian, John Harris.  They lived in Lawrence for a while and then moved to Boston, where she died in October 1873, the same day as she gave birth to her fourth child, a stillborn male.

Mike: I see from the records you provided elsewhere that Abby was already in the town of Lawrence in the USA when David arrived in 1866. So, she may have been the first of the family to emigrate. However, she was probably NOT the first in the area from among her neighbours and extended family in Ireland. By 1860, there was good work to be had in the mills of the north-east – and it was getting easier to get there with the emerging steam-ship business out of Liverpool.

Whole villages had immigrated into this part of the world since the time of the Irish famine – and by the 1850s and 1860s there was plenty of encouragement (and ticket money) sent home to Ireland for family, neighbours and fiances to join those who went before.

How sad that Abby died at such a young age.

Annie: David and Abby’s mother, Mary, lived with Abby (once she married) and then once Abby died, Mary lived with David until he married in 1881.

Mike: So, it appears that David and Abby’s mother also emigrated – maybe following the death of her own husband? There is also the chance that Mary Kelleher’s husband, John, had already been dead for a number of years. In this possible case, it is worth searching the Griffith’s Valuation of the mid 1850s. While the tenants listed were typically the male head of the farm – if Mary Kelleher was widowed at the time of the Valuations AND still in Ireland, then there is a chance that she is searchable as a listed female tenant.

In fact, I had a look for all “Mary Kellehers” (potential widowed mother of David and Abby) listed in Griffith’s Valuation and came up with this small list for Cork. One entry that jumped out was the Mary Kelleher listed in the civil parish of “Mogeesha” – she was in the townland of Baneshane. The reason has to do with your next point given below – where you mention a link between the Mulcahy family and the Kelleher family. There are a number of Mulcahys (including a John) listed in neighbouring townlands to Baneshane in 1853.

Further checking church records, this Mary Kelleher MAY be a Mary Minihan Kelleher who was married to a John Kelleher in Carrigtwohill RC Parish  (no townland given). They had a child called David in June 1841 but no child called Abby. If this date is too early for your David, it is entirely possible that this David died and they had a later child whom they also named David (who does not appear in the records). However, that is a lot of maybes!

Annie: David Kelleher and Mary Mulcahy were married in Lawrence, MA in 1881. Mary Ann Mulcahy was born in Lawrence, MA in 1859 to Michael Mulcahy and Johanna Leahy (both from Ireland).  Michael was born in Carrigtwohill (County Cork) to John Mulcahy and Johanna Geany.

Mike: Now, while the Kelleher surname is numerous around the town and parish of Macroom in Cork – there is also quite an amount of them in the parish of Carrigtwohill. In my experience, there is always a strong possibility that intermarrying families knew each other back in Ireland before immigration. It is worth fully investigating.

I mentioned Mary Kelleher in my last comment. She was listed in Griffith’s Valuation in 1853. She is in the ‘Civil Parish” of Mogeesha at the time. The Roman Catholic Parish of Carrigtwohill (that you mention) comprised the Civil Parishes of Carrigtwohill and Mogeesha. So, a person who lived in the Civil Parish of Mogeesha would turn up in the RC BMD records as being in the RC parish of Carrigtwohill (who said Irish family history was easy!).

So, this evidence suggests that the possibility of the Kelleher and Mulcahy families may have been neighbours around the town of Carrigtwohill before immigration.

Annie: After David married, his mother Mary, moved into an apartment next to his.  When she passed, her death record gave her own parents names as John and Abby (no last names given).

Mike: How interesting. That suggests that Abby junior was named after Mary Kelleher’s mother – which fits in with the typical Irish naming pattern.

Annie: I was trying to make sense of the naming convention using David and Mary Ann’s children, but not sure it was followed:

  • John: 1882–1968
  • Johanna: 1883–1885
  • Michael Edwin: 1885–1929 (my grandfather) – named after his grandfather, Mike Mulcahy
  • Mary T: 1889
  • David H: 1891-1942
  • Dora: 1892
  • William Edward: 1893-1958
  • Elizabeth: 1895
  • Frank Augustus: 1897

Mike: Annie, this is an almost perfect example of an Irish naming pattern being followed. Starting at the top:

  • First son John was named after his paternal grandfather – John Kelleher.
  • First daughter Johanna was named after her maternal grandmother – Johanna Mulcahy.
  • Second son Michael was named after his maternal grandfather – Michael Mulcahy.
  • Second daughter Mary was named after her paternal grandmother – Mary Kelleher.
  • Third son David was named after his father, David Kelleher. Note: This fact suggests strongly that David was the real name (not a second name – or mis-transcription from e.g. Daniel) of David senior.
  • Third daughter is NORMALLY named after mother – Mary Kelleher – but that was given already, so they named her Dora  – and so on….

Annie: The story goes that the family came from the Macroom area. However, based on matches that I have found to other Kellehers on Gedmatch, FTDNA and MyHeritage (as well as some say because of the name Abby being prevalent), the family may have come from Ballyvourney (a town to the west of Macroom).

Mike: It is entirely likely that you will share DNA with Macroom Kellehers as it is “Kelleher central” in Ireland. Abby is usally short for Abigail or Abina in Ireland. However, Saint Gobnait was a saint around Ballyvourney – and the reason you don’t see many Gobnaits today is because most of them assumed the nickname/anglicisation of “Abby” or “Deborah” following emigration.

Ballyvourney residents would have considered the larger market town of Macroom to be in the same general “neighbourhood”.

Annie: I have searched many, many places, in Irish records for a record for David Kelleher in Ireland – but have not been able to find one so far.

My deduction, and it is possibly wrong… David’s name was written wrong on the church records; David was not his first name, but possible a middle or pet name.  Maybe David was adopted and John and Mary were not his biological parents. Maybe, since I can’t find birth records for David or Abby, the records were destroyed or maybe the family was not from Cork as stated.

Mike: That is very frustrating, Annie. It may be that David’s record just does not exist. It is also possible that it was not his original name as you suggest. However, I would continue with the assumption that there is a record AND his first name WAS David (based on some of my comments above.

Overall, I suggest you map out ALL of the Kelleher households around Lawrence in the 1860, 70 and 80 census – get a feel for how the different Kelleher families MAY be interrelated – and then trace some of these potential related Kellehers back to their likely homeland in Ireland to establish if there was any cluster migration from a particular region that includes your Kellehers.

However, based on the information provided – I suggest that you fully investigate the potential Kelleher/Mulcahy connection around the townland of Baneshane in the parish of Carrigtwohill. We can dig a little deeper into your discoveries and questions inside the Green Room.

Annie: Thank You, Annie Keleher.

Mike: Thank you Annie – and thank you for sharing the story of your Kelleher ancestors!

That’s it for now and we look forward to chatting again next week,


Mike and Carina.

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