Saturday Night Genealogy Fun (on Monday): Thanksgiving for family history blessings

Randy Seaver at Genea-musings set this week’s Saturday Night Genealogy Fun exercise: a special Thanksgiving Edition. In Australia we don’t celebrate Thanksgiving, but that’s no reason why we shouldn’t give thanks for the wonderful people and information we encounter in our family history searching.

Your mission, should you decide to accept it, is to:

1)  Think about the answers to these questions and

2)  Tell us about it in a blog post of your own; in a comment to this blog post; in a Facebook status line or a Google Plus stream post.

a.  Which ancestor are you most thankful for, and why?

Mary O'Brien from County Clare, later Mary Kunkel from Murphys Creek, Qld. I think her character and strength show through in this photo.

Just one? Okay, I’ve decided on my Mary O’Brien from County Clare. Why? Well she was obviously robust and healthy having survived the Great Irish Famine (An Gorta Mór) and then safely delivering 10 children in those pioneering days. She had the courage to marry a man from another nationality (German) though they shared a common Catholic faith. While her husband was away working she kept the family going,  raised their family and helped to establish the family farm to ensure they could acquire and keep their land. I love the fact that on an early electoral roll she is identified as a farmer[i]. Thanks to the fact that she shared her family story with her grand-daughter, I found clues that identified her home in Ireland and connected her siblings and extended family around the world.

b.  Which author (book, periodical, website, etc.) are you most thankful for, and why?
No, sorry can’t do a tie-breaker on this question. If I really had to, I’d pick Georg Veh.

BOOK: I am most grateful to Georg Veh, the local historian from Dorfprozelten in Bavaria for his excellent local history books about the village: he and his team of co-workers have provided me with superb background to the village in general, and to my Happ ancestors’ lives as inn-keepers….not to mention challenging hours refreshing my German skills.

WEBSITE: Clare Library has been an innovator in the sphere of family and local history within the Irish context for many years. Thanks to their vision and the hard work of volunteers many records have been indexed and made available free of charge. Knowing that the indexing work is cross-checked gives confidence when searching.

c.  Which historical record set (paper or website) are you most thankful for, and why?

After much consideration I have opted for the Board’s Immigration Lists (shipping records) from the State Records Authority of New South Wales. Where available, these provide more detail on the immigrants’ family and place of origin than the Agent’s Immigrant Lists (latter now online) – sometimes critical clues on their life, pre-Australia. It’s definitely worth-while looking at the Board Lists on microfilm if it’s available. Although I still can’t find some of my ancestors arriving in Australia, this record set has been invaluable for others and for my East Clare research.

[i] Queensland State Electoral Roll 1915, district of Drayton, division of Helidon, registered 22 June 1905. Queensland women first gained suffrage on 24 January 1905, although at the federal level they had been entitled to vote since 1902. Mary obviously took her entitlement seriously and her first opportunities to cast her vote would have been in 1903 (Federal) and 1907 (Queensland). It has to be said that South Australia was well ahead of the other states/colonies, giving their women the right to vote as early as 1895.

Griffith Valuation (GV) online

Thanks to Noel from the Toowoomba & Darling Downs Family History message boards (  for posting about the new online Griffith Valuation search engine at:

Not only does this let you search the GV across Ireland, it gives you a great deal of original information to build up the story of your family. A search by name, preferably combined with county, returns all the entries for that name. From the list provided you can choose one or all the options.

Clicking on the magnifying glass (details) gives you a typed summary: year of GV, lot number, map reference, townland, occupier and landlord.

Click on the “page” tab and you will see the typed list of names per townland, together with lot number, acreage, type of holding (house, land, outbuildings etc) and the value of buildings and land. You can see your ancestor’s neighbours, perhaps seeing how marriages were made across the townland, and you can ascertain the quality of the land to some extent (large plots with small values tend to suggest poorer land). You might also want to compare the residents of the townland at the time of the GV compared to those still resident at the 1901 census.

Now it gets interesting: click on map and you will see a pop-up window of the general region. This is the only weakness in the system….it will help if you have some idea where the townland is that you’re looking for, so doing a preliminary Google Maps search might help you with that. Because I was familiar with the area where my ancestors lived from prior research I had no difficulty finding what I was looking for. Other entries with which I was less familiar posed more of a challenge. Firstly click on the rectangles outlined in red…this will take you closer to the area you need. The little “house” icons are churches though I found that some weren’t showing on the map. It helps if you can pick out the general area you need before magnifiying the map more. From there you should be able to find the townland you’re looking for.

The maps you’re seeing here are the ones that were previously only available through the Lands Registry at Chancery St n Dublin at rather a lot of money -both for searching and reprints.

The next exciting step is to click on the “views” tab and repeat much of the process above. Why do this? Well this gives you the opportunity to see some truly great techo advantages and place your ancestral place into a modern environment.

Once you’ve located the right townland, identify the allotment number you need from the original info found at “Details” or “Page”.  If you’re quick when you enlarge the page to see the area you’re interested in you’ll get a brief glimpse of a Google maps image for the area before “reverting” to the GV map.  (Down in the bottom right corner you’ll see a small map icon with a standard Google maps image).

Go to the top right of the page to the bar which says “Map, Satellite, Hybrid”. If you click on either Satellite or Hybrid and then slide the bar beneath them along to the left, you will start to see the GV map underlaid with a current satellite image of the area, or the street map. Pretty cool I reckon! Not everywhere will give you fantastic detail if the satellite imagery isn’t fantastic own to a low altitude but for my Clare ones I can see how the hedge lines fit exactly over the allotment layout on the GV map!!  Further enlarging the map will show you natural and historic features such as ring forts and dolmens.  You will also see railway lines, canals and woods and on the modern satellite map, where current houses are situated.

I think this is an absolutely fabulous tool for family historians and I’m super excited by it!!

If you go back to the original search page you can choose to search by “place name search” rather than “family name search”. This lets you find out who is residing in neighbouring townlands to your ancestor’s, just in case there are more rellies hiding there.

For those with Clare ancestry there are a range of maps available for each parish at different historical times. Go to click the genealogy tab, look at the bottom right for the parish index and click on the one you’re interested in. You will find which maps are available to bring up online. God Bless the Clare library.

Okay you’ve got the GV information and the maps, now you need to decipher what all those codes mean. The following article is available to help you expand your  knowledge of the valuations. It really does make understandable and I strongly recommend it. Equally a book by the same author is absolutely fantastic for a more comprehensive understanding.

James Reilly’s book “Richard Griffith and his Valuations of Ireland : with, An inventory of the books of the General valuation of rateable property in Ireland, conducted under 9 & 10 Vict. c. 110 of 1846 and 15 & 16 Vict. C. 63 of 1852” is available to borrow on inter-library loan through the National Library of Australia but is also now able to be read on Google books online. Check it out -you’ll find it’s worth the effort.

In a day or two I’ll post about how you can use LDS microfilms to follow your family between the GV and the 1901 census.

Happy hunting.

Irish Ancestry and County Clare research

It’s popularly believed that Irish research is nigh on impossible and that all the records were “lost” in the Troubles.

Not so, there are a range of records which can be used but it does require a little lateral thinking. Of course it is critical to know where your ancestor came from, and in particular their nearest town or preferably their townland. Without this all the O’Briens, Byrnes, Hogans etc meld into one undifferentiated mass. So if you strike this problem, don’t focus only on your own immediate ancestry. The Irish are famous for migrating as families -either in one migration or in sequences (known as stage migration). Australians are very fortunate to have at least the possibility of  a wealth of information on their birth, marriage and death records. However if you find you’re unobliging ancestor repeatedly says they’re born in Ireland or just “Co Clare” try to follow up whether other siblings came. You may be more fortunate if you obtain the certificate for their sibling. eg my ancestor Mary O’Brien Kunkel (or her husband) was very fond of the easy “Co Clare” option, however her sister Bridget O’Brien Widdup’s death certificate stated clearly that she had been born in Broadford, Co Clare. All of a sudden the oral history that she came from somewhere like “Longford, Co Clare” made some sense and the records could be verified to establish the link. Also the presence of other siblings lets you triangulate the children’s names and their connection, verifying that you have got the right family.

If you’re lucky enough to have ancestry from County Clare I can highly recommend the County Clare Library website.:

Check out the tabs for history and genealogy for a wealth of information, both general and family-specific, on Clare, its residents and its history. The site is not only fantastic but also reliable because information is cross-checked before publication.

While so many counties in Ireland are determined to extract maximum dollars from enthusiastic family historians, Clare is a beacon which shows its belief in the importance of its history and people. The Clare Local Studies Project or CLASP have published several fantastic books on Co Clare history.

Check them out, they’re great!!

This is my absolute favourite Irish site, probably because I have Clare ancestry but even so it offers so much information. The team at CLASP and the library in Ennis, and the powers-that-be who continue to fund the projects, can’t be commended highly enough! Well done County Clare!