“Finding Your Roots” Traces Irish Ancestry

“Finding Your Roots” Traces Irish Ancestry

Last night’s “Finding Your Roots With Henry Louis Gates Jr.” was all about Irish roots and the family trees of journalist Soledad O’Brien, "The O'Reilly Factor" host Bill O’Reilly and comedian/television host Bill Maher. Gates noted that finding family origins in Ireland is difficult because the main resources...

Last night’s “Finding Your Roots With Henry Louis Gates Jr.” was all about Irish roots and the family trees of journalist Soledad O’Brien, “The O’Reilly Factor” host Bill O’Reilly and comedian/television host Bill Maher.

Gates noted that finding family origins in Ireland is difficult because the main resources for the 19th century are parish and county records—and to find those, you need a specific place of origin. (Which, I’ll whine add, also can be hard to find—my Norris third-great-grandparents may or may not have come from somewhere in County Cork.)

Psst! Our upcoming Trace Your Irish Immigrant Ancestors webinar can help! See the end of this post for info.

Yet for each guest, the show’s researchers were able to find Irish records for ancestors in at least one family line:

  • O’Brien’s father’s family migrated to Australia in the 1800s, where her great-grandparents started a flour mill. Their Toowoomba, Queensland, marriage record gave their Irish birthplaces and parents’ names. In County Clare, researchers found O’Brien’s great-great-grandfather, a tenant farmer, in Griffith’s Primary Valuation of Ireland (a property tax survey carried out between 1848 and 1864—here’s how to search it.) They hit a dead end with the other line in County Cork.
  • O’Reilly had heard that his Irish great-grandparents were from County Cavan. Gates said that this clue led to a document revealing the ancestral hometown. Although I know it’s impossible for TV shows to share every detail, I was disappointed we didn’t get to see more on how researchers got from the county to a specific place. (See the above lament about my third-great-grandparents.)
  • Maher had no idea where in Ireland his ancestors came from. Researchers didn’t get anywhere with the Maher line. But for his father’s mother’s family, which landed in America before 1850 (his ancestors appeared in the 1850 US census in New York), an 1855 New York Emigrant Savings Bank record pointed to a place of origin in “Kilory” parish, County Kerry.

There’s no Kilory parish in Kerry. But a town called Killury yielded a baptismal record for Maher’s great-great-grandfather. “Often,” Gates says, “this is the only sign that a human being passed through: the fact that they were baptized and got married and died.”

Do you, like me, want more of the nitty-gritty details on how to discover records about your Irish ancestors? We have some guides and classes for you:

Updated: You can watch the full “The Irish Factor” episode on the “Finding Your Roots” website. Watch live on Tuesdays at 8 Eastern on PBS.

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  1. Are the records of the Emmigrant Savings Bank cover only those Irish who went to USA? What about the Irish who went to Canada (then part of the UK), since the boat fare was cheaper??

  2. Are the records of the Emmigrant Savings Bank cover only those Irish who went to USA? What about the Irish who went to Canada (then part of the UK), since the boat fare was cheaper??

  3. Hello, the Emigrant Savings Bank records cover only Irish and other immigrants who opened an account with this bank. It was (and still is) located in New York City, so those who settled in New York (or at least stayed for a time before moving on) are most likely to be found in these records. The link in the post goes to Ancestry.com’s Emigrant Savings Bank collection, but even if you don’t subscribe to Ancestry, you can use the link to read the background info about the records.

  4. Why does this show often whitewash people’s Jewish backgrounds?

    Harry Connick, Jr., Bill Maher, and Patricia Arquette were all born to Jewish mothers, who were fully Jewish.

    Yet this was not even hinted at in their episodes, not in the slightest.

    You had to squint your eyes real hard to see that Arquette’s DNA result said 48.5% Ashkenazi Jewish. This certainly was never commented upon anywhere in the episode.

    This is even more absurd because Gates mentioned BOTH sides of the OTHER guests who were on.

    With Maher’s episode, Gates went over Bill O’Reilly’s father’s side the most, but he also discussed a bit of O’Reilly’s mother. He talked mostly about Soledad O’Brien’s father, but they also spent a few minutes about the fact that O’Brien’s mother was a black Cuban woman.

    But apparently Bill Maher was conceived immaculately by his father. Did he even have a mother?

    For Arquette’s episode, Gates covered John McCain’s father a lot, but he also disclosed a bit of genealogical information about McCain’s mother (the George Washington relation). He fully discussed both sides of Julianne Moore’s family.

    But for Patricia Arquette’s mother? Name, profession, and picture. That’s it.

    It would be like having an episode about a person of half Jewish background that never mentions the existence of their non-Jewish parent or ancestry (there have been no such episodes, only the vice versa).

    What’s going on here? It’s ridiculous that an ethnic group that makes up 50% of a person’s ancestry is never mentioned on their shows. Can you name any other group where this has happened, much less happened ”three” times? (and where it’s half of their ancestry).

    You can’t. I’ve checked. It’s never happened on this show.