"Each has his own tree of ancestors, but at the top of all sits Probably Arboreal." - Robert Louis Stevenson

Monday, 23 April 2012

I is for Irish

As I don’t currently have any names beginning with I in my tree, I had to come up with another topic begging with I for today’s blog.
I chose ‘Irish’ simply because it is a part of my heritage that I don’t know a lot about. There are two Irish lines in my tree so far: the Geoghegan line, which I discussed in G is for Geoghegan, and the Thompson line via my dad’s paternal grandmother, Margaret Thompson. However, Irish genealogy isn’t something I have done much of, so it will be a new challenge for me.  Here I’m going to investigate what I already know about my Irish ancestors, and where I think I can find out more. As I am very new to this, I’d love to get some feedback or suggestions from those of you with a bit more experience in this particular area.

Geoghegan, obviously, is an Irish name. However, my first ‘Irish’ Geoghegan – by which I mean born in Ireland – is James Geoghegan. Even this is somewhat uncertain. The 1841 census states that he was born in Ireland. The 1851 census states that he was born in Dublin, Ireland. However, the 1861 census simply says ‘CY Lancashi’, which I interpret to mean county of Lancashire. I suspect that the earlier censuses are more accurate, but whether Dublin is correct or just an approximation is uncertain.
In any case, James was born in about 1791. His wife Mary is English (I haven’t yet identified her maiden name, but the 1851 census gives her birth place as Manchester, also around 1791). All of James’ known children seem to have been born in England also, suggesting that James moved to England before his marriage, which probably took place around 1810–1815.
This, of course, means that James didn’t move to England following the Irish famine of the 1840s like many other immigrants. Research seems to suggest that immigration from Ireland, caused by poverty and unemployment, was quite common in the early part of the twentieth century, albeit on a smaller scale. There were known crop failures in 1800 and 1807, which could, of course, have been contributing factors in my Geoghegans' departure from Ireland.
Finding out more about James Geoghegan’s early life with so little to go on is likely to prove quite tricky. Ideally I need to find the parish marriage record for James and Mary Ann to see what else I can glean from this. Hopefully it will give me his father’s name and possibly occupation, which will then equip me to tackle the Irish records. I haven’t had any luck finding this online yet, and with Mary Ann’s birthplace simply given as Manchester, narrowing down where to look (marriages usually taking place in the bride’s home parish) might be tricky. This is going to be a test of patience!
Another possible strategy might be to see if there are other Geoghegan families living close to James on the censuses. If he did emigrate with other family members, chances are they would have settled quite close to one another, so it might give me some clues. If I can identify potential siblings and further records for them, for example, it might give me a bit more info to go on...

My Thompsons are a completely different kettle of fish.  Margaret Thompson’s father Albert Thomas Thompson was born in Lisburn, Antrim, on 11 September 1870, according to a record in the collection Ireland Births and Baptisms 1620–1911 on Ancestry.
However, this isn’t a case of straightforward birth and later emigration either. Albert’s mother, Sarah Ann Semley, was born in Sandal near Wakefield, Yorkshire, England, and was living in the Yorkshire area until 1861. In 1867 she married James Thompson in Manchester. Later census records reveal that James was born in Antrim in about 1843 – immediately prior to the start of the Great Famine. However, I haven’t been able to find any trace of James in England prior to his marriage to Sarah Ann, so I don’t think he left Ireland with his family. It seems most likely to me that he came to England as a young man for work. Sarah Ann’s family remain in Yorkshire consistently on the censuses, so my guess is that Sarah Ann went away from home to work, possibly in domestic service, and met and married James, who was perhaps also working in the area?
The couple’s eldest son, John Robert Thompson was born in Salford ‘abt 1869’ according to most censuses. But presumably he was in fact born in 1868, as Walter Thompson was born in Antrim on 20 March 1869. So, the couple married and were living in Lancashire, but went to Ireland sometime in late 1868 or early 1869. Of the children born after Albert, Wilfred Thompson (b. 1876) and Edmund Thompson (b. abt 1879) were both also born in Antrim. Only James H. Thomspon (b. 1885) was born in England, thus it seems likely that the family remained in Ireland until shortly before the 1881 census, when they are once again living in England, in Worsborough, close to Sarah Ann’s family.
The Thompson men seem to have been almost exclusively employed as ‘stonemasons’ or sometimes ‘monumental masons’ – that is to say stonemasons working mainly on headstones and other monuments.
I have been unable to find a parish birth record for James – sadly the Irish civil birth records don’t start until the 1860s. My best bet to get more info on James Thompson’s Irish background then is probably the 1867 marriage certificate initially. Hopefully this will give me his father’s name and occupation to work from.  
L x
p.s. There is a particularly informative post on researching Irish ancestors on Niall McMahon’s blog.


  1. How nice it was to see that link at the end of the article after reading all the way through it on my Google Reader page. A nice post, and many thanks for the link!

  2. Well I read it the other day and found it extremely helpful, so thank you!I'm still a bit nervous about going to the Irish records, but I cna't really do that until I have more information anyway!

  3. Ordering Irish certificates seems to be a bit easier than here. To start with, it's much cheaper, only €4 for a photocopy. But you can also fill in a form with everything you know about the person and they are generally quite good and finding the right certificate. They've come back the correct one each time I've ordered them!

    It can be a bit daunting, and you have to accept that you are not going to be able to get back as far as you would in England/Wales, but it's definitely worth looking into.


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