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?

We 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 often appear to be unlikely when presented to an Irish genealogist.

For example, it might be believed that a couple who were born in different parts of Ireland met and were married in a third part of Ireland, before going on to have their children in yet another county.

While this sort of pattern may be likely in today’s world of easy transport and work options, they were unlikely scenarios 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. That is, until economic necessity caused them to migrate to the nearest city or even 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 out the possibilities from the probabilities gaining the facts based on discovered records. 

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? In this letter, we break down the information that Joan presented – and look at ways of checking the probable origins of her ancestors in Ireland so we can provide her with some useful ideas and locations before her scheduled trip. Read on to find out more!

My Father’s Mother’s Line Was a Ryan…

Joan: My name is Joan Frank and my father’s mother’s line was a “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 “Mulryan”.

Joan: I have been doing my family history since the late 70’s. 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.

An Egan Shopfront in County Clare.

Mike: It sounds like 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 do wonder how you know that THIS Timothy you came across in 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 in by the time of Griffith’s Valuation of 1851 – in a place called Pallasgreen in the Parish of Templebredon.  

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 very 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 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 for May 15 2019.  Day 8 and 9 of the trip will be to the Cork area. I am mostly English then Dutch and Irish.  But I feel very close to the Irish. 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 a little and examine just where in Ireland your Ryan ancestors originated for certain. Of course, this can be difficult to have the history you always believed questioned in such a manner.

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

I had a look for mention of your Ryan family in the US on 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 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 we move forward and figure out just where in Ireland your Ryan family DEFINITELY originated:

  • What is the earliest record of Timothy, Winifred and family in the US? Well, 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 will 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 can then focus on the more probable Irish locations. We really look forward to coming up with some definite places that Joan can add to her Irish trip itinerary in 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,

Mike and Carina.

  • Carol Sue Palmer says:

    As far as I have been able to tell, the McTigues came from Mayo and Galway, but sorting which branch is which as proven to be difficult. My g-g-grandfather and his brother came over together. John Hugh and Patrick. According to lore, they either killed their stepfather with a stick of stove wood while he was beating their mother, or they killed a British soldier. The older generations were not as curious as we are. Carol Sue Palmer

  • Mary says:

    I do have ancestors who were from two parts of Ireland, Cork and Meath. My ancestor, John Ahern, was born in Castlemartyr, County Cork, around 1800, married Bridget Gibbons, Ross, County Meath. John was a stone cutter, and heard about a quarry in Ross. He eventually took over the quarry and the family worked it for several generations. On his headstone, erected by his son, it says, “born in Cork.” The story was well known in Ross. When my mother visited, a woman told her that John stayed with her great grandmother to heal his sore feet after walking from Cork!

  • Shawn says:

    My g-g-g grandfather Patrick Doolin/Doolan Dolan/Dooley b. Abt 1837 Ireland and my g-g-g grandmother Catherine Green Greene were believed to come from somewhere in Tipperary as of family verbal or Louth as in a Newspaper article written about my ancestors noted later in this story. I do not know if they were married in Ireland or Lincoln, Niagara, Ontario Canada. They were in the 1861 Canada West Ontario census with child #1 William born in 1859 Ontario Canada and Child #2 Thomas born in 1860 Ontario, Canada. I am a direct descendant of William. In August 1862 Patrick is mustered into the Civil war from Lockport, Niagara, New York, USA. He was wounded in 1864 extent unknown. He was mustered out in 1865. Between 1865- 1868 or 1869 he and Catherine have 4 more boys, Daniel, Thomas A, Frederick J, and James. I believe Thomas born 1860 Canada died, as Thomas A. was born 1866. I cannot find a death record. The only other mention I have of Catherine is an 1868 Lockport City directory where she is listed as Doolan, Catherine Mrs. No mention of Patrick ?? A Newspaper article written about my ancestors titled Fates Sad Romance published by the Chicago Daily News and copied to The Lima News (Ohio, USA) It states Catherine died (cannot find a death certificate) between 1868-1870; Patrick disbursed all the boys to orphanages. The last being William as he is in the 187O US census in Niagara county New York with Patrick and a few months later with the family that adopted him. From this article 3 of the boys reunited 2 living in Chicago (William and Thomas A.) and Frederick J. of Rochester, New York. Daniel and James had died the article stated as narrated by Thomas A.

  • Sue Diggle says:

    My husbands 3 x ggrandparents came over to England from Ireland. Samuel morrison from drumlough, down and Mary ann hamill from carrodore, down. He was born 1856 and she was born 1857. On the marriage cert it looks like his father’s name was Thomas although the marriage record that comes up on ancestry has him as Norman. Mary Ann’s father was john born 1828. She had a brother Alexander born 1849. I have no other details to be able to trace there roots. Would love to trace there families.

  • Ann (Nancy) Cappiello says:

    My father was John McNamara. Born in London within the sound of the Bowe Bells 1902. He grew up in Mitchelstown County Cork sent their when his mother died delivering twins.He was told the twins died however my DNA turned up a Richard McNamara born on the day and place of that event. It seems at least one twin survived.
    My father remained in Ireland until January 1923 when he left for Canada.
    I am trying to find out where Richard was raised. He lived eventually in Connecticut USA
    And died in 1939. I have been in touch with his granddaughter who is Mary Ann I’m Ann Mary. She knows very little about him and her mother has passed.
    My father’s life was very interesting as he witnessed some sad things as Ireland was struggling for independence. He was young and he said it made him sad and angry.
    My mother’s maiden name was Sarsfield. She grew up in Northern England and knew nothing about her Surname.
    My father educated her about Patrick Sarsfield.
    I have to admit he had no desire to return to Ireland. I wish he had I’ve been several times and met wonderful family.