Do you Know your Irish Ancestral Origins?

Do you know your Irish ancestral origins? Sometimes it can be a little tricky locating the correct origin of your ancestors in Ireland. Here is the story of one of our readers who was sure her Irish ancestors came from one area - but what was the truth of it?

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Do you Know your Irish Ancestral Origins?

I often come across a new member in the Green Room who provides us with the “facts” of their Irish ancestors origin in Ireland. I say “facts”, but these facts sometimes appear unlikely when presented to an Irish genealogist. For example, we might receive facts that a couple who were born in different parts of rural Ireland, then met and were married in a third rural part of Ireland, before going on to have children in yet a different rural location hundreds of miles away.

This sort of pattern isn’t usual in today’s world of easy transport and work options, but raises a red flag given the reality of 19th century Ireland. Most Irish of the time tended to meet and marry the children of their neighbours from the surrounding streets, villages and townlands. They then went on to have their own children, live and work among their extended families and neighbours in the same area. At least until economic necessity caused them to migrate to the nearest city or further afield.

So, when we receive any set of “unlikely facts” we first have to break it gently to the member in question – and then go back to the drawing board to sort the “possibilities” from the “unlikelys” – testing the facts provided against available records. 

Let’s take an example.

Joan is one of our Green Room members who is visiting Ireland later this year. She hopes to visit the place where her Irish Ryan ancestors once lived – but has she got the correct place of origin in mind?

She hopes to visit the place where her Irish Ryan ancestors once lived – but has she really discovered their correct place of origin in Ireland?

In this letter, we break down the information that Joan presented. We look at ways of checking the likely origins for her ancestors in Ireland to provide her with some useful ideas and locations before her scheduled trip:

My Father’s Mother’s Line Was a Ryan…

Joan: My name is Joan Frank and my father’s mother’s line was “Ryan”.  I live in Buffalo New York – but the Ryans came to Auburn, New York where I spent my earlier days.  

Mike: Nice to meet you Joan! There are certainly many Ryan families in Ireland. It is probably the most numerous surname in the north of County Tipperary where it was originally anglicised as “Mulryan”.

Joan: My first Ryan ancestor to arrive in the USA was Timothy Ryan who was married to Winifred Egan.  They both moved to Auburn, New York USA and died there around the 1900’s. Tim and Win had 8 children. One of them, Thomas, my great grandfather – came to America around 1862. I cannot find any ship record.

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An Egan Shopfront in County Clare.

Mike: So, you are saying that Timothy and Winifred married in Ireland before travelling to the US. They also had at least one child in Ireland – Thomas – who travelled with them in 1862? At least, let’s proceed on that assumption.

Joan: Timothy Ryan was born in 1822 in Clonakilty, Cork.  His father’s name was Denis Ryan and mother was Joan Donovan. Joan Donovan’s parents were Mathew Donovan of Cork and Ross.  Mother’s name Margt Sarchfield. 

The Genealogical Alarm Bells Start to Go Off.

Mike: Both Ryan and Donovan are surnames that are found in quantity in that part of County Cork. However, I wonder how you know that THIS Timothy from the Irish records was YOUR Timothy. Was it because of another record I don’t know about – or a family story?

Sarchfield is a variation on the surname “Sarsfield” – which is mostly found elsewhere in east Cork and County Limerick.

Joan: Tim and Win Egan lived in County Limerick by the time of Griffith’s Valuation of 1851 – in a place called Pallasgreen in the Parish of Templebredon.

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An O’Donovan Hotel in Clonakilty, County Cork.

Mike: Hmmm. This is beginning to sound a little unusual. Let me explain. There are MANY Ryan and Egan families across Limerick and Tipperary – and I am sure there are SOME Timothy and Winifred couples among them. However, it was unusual at the time for a Ryan born in county Cork to head to Limerick. I had a look at the families in Pallasgreen in 1851 and there were quite a few Ryan families already in that townland. This suggests that the Ryans of Pallasgreen were always in the area and did not come from County Cork.

Joan: I have a trip booked to Ireland later this year and will be in the Cork area. I want to see the land of my ancestors – but I don’t know exactly where it is!

Mike: How nice for you to have that trip to Ireland lined up! However, I think we need to step back and examine just where in Ireland your Ryan ancestors originated for certain. Of course, it is difficult to question the history you always believed to be true in such a manner.

People often “jump” across to Irish records too soon. It is often much more useful to dig deeper into the records in the place where your family immigrated. 

I had a look for mention of your Ryan family in the US on*show?id=v%2aRFE83Em%2fY&offerid=1347376.3&bids=1347376 - Do you Know your Irish Ancestral Origins? and noticed the extended Ryan family (including Timothy aged 75 and Winifred aged 65) in the 1892 New York census. I also noticed their son, Thomas – with his own young family in the 1875 New York census. That is the earliest record I could find. Maybe you can provide a pointer to earlier records? I also noticed that several people on*show?id=v%2aRFE83Em%2fY&offerid=1347376.3&bids=1347376 - Do you Know your Irish Ancestral Origins? had your Ryan family in their tree – but almost all of these trees were suspect and with few reliable sources referenced.

So, here are some outstanding questions we need to answer before moving forward – to figure out just where in Ireland your Ryan family DEFINITELY originated:

  • What is the earliest record of Timothy, Winifred and family in the US? Families were often surrounded by family and neighbours from Ireland following their arrival in the US. I notice, for example, that Timothy and Winifred have a William Ryan (aged 80) living with them in 1892.
  • How do you know that Winifred Ryan’s maiden name is “Egan”? Do you have a record source that shows this? Egan is a very rare surname for County Cork. If her maiden name was Egan – and Winifred and Timothy met and married in Ireland – then it was probably outside County Cork.
  • What are the names of their children born in Ireland – from eldest to youngest? Irish naming patterns may help us to establish the likely names of the parents of Timothy and Winifred in Ireland.

Once we establish answers to each of the above, we then stand a better chance of eliminating the unlikely origins for your Ryan ancestors – and focus on the more probable Irish locations. It is entirely possible that your Ryan ancestor moved from south County Cork to County Limerick to settle in the area with your Egan ancestor. It just sounds suspicious and needs verification before accepting it as a fact. I’d hate to have you head to Cork and realise a few years from now that your roots are, in fact, in County Limerick or elsewhere!

We really look forward to coming up with some definite places that Joan can add to her Irish trip itinerary over the coming weeks.

That’s it for this week. As always, do feel free to leave a comment below if you would like share a story or the Irish surnames in your family.

Slán for now,


P.S. This article contains affiliate links for Ancestry.comshow?id=v%2aRFE83Em%2fY&offerid=1347376.3&bids=1347376 - Do you Know your Irish Ancestral Origins?. If you choose to purchase we may get a small fee at no extra cost to you. This helps keep the show on the road.

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