Tales of My Home
Stories about the Lower Merrimack Valley region of Massachusetts
I have not been able to determine where any Irish ancestors lived before they emigrated to the United States at the time of the Potato Famine. The most I have been able to find is ports of disembarkation via ship records.
A huge drawback in doing research is that the Irish census records for the years 1821 to 1851 were almost entirely destroyed in the fire which consumed the Public Record Office of Ireland in 1922 after bombardment in the Irish civil war. The 1821 census was the first full census of Ireland.
Nationwide civil registration of births and deaths started in 1864, and is therefore also not helpful.
“Before the start of civil registration for all in 1864, virtually the only direct sources of family information for the vast majority of the population are the local parish records. However, because of the disadvantages suffered by the Catholic Church from the sixteenth to the nineteenth centuries, record-keeping was understandably difficult…”
“In the poorest and most densely populated rural parishes of the West and North, those which saw most emigration [most ancestors named Driscoll, McDonnell as well as McCarthy would have likely come from the far southwest], the parish registers very often do not start until the mid or late nineteenth century. However, the majority of Catholic registers begin in the first decades of the nineteenth century, and even in poor areas, records were often kept from an earlier date.”
Unfortunately, many Catholic parish records are not online. “The only way to be sure of the extent of surviving records is to check the individual parish. The National Library catalogue, available at the counter in the main reading room [of the Irish National Records Office], is the only printed, comprehensive, country-wide account of Catholic registers…” That said, an increasing number of Catholic church records have been put on line starting in 2011, although not everything has been indexed.
Even if I find the time someday to investigate Catholic parish records in detail, deciphering them might not be easy.
“Baptisms and marriages are recorded in either Latin or English, never in Irish. Generally, parishes in the more prosperous areas, where English was more common, tended to use English, while in Irish-speaking parishes Latin was used.”
Assuming most of my ancestors came from rural Cork, Irish (or Gaelic) would still have been used in some pockets. The fact that names are in Latin presents research problems. Here is a partial interpretive key showing how English names were translated into Latin. (Keeping in mind that most English names were Anglicizations of traditional Gaelic names!):
Carolus = Charles
Demetrius = Jeremiah/Jerome/Dermot
Gulielmus =William (I have not seen any William among my Irish ancestors)
Eugenius = Owen or Eugene
Ioannes or Joannes = John; and so on.
Dispensations for marriages between cousins were often given. “These were necessary when the two people marrying were related, consanguinati, and the relationship was given in terms of degrees, with siblings first degree, first cousins second degree, and second cousins third degree, Thus a couple recorded as consanguinati in tertio grado are second cousins, information which can be of value in disentangling earlier generations.”
A typical Latin entry in its full form might read:
Baptisavi Johannem, filium legitimum Michaeli Sheehan et Mariae Sullivan de Lisquill. Sponsoribus, Danielus Quirk, Johanna Donoghue.
Much more often the entry is abbreviated to:
Bapt. Johannem, f.l. Michaeli Sheehan et Mariae Sullivan, Lisquill, Sp: Daniel Quirk, Johanna Donoghue.
Translated, this is simply "I baptised John, legitimate son of Michael Sheehan and Mary Sullivan of Lisquill, with godparents Daniel Quirk and Johanna Donoghue".
A typical Latin entry for a marriage would read:
In matrimonium coniunxi Danielum McCarthy et Brigidam Kelliher, de Ballyboher.
Testimonii: Cornelius Buckley, Margarita Hennessy.
Abbreviated, the entry reads:
Mat. con. Danielum McCarthy et Brigidam Kelliher, Ballyboher. Test. Cornelius Buckley, Margarita Hennessy.
Meaning, simply, "I joined Daniel McCarthy and Brigid Kelliher, of Ballyboher, in matrimony; witnesses, Cornelius Buckley, Margaret Hennessy."
The fact that Irish children were typically named after specific relatives in accordance with birth order, most families have a limited set of first names, making research more difficult because many people have the same first and last name!
Irish naming conventions - or why everyone in an extended family seems to have the same five or six names!
The common practice of naming children after relatives according to a set formula meant that families often had a constellation of a dozen or fewer first names for girls and a dozen or fewer first names for girls across many generations, especially if cousins were marrying each other.
The first born daughter is named after the maternal grandmother (mother’s mother); first born son is named after the paternal grandfather (father’s father); the second daughter is named after the paternal grandmother (father’s mother); the second son is named after the maternal grandfather (mother’s father); the third daughter is named after the mother; the third son is named after the father; the fourth daughter is named after her mother’s oldest sister (Aunt), the fourth son is named after his father’s oldest brother, etc. Among my Driscoll ancestors (my mother's mother's maiden name), the main names include John, Patrick and Jeremiah for boys, and Mary and Ellen for girls. Jeremiah somehow had become the Anglicization of Irish name Diarmaid, now more commonly anglicized as Dermot.
 http://www.irishtimes.com/ancestor/browse/records/church/catholic/#Church. All text in quotes in this blog entry comes from this source.