Finding the Irish in My Family Tree

By Diane Haddad

Happy St. Patrick’s Day to you!

I was trying to explain to my four-year-old this morning in the car that his fourth-great-grandparents, Edward Norris and and Elizabeth Butler, came from a country called Ireland. After observing that Elizabeth’s name has a potty word in it, he asked where they lived and wished he could meet them.

Me, too, buddy.

I’m still in the US-records-gathering phase with this family. Oral tradition says they came from County Cork, but I haven’t found records stating anything beyond “Ireland.” That and their common names are slowing down my search.

Edward and Elizabeth had at least eight children. Their son, also named Edward, is my great-great-grandfather. Another son, James, was a Cincinnati firefighter during the 1900 and 1910 censuses. This had become the country’s first full-time professional department in 1853, and was the source of innovations such as the first practical fire engine, powered by steam.

Although I couldn’t find statistics, Irish immigrants often dominated police and fire departments in large US cities. Many departments today have Emerald societies that demonstrate their members’ pride in their Irish heritage. (Here’s an interesting New York Times article about the Irish brogue in police and fire departments.)

James’ youngest son, Raymond, followed in his father’s footsteps to join the fire department in 1916, according to a Cincinnati Enquirer article. Ray received a leave of absence to enlist in World War I. The Official Roster of Ohio Soldiers, Sailors, and Marines in the World War, 1917-18 says he was discharged a private first class in March 1919.

Cincinnati Enquirer, Jan. 18, 1920, p. 14

Back home, Ray joined the fire department’s Engine Company 42. On Jan. 17, 1920, his company responded to a fire at the Newton Tea & Spice Co. Ray was in a group of men spraying water from a bridge ramp overlooking the building when an explosion sent a brick wall crashing down on them. Ray was found laying over the hose, one of four men killed. Fourteen others were critically injured.

James, as a former firefighter, probably knew what he might see when he went to identify his son’s body at the city morgue.

Morgue records, volume 15, certificate 196 : Norris, Ray, 1920-01-17

One day, when my kids are a little older, I’ll share this piece of our family’s proud Irish heritage with them.

If you have Irish roots, you’ll want to keep an eye on the National Library of Ireland’s (NLI) plans to post Irish Catholic Church records free online (starting this summer). Update: the registers are now online at the NLI website; you can search by name at Findmypast and

On, find four tips for tracing Irish roots as well as advice for finding an Irish place of origin. You also might like our Irish Genealogy Cheat Sheet or Irish Genealogy Crash Course webinar, both available in Family Tree Shop.