Irish Church Records: Are You Looking In The Correct Place?

Irish Church Records can provide wonderful information as you dig deeper into your Irish ancestry research. However, it is important to make sure that you are looking for the records in the correct place - as we find out in the following reader letter.

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Irish Church Records: Are You Looking In The Correct Place?

Over in the Green Room, we often ask our members to share the religion that their Irish ancestor practiced. This is a purely practical matter – as once we know the religion we can look at the correct set of Irish church records. A good example of this can be found in this week’s letter.

Irish Church Records: Which Religion Did YOUR Irish Ancestors Practice?

We have a chat with a lovely couple from Texas in the USA – whose Mulhern ancestors came  from County Donegal originally. Notice how we use the Irish census records to determine the likely religion of their ancestors – which helps, in turn, to investigate the correct church records. Over to Lynda and Ron Mulhern:

Lynda: My name is Lynda Turner Mulhern, but my husband is Ronald Charles Mulhern. We live in the Hill Country of Texas in the small town of Kerrville. It is really beautiful here and a nice place for retirement.. I’ve been interested in and done research on our families for about 10 years; the time to do it just wasn’t there before.

Mike: Very nice to meet you both, Lynda and Ron.

Lynda: I’d love to know more about my husband’s family, the Mulherns of County Donegal. I’ve made it a special concern of mine to try to bring this family to life; as my husband (now 81) has known nothing about his family beyond his grandparents. I have worked on this for several years and, at one point, gave up.

Mike: Mulhern is an interesting surname, Lynda. It comes from the Irish for “descendant of the devotee of St. Kieran” (“Ó Maolchiaráin” – any Kierans in your family?). The family came out of County Roscommon originally but were scattered across many of the counties of northwest Ireland including Donegal. The name is typically spelled Mulheron/Mulherin in Donegal.

Lynda: James Mulhern and Sarah Russell were my husband’s 2X great grandparents. Their cemetery markers were all I had to go on; they stated that he was born in 1818 in Donegal County and she was born there in 1816. They had a son, Thomas William, born in 1844 in Ireland; the next child, James Alexander, was born in 1846 in Bethany, Brooke Co., Virginia (now W. Va.). This leaves their emigration date as probably 1845.

Mike: The church records of County Donegal started quite late – so it is good that you have those approximate – and do treat them as approximate – years of birth on their stones.

Lynda: Four more sons and one daughter were born in Boothe Co., Virginia before they all moved to Washington County, Iowa, in 1863. Thomas William became a doctor, while the other sons were mostly farmers, though one had a furniture store and another owned a pool parlor at one time. Anna, the daughter, taught school before marrying. Starting over in America must have been extremely difficult; in 1860 James and Sarah were “washing” to support seven children.

Mike: It appears that the family really came up in the world during the next generation. That hard start must have been worth it!

Lynda: The dates I have to work with have been outside the dates where usable Irish records are available; but during one last look at old records (Thomas William’s obituary), I found the correct townland, “Cashelshanaghan”. Using this information, I believe the parish is Aughnish and, of course, the county is Donegal!

Mike: That is a great find, Lynda! Cashelshanaghan (pronounced Cashel Shanahan) is located on the shores of Lough Swilly, to the north-east of the town of Letterkenny in Donegal. You can see the townland location here.

As you say, the townland is in the Roman Catholic Parish of Aughnish – and the relevant Irish church records only started there in 1873. However, the next step is to look at the land records known as “Griffith’s Valuation” – which in this case covers Cashelshanaghan in 1858. Here, you can see a “John Mulhern” and several Russell families in situ.It is probable that these Mulhern and Russell families are relatives of yours – your task is to go to the Green Room and we can see how all of this “stitches together”.

Lynda: In the 1850 census, Sarah’s mother Prudence Russell is found living with them in Boothe Co., Virginia (she must have made the trip with them), but she was missing from the one in 1860, I have never found her maiden name, nor as yet, the Russells in County Donegal; I also can’t be sure of the place of departure before emigrating, but emigrate they did; not knowing what lay ahead. I’ve not heard stories of great deeds, but what a brave thing they did.

Mike: Prudence is an unusual first name in Ireland. In Donegal it is almost always a name of someone of a Protestant faith rather than Roman Catholic. This is a key point. We always ask people to tell us the religion of a person who immigrated from Ireland – sometimes the reply is “what’s that got to do with anything?”. The answer is that it means a lot when it comes to looking up the correct Irish church records. Always bear this in mind.

However, since you provided the surname of Mulhern and the townland of Cashelshanaghan – I can check the 1901 census to see if there were any Mulherns in the townland and have found one household here. I see that the members of the household were Presbyterian – so, if these are related to your Mulherns I can assume your Mulhern family church records exist within the Irish Presbyterian records – not the Roman Catholic ones.So, let me assume that your family were Presbyterian. In that case, Cashelshanaghan exists within a different church parish to the RC one (bear with me on this) – it’s located inside the “Ramelton First Presbyterian” parish.

Baptisms for THAT parish were recorded from 1806 – and marriages from 1807. In fact, I discovered the following:

  • James Mulhern and Sarah Russell were married on 14th December, 1843.
  • Their first son, Thomas Mulhern, was born on 1st September, 1844. Their place of residence was given as “Breaghy”.

So, always be conscious of the religion of your ancestors when searching for relevant records in Ireland. It’s a purely practical matter!

Lynda: We have never been to Ireland in any way but by television, and I don’t expect we ever will; but what a time we’d have! We’d love to know if James and Sarah left family there and who they might be. Did James work at something different from  the farming he did later? How did they live, what did they see? Where did Sarah’s family live? and, oh yes, where was the pub?!? We may never SEE any of this, but we’ll have a grand time looking for clues to this Irish mystery of ours.

Mike: As I mention above, it does look like the Mulherns and Russells left family in Ireland – and we can try to stitch the pieces together over in the Green Room with the help of our two genealogists (click here to see more).

Lynda: If I’ve left anything out, please let me know…and thank you so much for writing, Lynda.

Mike. Thank you very much Lynda – there is a lot already contained in your story – and I think there is a lot to discover. Also, do let us know if there are any “Kierans” in your family tree!

How about you? Are you looking for the RIGHT Irish church records in the right place?

That’s it for this week, be sure to leave a comment below if you wish to share a story or the surnames in your Irish family tree.

Slán for now,Mike & Carina.

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