Doing Your Family Tree
The wedding photo on our wall at home of Peggy’s grandparents, John Gough and Alice Mulcahy, first got me interested in family trees and genealogy. I wondered what their life had been like in Massachusetts, what had brought them back to Ireland in 1899 and what had become of their family…. especially their daughters born in America who had re-emigrated.
So started my quest over the last ten years or so to piece it all together. I had a lot of info to begin with as my mother liked nothing better than “tracing”. So, I had heard about the Goughs, Houihans, Gaizleys, Guirys, Mulcahys, Dalys, Hickeys, Quinlans and Lonergans on her side. My dad Mickey’s side is a bit trickier though. As he was 50 when I was born, generally his ancestors were going back further in time; though I knew there were Phelan/Whelans, McGraths, Bagges and Houlihans on his side.
Today, I have almost 15,900 people in my Ancestry.com tree!! I hasten to add that they are not all “blood” relatives as some are the family connections of in-laws. And I have thousands of DNA matches from all over the world. Along the way I got a lot of collaboration in pulling it together from cousins and friends for which I am forever grateful.
Above My Current DNA Matches - (left) Ancestry.com (right) MyHeritage.com
I’ve learnt a huge amount from doing the family tree. A tiny number of things I learned that I didn’t know before are set out in the attached photos. Some of it has been amusing. And some extremely sad.
Overall, it has been a hugely enriching experience, learning about the lives of those who have gone before me on whose shoulders I stand. Admiring their strength and fortitude. Learning about where they lived and what they worked at. From the start, I was not so much interested in the “rich and famous”… if indeed there were any….but more interested in the “ordinary” people who triumphed in the face of adversity. (That said, I did find I have tenuous links to both First Lady Jackie Kennedy Onassis and Audrey Hepburn!! 😊).
Above: My Family Tree Chart Going Back 4 Generations
Moreover, I’ve had the pleasure of getting to know living cousins I never knew I had….and have had the privilege to even meet a few in person. I hope to continue doing so in the future and perhaps visit Massachusetts in particular to where many of my relations emigrated. I’ve also had lots of fun collaborating with cousins here, rekindling kinship on this side of the Atlantic.
So, today’s blog gives some advice on starting your own family tree. I would encourage everyone to give it a go if you have the time. Also, if any of you out there believe you might be related to me through any of the families above, I’d love to hear from you!
I learnt that both my paternal great, great grandfather, James McGrath (son's marriage registration above) AND my maternal great, great grandfather, William Mulcahy (death registration below) were Tailors!! (From www.irishgenealogy.ie)
Starting Your Family Tree
If you’d like some advice on resources to help you trace your ancestors, I’ve set out below some of the tools that I myself have used. Researching family history is a hobby that’s booming in popularity, especially since archives became accessible online and TV shows such as ‘Who do you think you are’.
There has never been a better time to research Irish family history in particular. The increased awareness of the huge numbers who descend from emigrants, and who cherish that historic connection, has had a dramatic effect. Politicians and public servants now accept that it should be as easy as possible for members of the Irish diaspora to unearth the historical detail of the connection, their family history. Publicly-funded websites such as:
IrishGenealogy.ie, genealogy.nationalarchives.ie, askaboutireland.ie, databases.dublincity.ie and nidirect.gov.uk/proni have gone about supplying the tools to make that possible.
Above: My brothers, Martin and John only lived 13 and 18 hours respectively 😢(From www.irishgenealogy.ie)
The result is that most people of Irish origin can now take their family back to the second quarter of the 19th century quickly and easily and, for the most part, without payment. I’ve set out links to those many free resources, as well as paid genealogy services which could help speed up the process or guide you towards records you may not have known existed. It also covers new ways to trace your ancestry using increasingly popular home DNA kits.
Getting started – ask your Aunty!!
Before you go near any records, be sure and talk to your family. It makes no sense to spend days trawling through databases to find out your great-grandmother’s surname if your Aunty Annie already knows it!
So first, talk to parents, aunts, uncles, cousins, grandparents - find out what they know before they’re gone for good. Everyone I’ve met who has an interest in genealogy regrets not asking more questions when we had the chance!! Most families have at least one individual who keeps track of the extended network of relatives, and if you can bend her ear (it usually is a her), you’re off to a good start.
Make sure to ask about any Memory Cards or old photos you’ve seen around at home.
Above: Memory Cards for my lovely paternal aunt, Katty, & lovely maternal grandfather, Jack. (RIP)
One of my late mother’s favourite pastimes was visiting graveyards to look at headstones. Bear in mind that dates on headstones are often wrong as the headstone may be erected years after a death when the grave is full! Nowadays, thankfully, many graveyards are online at findagrave.com. Many wonderful volunteers have taken the time to not only photograph and locate headstones but, in many cases, attach records of births, marriages and deaths as well as linking graves of relatives.
Above: Some family headstones from Carrick, Rathgormack, Worcester (Massachussets)
My name is Mary and this is my bucket list blog ...having survived a near-death experience. I hope it encourages you to "live your best life". See how I'm completing my own bucket list items. And let me know how you're getting on with yours!