Which one is your ancestor?.

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One of the challenges facing family historians is the plethora of same names in the same geographical area. This poses a particular problem in Irish genealogy.

Most Irish families followed a particular pattern of naming their first sons after the paternal grandfather. So, if you have four brothers naming each of their sons John or Patrick, then untangling the familial relationships and determining which is correct for your ancestor is a real headache.

This is further compounded by  the propensity for the Irish to remain in the one area, making it impossible to get the clear line of descent. Although the Irish went to the ends of the earth, those that remained on the island often congregated together, especially in a rural setting, often working their smallholdings cooperatively. Yes, some did gravitate to the cities – Belfast, Cork, Dublin – but enough remained in the same parish to cause headaches for modern day genealogists.

Even in their place of settlement, be it Scotland or America, the Irish tended to congregate together. This became one of their great strengths and allowed them to punch above their weight.

So, when searching in say the UK or American Census – always pay attention to the surrounding families. One key way of working with this problem is to extend your knowledge of your ancestors’ siblings.

If your ancestor had a sister, lets say, Alice, and the mother is say, Rose, then this is somewhat more easy to pinpoint than John son of Patrick in the records. Although searchers want of course to focus on their direct ancestor, it often pays to take off the blinkers and extend your view.

By Carmel Gilbride 

Carmel Gilbride

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