How to get started on your family tree.

It can be very intimidating to start researching your Irish family tree. What records are out there? Where are my ancestors from?  But if you tackle it like a detective story, connecting the little dots from several sources of information, a story begins to unfold.

My grandfather, William Coyle, sat with me one afternoon in 1993 and told me all he could remember of his relatives. As I jotted down the names, one stood out – Dolly Loftus. I had never heard of anyone named Dolly in Ireland before, so I decided that would be a good place to start.

The National Archives of Ireland has a search page for combing through old census data. Ireland takes a census every 10 years, but unfortunately, most of the records from before the mid-1800s were destroyed in the 1922 Dublin fire during the civil war.

Starting with 1841, I entered Dolly and Mayo, but it wasn’t until the 1901 census that it returned a list of two women named Dolly from different villages in Ireland. This leads to the next problem when searching records: where the heck are all these places?

Figuring out the names of areas in Ireland can be very difficult, but basically, it goes like this.

County > Barony > Civil Parrish > Townland

Here’s a map of Irish Baronies. And here is an excellent site for drilling down from the County level to the Townland name. Here are the paths for my Mother and Father’s respective Coyle families:

Mayo > Erris > Kilmore > Gladree – Mom
Mayo > Erris > Kilmore > Aghaglasheen – Dad

Now back to Dolly. Below are the results of my search for her in Mayo.

BINGO! I have a Dolly Gaughan in Gladree. This Dolly (we still don’t know for sure that she’s MY Dolly) was born in 1833. This is the 1901 census and she was 68 years old. Clicking on her name brings up the other people living in that household at the time.

Look at all those Coyles! How exciting is that? Imagine the census taker walking up to the door of the household and writing down the information of everyone who lived there. This is Richard’s house. He’s married to the lovely Dolly. Living with them is one daughter, Mary, her husband Michael Coyle, and a couple grandkids: Katie and Martin.

If we take what we’ve learned so far and search the next decade’s census from 1911 for the name of Richard Gaughan in Gladree, even more of the story is revealed to us.

Michael Coyle, my great-grandfather, is now the head of the household. In addition to Catherine (Katie) and Martin, he and his wife, Mary, have three more children: Mary, Bridget, and my grandfather, William Coyle. Poor Dolly is not listed and must have passed away during the previous decade. (Perhaps in another post, we’ll see what we can learn of about that.) At eighty years old, Richard Gaughan is now listed as a mere boarder. I’m sure that’s just a legal definition and that he was, in fact, the wise old man of the house to whom everyone looked for advice.

So that’s our story so far.  We needed two key pieces of information: a name and location, and we learned of a story covering two generations. In the next post we’ll talk about Griffith’s Valuation to see what additional information we can add to this branch of the family tree.

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