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A Letter from Ireland:
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Using a Simple Irish Ancestry Timeline

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Sometimes, the best way to break down an ancestry brick wall is to go back to basics. In this letter, we construct a simple Irish Ancestry timeline that throws up many questions that need to answered as we make progress in tracking the Irish family of one of our readers.

Irish Ancestry Timeline

Céad Míle Fáilte – and welcome to your Letter from Ireland for this week. How are things in your part of the world today? I hope you are having a great Thankgiving holiday if you are in the USA. Can you believe that we have hit December 1st already – where did that year go? Right, let’s not wish it away just yet!

I’m having a cup of Barry’s tea as I write – and I do hope you will join me with a cup of whatever you fancy as we start into today’s letter.

When we lived in England during the 1990s, a phrase that I heard many times was “teaching granny to suck eggs”. Maybe you have heard it in your family? It was used in a context of not wanting to insult another person by stating what should be common sense already e.g. standing in front of a group of experts and saying “I don’t want to teach granny to suck eggs, so instead of starting with the basics, let’s move straight onto the more advanced stuff”. Everyone in the audience nods sagely at this approach while more than one or two of them wishes that you WOULD start by going back to the basics.

I was reminded of this phrase recently when I saw how our genealogists in the Green Room (hi Jayne and Pam!) handle most queries and questions they receive in the forum. They ALWAYS start with the basics to make sure nothing is missed out. They normally receive a few paragraphs of information but ALWAYS convert it to a basic timeline. They are not worried about insulting Granny!

The following reader letter gives an example of this “back to basics Irish ancestry timeline” – I do hope you find it useful!

Back to Basics with a Simple Irish Ancestry Timeline.

Some of our readers are very fortunate – their Irish ancestors left Ireland quite recently and they know quite a lot about them as a result. Some have even been able to gain Irish citizenship through an Irish-born grandparent.

Such is the case with our reader story today. His Irish grandmother arrived in the USA in the early 1900s – and he know a lot about her life in the USA. However, when he reaches back to Ireland the information available is limited and he would like to know more about the life and times of his ancestors who remained in Ireland.

So, in this letter, William Badzmierowski will share his ancestral story – and we’ll build a simple Irish ancestry timeline from what he provides – and then attempt to construct questions that will help us fill the gaps between the known events and dates. How does that sound? 

Over to you, William:

William: My name is William Francis Badzmierowski. I live in St. Petersburg, Florida, USA.  I am a dual citizen of the Irish Republic and the USA. This is due to the fact that my Grandmother –  Bridget Theresa O’Mahony Gifford – was born in Ireland and I was approved for Irish Citizenship by Descent in 2016. I have been tracing my Irish family history for approximately 10 years.

Mike: Nice to meet you William! Great that you managed to get that dual citizenship – a lot of people in our readership wish for more recent Irish ancestors to achieve the same. Good for you!

William: My grandmother – Bridget Theresa O’Mahony Gifford – was born in County Cork and emigrated to Boston in 1905. Her parents were Denis O’Mahony and Catherine Lehane O’Mahony. 

  • Denis O’Mahony was born abt.1857 in Little Island in County Cork, – and died about 1946 in Cork.
  • Catherine Lehane O’Mahony was born on 29 May, 1859 and died abt. 1939 in Carrigtohill, Cork. They were married 4/2/1883 in Carrigtohill, Cork
  • Their daughter Bridget Theresa – was born on 9 March, 1887 at Lying Inn Hospital in Cork.  She died 2 February 1967 in Cambridge, Massachusetts, USA.

Mike: Very interesting. Have you ever heard of Grace Gifford? There is a famous Irish song called “Grace” – based on the final hours of Grace Gifford and her new husband, James Plunkett.

Mahony/O’Mahony is a surname found in quantity across Munster – especially in County Cork where they were a major family presence. Both Mahony and Lehane (often anglicised as “Lyons”) are found in quantity in the places in east County Cork that you mention.

The “Lying In” Hospital was a small maternity hospital that later became the “Erinville maternity hospital” – which still stands today.

William: My grandmother’s baptism certificate states that at the time of her baptism (at the present Carrigtohill Parish) her parents lived at Fota Island. Carrigtohill Parish records indicate that my great grandmother was also baptized there and that she and my great grandfather were married there.

Mike: It’s worthwhile getting our bearings here with placenames and land divisions:

  • Carrigtohill is a GARRISON/MARKET TOWN to the east of Cork City. It is also BOTH a ROMAN CATHOLIC PARISH and a CIVIL PARISH.
  • Fota Island is to the south of Carrigtohill town. It was an estate owned by the Barrymores – the main line of Norman Barrys who arrived in Cork in the 1100s. It is also a TOWNLAND.

William: I am not sure what occupations my great-grandparents held in Cork, but current relatives in Cork seem to suggest that they both may have been in service at Fota House. Other than this, I don’t know much about my great grandparents.  I do have extensive information about my maternal grandmother – their daughter.

Mike: I had a look at their marriage cert – and your great-grandparents were both listed as “labourers” at the time. We’ll have a look at this – and more about the life of your great-grandparents a little further in this letter.

By the way, have you ever been to Ireland?

William: I have been to both the Irish Republic and to Northern Ireland numerous times over the past 35 years.

Mike: Good for you! It sounds like you had ample opportunity to walk the places that your Irish ancestors both lived and worked. Did you know that the Fota estate and house are both open to the public? The estate as a wildlife park – and the house has also been beautifully restored and conserved.

William: I simply know very little about my great grandparents and any information is deeply appreciated.  I am especially interested in how they spent their lives with my maternal grandmother during her early years.  I also can’t seem to verify whether or not they had any other children other than my maternal grandmother.

Questions from an Irish Ancestry Timeline.

Mike: Right. When you work with a genealogist (including Jayne and Pam), one of the first things they will do is establish a timeline of known facts – and then look to generate interesting questions that relate to the gaps between the years.

Let’s take an example. Here is a timeline version of the information you provided:

  • 1857 (about): Denis Mahony born in County Cork, Ireland.
  • 1859: Catherine born in County Cork, Ireland.
  • 1883: Denis and Catherine married in County Cork, Ireland.
  • 1887: Bridget born in County Cork, Ireland.
  • 1905: Bridget emigrates to Boston, Mass. USA
  • 1939: Catherine dies in Cork, Ireland
  • 1946: Denis dies in Cork, Ireland
  • 1967: Bridget dies in Cambridge, Mass. USA

I had a look at a number of the records related to the events that you mention above – and one of the biggest mysteries is tracking the whereabouts of Denis Mahony at any particular time. 

So, here is the timeline again – but I have now included many of the questions that can be further explored in detail in the Green Room with one of our genealogists – so you you can generate a wider appreciation of the life and times of your Mahony/Lenhane ancestors:

  • 1857 (about): Denis Mahony born in County Cork, Ireland.
    • Question: Where precisely was Denis born? Who were his parents (father was also a Denis)? Who were his siblings?
  • 1859: Catherine born in County Cork, Ireland.
    • Question: Where precisely was Catherine born? Who were her parents (father was a John)? Who were her siblings?
  • 1883: Denis and Catherine married in County Cork, Ireland.
    • Question: Where precisely was each living at the time of their marriage?
    • Question: Who were the witnesses to the wedding? Friends? Family?
    • Question: What was their precise occupation at the time of their wedding?
    • Question: What children – if any – did they have between 1883 and 1887?
    • Question: Where did the family live between 1883 and 1887?
  • 1887: Bridget born in County Cork, Ireland.
    • Question: Who were the sponsors to the baptism? Friends? Neighbours?
    • Question: Where were the family in the 1901 census? I saw the record and Denis was not in the house on the night – where was he?
  • 1905: Bridget emigrates to Boston, Mass. USA
    • Question: Precisely where and when did Bridget leave Ireland?
    • Question: Who travelled with her?
    • Question: Who sponsored her?
    • Question: Who did she travel to?
    • Question: Who were her neighbours when she first arrived in the US?
    • Question: Was she ever joined later by friends, family, neighbours from home?
    • Question: Was there ever any correspondence between Bridget and people back in Ireland?
    • Question: Where is the family in the 1901 census?
  • 1939: Catherine dies in Cork, Ireland
    • Question: I saw this death record – but Catherine is listed as a widow – did Denis pre-decease her?
  • 1946: Denis dies in Cork, Ireland
    • Question: Where is the record for this? See point above.
  • 1967: Bridget dies in Cambridge, Mass. USA

From the above – it becomes a lot easier to work on one question at a time as well as generating follow-on questions. Over time (literally!) – a clear picture starts to emerge of the life and times, work and movements of your Mahony/Lehane ancestry in County Cork.

So, William – I will place the above into the Green Room and you can get to work on the timeline and questions under the supervision of our Ireland-based genealogist, Jayne McGarvey.

How does that sound to you?

Thank you very much for sharing part of the story of your Irish ancestors from County Cork – I think it will be fascinating to see more parts of this story start to emerge.

How about you – our other readers? Is it time for you to go back to basics for one of your Irish ancestors, establish a simple ancestry timeline for one of them – and start to formulate the questions that will help to “fill the gaps” between the events that you already know. Or, am I trying to “teach Granny to suck eggs”?

Slán for this week,

Mike & Carina.

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