The Irish Roots Guide
by Tony McCarthy
(Dublin: The Lilliput Press, 1991) 117 pages
Reviewed by Doris V. Cummins
The search for family roots which has so taken hold of North Americans and Australians interested in their Irish forbears is becoming an engrossing past time for people living in Ireland as well.
In America, however, there seem to be more genealogy societies and classes available to assist the amateur researcher than in Ireland. Many people become frustrated by not knowing how or where to begin their search and then how to continue once basic information available from still living family members has been tapped.
Tony McCarthy's book can be a great help as he explains precisely how he went about "climbing" his family tree. Of course, he was not as far removed from his ancestors, as most of us are when we perhaps lack even the county of Irish origin.
Nevertheless, this guide is most helpful. He suggests a novel approach through pursuit of female lines rather than concentrating mainly on male ancestors. His pedigree chart, therefore, resembles a series of sectional concentric circles with his name in the smallest center, then his two grandparents, then four great grandparents, etc. edging in ever-larger circles. He suggests analyzing each ancestor with equal enthusiasm and then deciding where the opportunities for success are greatest. He believes most researchers attach exaggerated importance to those who bore one's surname while consigning others in the circle to oblivion.
Many doing family research are ordinary people with poor ancestors. Unless the ancestors were landed gentry where title and property descended and can be documented, there is little reason to concentrate only on the male line.
Having rejected the traditional approach, McCarthy decided to research as many of his ancestors as possible, expecting lines to disappear around the fifth or sixth generation because Irish records are "so bad". He decided to write a guide concentrating on men and women descended from 19th century Catholic tenant farmers. Of course this group in itself was large and diverse ranging from the proprietors of large farms to landless laborers who rented potato gardens yearly from tenant farmers.
He focuses on what he considers the twelve best sources: census returns, civil registration, parish records, land records, Griffith's Valuation and Tithe Applotment books, considering these to be most productive. The other six: estate records, wills, registry of Deeds, religious census of 1766, hearth money rolls and gravestone inscriptions are less likely to be successful either because those being researched may not have been included in the records or because the relevant parts of the records were destroyed.
McCarthy proceeds to show the original purpose of the record, where the documents are to be found, how they are indexed, what information you need to know before you can locate a relevant entry, and to what extent particular records are likely to further your research. All of this is pertinent to both native Irishers and their North American cousins.