Rosie O’Donnell often asked her grandmother about a specific photo hanging in her house, but her grandmother was tight lipped about the woman. O’Donnell knew she was somehow related to her, but didn’t know much beyond that. So she began her “Who Do You Think You Are?” journey by researching the mystery woman.
She starts looking in the 1900 census, finding her great-grandparents Michael and Ellen Murtha. The census indicates Michael was born in French Canada and his parents were born in Ireland. O’Donnell steps back father to the 1880, but shows Michael living in Brooklyn with a different woman his first wife Anna.
This leads O’Donnell to Manhattan, where she finds the death certificate for Anna Murtaugh, a variation of the Murtha surname. The cause of death is listed as an explosion of an oil lamp. O’Donnell searches neighborhood newspapers for write-ups about the incident, discovering Anna was holding her infant daughter during the explosion.
Catholic church baptismal records revealed Anna’s daughter to be Elizabeth Murtha, who lived through the accident and eventually had many children and grandchildren. Tracing the line forward, O’Donnell is reunited with Elizabeth’s grandchildren, her second cousins. They confirm that the mysterious photo is Elizabeth’s mother Anna.
After solving that mystery, she travels to Quebec to search parish records for Anna’s husband and O’Donnell’s great-grandfather Michael Murtha, listed as Michael Murtaugh in baptismal records. Michael’s parents are listed as Andrew Murtaugh and Anne Doyle. O’Donnell searches a local newspaper to find the obituary for Anne, which lists her birthplace as Kildare, Ireland. For more on searching newspapers, see our Finding You Family in Old Newspapers on-demand webinar.
O’Donnell then heads to Ireland to find out more about the Murtaughs. Many people emigrated from Ireland at the height of the potato feminine, and Andrew and Anne were among them.
Searching Poor Law Union minute books for a mention of the family, O’Donnell discovers two men sponsored the Murtaughs passage to Canada. The Poor Law Union only provided assisted immigration for severely impoverished families during the feminine. To qualify for assisted immigration, a family would have to live in a work house for at least a year. For more on tracing your Irish roots, see our Irish heritage research guide.
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