The Irish in America


There just may be more to the story…

I hesitate to use the term genealogy when I describe my family history research.  Why?  Because I am not very good about the data – filling in family charts with the names and birth dates of distant cousins doesn’t interest me as much as the stories about the people on the chart.  Don’t get me wrong, I am thrilled if my research brings me to a previously unknown relative with family photos, stories, or simply a shared interest in the family history, but when I look at my family tree, I am drawn to the little branches that stop abruptly.  These nubs represent bachelor uncles and spinster aunts, those who married but had no children and those who moved away, never to be heard from again.  They also represent children and young adults whose lives were cut short, leaving behind siblings and parents to remember them.  These are the stories I grew up listening to my grandma tell, and these individuals were mysterious to me and I always wanted to learn more about their lives.

Unfortunately, my attraction to these figures tends to set me up for disappointment as a researcher.  Often the content of the stories my grandma told is all the information there is on the family members.  But sometimes it is possible to flesh out their stories using the myriad of resources available to us today.

My grandma used to tell me about her Aunt Rose who never married and supported herself working in a department store in the city.  Grandma always liked Rose and thought she was very polished and fancy.  A simple search on shed more light on where Rose lived and worked.  She was employed in the millinery department of St. Paul department store (which would explain her appearance to my grandma), and she also worked for a time at the National Biscuit Company.  When I looked at the Clontarf, Minnesota archive I discovered that Rose also worked at a hospital in Iowa and kept current with her insurance policy with the Ladies Auxiliary of the Ancient Order of Hibernians in Clontarf.  She wrote letters to the Auxiliary secretary,  inquiring as to the health of her uncle and said she would be home soon for a few weeks to help care for him.  A little research, together with my grandma’s stories helped to paint a picture of what Rose was like – an independent single woman working to support herself and help her extended family.

Aunt Rose McMahon, with her sister Kate McMahon Mears

When older generations pass away, it often takes the younger people a while to become interested in family stories and history.  During this lag time, details become fuzzy, memories fade, and letters are thrown away.  This is where resources found on the internet can help fill the void and begin to put the pieces back together.  The research I do for my own family history is the same that goes into tracing an Irish relative who emigrated to America.  This broader approach to family history allows us to learn more about our roots and what makes us who we are.

I won’t bore you with all the details, but some other family members who have piqued my interest (and imagination) over the years include Uncle Jackie who fell off the threshing machine and died of tuberculosis of the spine, little Francis who died after eating poisoned plums, and cranky old Aunt Maggie who never married because her boyfriend “snuffed himself out” – he blew out a gas lamp in his hotel room.

These people deserve to be remembered just as much as those who had families and descendants of their own.  There is usually more to a story, something to extend that branch just a bit further.  The same goes for Irish people wondering about a member of their family who “disappeared” to America.  It is not too late to find out what happened to them.

Please check out the Resources page for help on getting started with your own research, or send an email to:  If you would like to hire a professional to help in your search, please visit the Services page for more information.


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The Unmarked Grave

I have exchanged emails with Margaret from County Galway regarding her American relatives.  When I first heard from Margaret, I thought her request was fairly standard: she was looking a relative, Catherine McLoughlin Dempsey, who was born 1887 in Coolcalliga, Moylough, County Galway and emigrated to the US.  Catherine and a daughter returned to Ireland for a visit in the 1960s.

I was easily able to find Catherine by doing an search.  In addition to the census and passenger list data, there was a family tree that had been submitted by an user.  This family tree included Catherine McLoughlin Dempsey with the exact birth date and place.  I have attempted to make contact with the author of the family tree, but as yet have been unsuccessful.

Margaret was quite pleased to learn about Catherine’s life in America, but she wanted to learn if there were any surviving members of the family.  You see, Catherine’s mother, Margaret Clancy McLoughlin, is buried in Moylough without a grave marker.  Margaret (also Margaret Clancy before she was married) had hoped to locate a direct descendant who might help remedy that.

An Irish Cemetery (not in County Galway, but County Kildare) - photo by Regan McCormack

I am competent in historical research, but tracing living people is another story.  I found a Dempsey in the Long Island town where Catherine died, but when Margaret contacted him she learned he was a recent arrival to the area and unrelated.

There are more of Margaret’s relatives I have yet to fully research, but I was thrilled with the information on them that Margaret shared.  Here is a portion of her email:

Nora  Clancy  married an O.Hara They had 2 children (may have been adopted) mary and ?John I think he was in the Korean war AS were the Coogans .Their mother wasCatherine or maybe Kate .Her husband was from Kilkerin CoGalway  we prayed for them every night after the rosary in what we called Trimmings  They were known as:” The boys in the War.”4 of the Coogans visited Ireland late sixties or early seventies ,no one seemed to have exchanged addresses!!!    we also had Nellie clancy married Nick guerin ;They lived in Fortlauderdale on retirement.and Ive a faint recollection of Posting mail to:Flushing Newyork. ;where they had a sister Mollie  never married,She sent me 100 dollars when I got married in 1967!!! . There was a brother James  died 1952 I think,He wasnt too popular with the sisters… He never came back to Ireland, I think Nellie was the only one to visit,She was  returning to the states when the Lusitania sank,I remember finding an old letter when my aunt died and reading about the debris floating on the sea!

Margaret provides many interesting details, but I especially liked the bit about how they prayed for the “Boys in the War” each night after the Rosary.  She has so much information on these relatives.  I will trace these relatives and share the results here.  In the meantime, maybe someone will read this with ties to these Clancy siblings…

Making the Connection

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The first comment left on this blog was from Mai in County Wexford back in early October.  Mai was interested in learning about her mother’s cousins who left Ireland and settled in Pennsylvania, USA.  With the few details Mai provided, I was able to do a quick search of US genealogy records and find her family.

Mai told me the names and birth dates for her mother’s aunt and uncle who emigrated to the USA.  She also knew the place-name of their residence, as well as the names of the children.  These details were just enough for me to identify the family on a passenger list on a ship from Ireland, their residences in the US Census for 1920 and 1930, and listings in the Social Security Death Index.

Last week I received an email from Mai:

Hi Aine Thanks for your help in finding my relatives in Pennsylvania. I  have made contact with them and we now e-mail  regularly. They are delighted at finding us too. Thanks again…

I am not surprised that Mai’s American relatives were delighted to hear from her; there are many Irish Americans who would be thrilled to receive an email from a long-lost Irish relative.

Have you reached out to your American relations, or have you been contacted by an Irish relative?  Please share your experiences by leaving a comment!  I would love to hear your stories…

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