Did You Miss These Helpful Irish American Genealogy Articles?

The GenealogyBank Blog has posted several articles on Irish American genealogy. Since March is Irish American Heritage Month and we celebrated St. Patrick’s Day last Monday, we thought you’d enjoy these links to the following articles. They should help you with your family history research into your Irish ancestry.

photo of the South Kildare plains, looking east at the Wicklow Hills, Ireland

Photo: South Kildare plains, looking east at the Wicklow Hills, Ireland. Credit: Wikipedia.

Links to Irish American Genealogy Blog Articles:

Online Irish American Newspapers

After reading the Blog articles listed above, try a search for your Irish American ancestors in GenealogyBank’s online Irish American Newspaper Archives. This collection features newspapers published in New York that documented Irish American lives, featuring birth, marriage and death information from Ireland years before civil registration began there in 1864.

search page for GenealogyBank's Irish American newspapers

Everyone’s a Wee Bit Irish around St. Patrick’s Day!

Introduction: Mary Harrell-Sesniak is a genealogist, author and editor with a strong technology background. In this guest blog post, to celebrate March being Irish American Heritage Month, Mary explains that many of us have at least a little Irish in our family history—including President Barack Obama and Martin Luther King, Jr.

With the St. Patrick’s Day celebrations this week, plus March being Irish American Heritage Month, everyone is feeling a wee bit Irish. And, as it turns out, quite a few of us have actual Irish roots—including U.S. President Barack Obama and civil rights leader Martin Luther King, Jr.

Irish Diaspora

Population estimates vary, but most historians and researchers agree that the Irish Diaspora (persons of Irish heritage living outside of Ireland) is significant.

By some estimates, at least 10% of the world is Irish (according to the Irish tourism board)—and others report that there are at least seven times as many people of Irish descent in America as the entire population of Ireland! (See Huffington Post article.)

photo of Blarney Castle, Ireland

Photo: verdant scene from the top of Blarney Castle, Ireland. Credit: Mary Harrell-Sesniak.

So when everyone claims to be a wee bit Irish in March, especially on St. Patrick’s Day, you shouldn’t be surprised. Many Americans, including several prominent African Americans, can trace their roots to the Emerald Isle.

The Obamas’ Irish Ancestry

One of the first studies on President Barack and Michelle (Robinson) Obama’s ancestry was conducted by genealogist Megan Smolenyak Smolenyak (yes, she is a double Smolenyak).

She discovered that Mrs. Obama’s third great grandmother Melvinia was the granddaughter of Andrew Shields, a white Irish protestant immigrant, via his son Charles Shields.

The President’s direct immigrant Irish ancestor was Falmouth Kearney, a native of Moneygall in County Offaly. He left his homeland in 1850 to escape the great famine (which lasted 1845-1852). Once the people of Ireland learned this, there was much celebration and pride in being connected to the U.S. President. See:

DNA Study of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s Family

Another historical figure connected to the Republic of Ireland is Martin Luther King, Jr. (15 Jan. 1929 – 4 April 1968).

photo of Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial, Washington, D.C.

Photo: Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial, Washington, D.C. Credit: Library of Congress.

Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s roots are a wee bit elusive, as traditional research methods using a path of documentary evidence have failed.

However, a DNA study conducted on his son Michael Luther King, III, indicated ties to the Mende people of Sierra Leone on his mother’s side, and Ireland on his father’s.

MLK’s Family Tree through the Paternal Line

  • Jacob Branham & wife Dinnah
  • |
  • Nathan King (a.k.a. Branham or Brannan) & wife Malinda
  • |
  • James Albert “Jim” King & Delia Lindsey
  • |
  • Martin Luther King, Sr. & Alberta C. Williams
  • |
  • Martin Luther King, Jr. & Coretta Scott

In the MLK family tree, note the name change from Branham or Brannan (and other spellings) to King. This occurred sometime between 1870 and 1880, when Nathan appeared on the U.S. Federal Census as a King. The reason for the name change is not clear, but perhaps the family wished to disassociate themselves with the oppressive slavery of the Branham family of Putnam County, Georgia.

No records have been located to prove which Branham family owned the slave plantation where the King ancestors lived, but in all likelihood it was Dr. Joel Branham (1799 – 1877) or his father Henry Branham (or both). The family is thought to have removed to Georgia from Virginia in the 1700s. By 1812 Henry Branham had become active in his community, and he ran for the State Legislature.

article abourt Henry Branham, Georgia Argus newspaper article 7 October 1812

Georgia Argus (Milledgeville, Georgia), 7 October 1812, page 2

The family’s opposition to the abolishment of slavery is indicated by this article of 1837, when Dr. Joel Branham opposed the election of President Martin Van Buren.

article about Joel Branham, Augusta Chronicle newspaper article 17 September 1840

Augusta Chronicle (Augusta, Georgia), 17 September 1840, page 2

The Mysterious Reference to James King & Ireland

Several genealogists have presented comprehensive articles discussing the King family’s connection to the Branhams and Ireland (see links below)—and surprisingly, they have identified one mysterious reference to Ireland in connection with Rev. King’s grandfather.

An examination of the records reports a bit more detail.

In 1910, the U.S. Federal Census reported that the James and Delia King family (James King was MLK’s grandfather) were renting a farm on the Jonesboro and Covington Road in the Stockbridge District of Henry County, Georgia. It was the first marriage for James and Delia, who had been married 15 years (so they were married c. 1895). There had been eight children, but only seven were still living. The eldest child could read and write, and the second child could read but not write, and neither James nor Delia could read or write.

The birthplace of Delia and all the children was reported as Georgia—but James King’s birthplace was reported as Ohio. Most interestingly, the birthplace of James King’s father was reported as Ireland.

photo of the 1910 U.S. Census record for James King, Sr.

Photo: 1910 U.S. Census record for James King, Sr. Credit: FamilySearch.org.

photo of the 1910 U.S. Census record for James King, Sr. household

For further reading on this interesting subject, see these articles:

Cluster Analysis of the Branham Irish Origins

So if you accept the theory that one of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s ancestors was a man named Branham from Ireland, how would one determine where the family originated?

Since early records are scant, a surname distribution map such as the one hosted by the Irish Times is useful. It works by enumerating names found on surveys, such as the 1847-64 Primary Valuation Survey.

Some might criticize this tool for being too late a time period. However, if a significant number of families were only found in a limited area, then a sampling of family (siblings and cousins of the immigrants whose descendants stayed in the area), could be examined.

By searching for Branham, the results showed six households under an alternate spelling of Brangham.

Other related spellings include Brannan, Brannon, Bringham, Brinham, Brennan, etc.—and when they were searched, a significant cluster appeared. It turns out that these families are associated with Northern Ireland, and in particular the counties of Londonderry, Antrim, Tyrone, Down, Armagh and Fermanagh.

Although not conclusive, this at least provides researchers who wish to trace the King Irish ancestry more of a target region.

Further Reading:

5 Free Online Resources for Tracing Your Irish Genealogy

Introduction: Gena Philibert-Ortega is a genealogist and author of the book “From the Family Kitchen.” In this guest blog post—to help celebrate both the upcoming St. Patrick’s Day holiday and the fact that March is Irish American Heritage Month—Gena describes five free websites that provide a wide range of resources to help you explore your Irish American ancestry.

Got Irish roots? Trying to find free online resources to research your Irish genealogy? Look no further because these five free websites can help you trace your Irish ancestors.

photo of a satellite image of Ireland

Photo: satellite image of Ireland. Credit: Jeff Schmaltz from the NASA Earth Observatory; Wikipedia.

1) FamilySearch

One of the first places to start any genealogy research project is FamilySearch and their Family History Library Catalog. FamilySearch is adding digitized and indexed records to their Historical Records Collection, where you can find Irish as well as other worldwide records. In addition, be sure to search the Library Catalog. From the Catalog, conduct a place search for where your Irish ancestor was from. As you search the results, note which ones are available by microfilm or digitized online. Microfilm and microfiche can be ordered online and sent to one of the over 4,500 Family History Centers worldwide (fees apply).

The Library Catalog isn’t the only thing available on FamilySearch. Check out the Research Wiki for information on resources and how to do research. Articles you may be interested in include:

2) Dept. of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht’s Irish Genealogy

A website from Ireland’s Department of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, Irish Genealogy provides you a place to search various records from other websites in one place. By clicking on the Main Search link found at the top, you can search for historical records like the 1901 and 1911 censuses as well as the Castle Garden and Ellis Island records. You can read about what records are included by clicking on the What Is Available link. A separate page just for searching church records is also available. You may search these records by name, location and date or browse by location.

Under the “Research in Ireland” tab, make sure to read the page How Does This Site Work? Here you will find information about using wild cards in your search, variant spellings, and the advanced search features.

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3) The National Archives of Ireland

The National Archives of Ireland “holds the records of the modern Irish State.” While the majority of these records can only be searched at the actual Archives, they do have some records available online. Their Genealogy page provides researchers with access to the 1901 and 1911 censuses, Tithe Applotment Books 1823-1827, Soldiers’ Wills 1914-1917, and the Calendar of Wills and Administrations, 1858-1922, with promises of additional records to come.

Don’t forget to check out the National Archives card catalog under the tab “Search the archives.” It’s here that you can explore the holdings of the Archives. Search by keyword (not necessarily the name of your ancestor, think more in terms of searching on the name of the place they were from, an event they participated in, or their occupation, etc.). Find a must-have resource? No problem; even if you can’t make a trip to Dublin to visit in person, the Archives does have a list of researchers that can help.

4) Public Records Office of Northern Ireland (PRONI)

The mission of the Public Records Office of Northern Ireland (PRONI) is to “identify, preserve and make available Northern Ireland’s unique archival and community memory.” Records available online through PRONI include the Ulster Covenant archive, which has nearly a half million signatures and addresses of the men who signed the 1912 Ulster Covenant—and the women who signed a “parallel Declaration” (over 234,000 women). Freeholders’ records (people who voted or were entitled to vote) are also indexed and digitized on the website. Don’t forget to check out their indexed and digitized wills from 1858-1900. The first phase of this important project is complete and viewable.

photo of three men and a woman from Ireland

Photo: Group portrait of three men—two in military uniform, and one woman who is wearing a beret-style hat and a fur stole. Credit: Public Records Office of Northern Ireland. Flickr the Commons. http://www.flickr.com/photos/proni/10942071025/.

One of my favorite things about PRONI is their Flickr photo stream with over 2,000 vintage photos that have no known copyright restrictions. Click here to take a look at these photos.

Like many websites, PRONI includes helpful articles to assist you with your ancestry research. Make sure to start on their Family History page and read their web pages that provide more information about researching your Irish roots, including their Family History Key Sources page.

5) GENUKI

GENUKI is a “virtual reference library” for the United Kingdom and Ireland maintained by volunteers. Just like Cyndi’s List, GENUKI will help you identify additional resources for your genealogy research. Search by Region or by using their Quick Links and discover links to census, church, military, town and tax records. Make sure to use GENUKI to find and learn more about maps, statistics and the social life of your ancestors.

One of the Quick Links includes a Gazetteer for England, Ireland, Scotland, Wales and the Isle of Man. Type in the place you are looking for and then see your results on a map or as a list complete with the county or nearby places.

GenealogyBank

There’s much for Irish researchers to find in the above free websites—but as you research, don’t forget to search GenealogyBank’s online Irish American Newspaper Archives for your ancestors. This collection features newspapers published in New York that documented Irish American lives, featuring birth, marriage and death information from Ireland years before civil registration began there in 1864.

screenshot of GenealogyBank's search page for its Irish American Newspaper Archives

Here’s a good example of how helpful these Irish American newspapers can be. As is typical with census records, Catherine Scully was only listed in the 1892 New York state census as having come from “Ireland.” However, her obituary published in an Irish American newspaper gives the important detail family historians prize so much: where in Ireland she was born (Ballingarry, County Tipperary).

obituary for Catherine Scully, Irish Weekly World newspaper article 2 December 1893

Irish Weekly World (New York City, New York), 2 December 1893, page 3

Once you search this special collection of Irish American newspapers, conduct a broader search through GenealogyBank’s online Historical Newspaper Archives for newspapers in the community your ancestor eventually settled in.

Genealogy Tip: Not sure where to start researching your immigrant ancestors from Ireland? Always begin by researching their lives in the United States first, before tackling records in a foreign locale. Irish American newspapers are a great place to start!

Irish American Newspapers for Genealogy at GenealogyBank

Irish American immigrants cut loose from the familiar surroundings of home were always hungry for the latest news from the old country, as well as news of their former neighbors now spread across the United States.

Irish American newspapers helped fill this need, and were subscribed to by Irish Americans across the U.S. and Canada…and these newspapers delivered the news their readers wanted.

Irish American Weekly Newspaper Obituaries 1800s

Irish American Weekly (New York City, New York), 12 January 1889, page 5

These Irish American newspapers give us great genealogical details like the name of the townland and county in Ireland where the person was born.

In the above Irish American obituaries, we have Mary Breen of Listowel, County Kerry, Ireland; John McAnally of County Tyrone, Ireland; and John J. Norton of Rathkeale, County Limerick, Ireland. It’s almost impossible to find the townland and county information in other genealogy sources. Almost all records generated in the U.S. simply say “Ireland.”

The availability of this critical information is why Irish American genealogists are so focused on the old Irish American newspapers.

Imagine if the obituaries simply said that Mary Breen, John McAnally and John J. Norton were born in “Ireland.” Readers of Irish American newspapers expected more information than that—and they got it.

For example, the Irish American Weekly devoted an entire page to news from every county in Ireland.

News from Ireland in Irish American Weekly Newspaper 1800s


Irish American Weekly (New York City, New York), 12 January 1889, page 6.

News, obituaries, marriages in Ireland—they’re all recorded on these pages.

Irish American Weekly News & Death Notices

Irish American Weekly (New York City, New York), 12 January 1889.

But wait—there’s more.

For example: there are passenger lists from Ireland to America in these Irish American newspapers.

Irish Nation Ship Passenger List - Irish Coming to America

Irish Nation (New York City, New York), 7 January 1882, page 8.

These Irish passenger lists were very popular—they assisted the readers, as the above headline suggests, to “Look Out for Coming Friends.”

The level of detail provided by these old newspaper passenger lists is important since the immigrant’s home county and destination in the United States is not recorded in the federal passenger lists that genealogists routinely consult.

These Irish American newspapers are the only source for these detailed passenger lists.

Irish American newspapers are invaluable for tracing your Irish ancestry and GenealogyBank has them!

Start searching our special Irish American newspaper archives to discover your Irish roots now.

Please note that each one of these Irish American newspapers was published in New York City, but their circulation extended around the country and up into Canada.

Irish American Newspaper Archives at GenealogyBank

List of Irish American Newspapers in GenealogyBank

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