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Review of:

Tracing Your Cork Ancestors

An Index to the Federal, State, and Local Census Records of Its Lodging Houses (1855-1925)

by Tony McCarthy and Tim Cadogan

Flyleaf Press, Co. Dublin, Ireland, ISBN 0 9508466 8 6, 123 pages; index; 3 tables, 4 maps, Ir£8.00, available from the IGSW for $16.00

Reviewed by Michele Patin

What surprised me most about this newest volume in the series[1] "Tracing Your Ancestors" published in paperback by Flyleaf Press is its slimness. After all, Cork is the largest of Irelend's 32 counties and contributed its share - and sometimes more - of emigrants to the great Irish diaspora[2]. How have authors Tony McCarthy and Tim Cadogan managed to put everything the Cork ancestral researcher is yearning to know into a mere 123 pages? Rest assured that they have done an admirable job. This book will be a welcome addition to any Irish genealogist's library, perhaps all the more because its spare dimensions pack such a remarkable amount of useful information into our rapidly diminishing shelfspace.

McCarthy and Cadogan begin with the startling admonition:

"Tracing Your Cork Ancestors: within the confines of this small book, it is not possible to deal comprehensively with this theme."[3]

Indeed, the authors are both well equipped to recognize the daunting scope of the task before them. But McCarthy, also the author of the wonderful "Irish Roots Guide"[4] and Cadogan, of the Cork County Library in Cork city, have chosen to use a local focus to maximum advantage. Each record source is treated within its local context - with its attendant variations, special circumstances and caveats. Wherever possible, the authors indicate where the originals or copies of each source may be located. They are careful not to ignore the Irish researcher - the non-emigrant variety, that is. Specific archives and libraries in Cork city, and elsewhere in the county, as well as in the capital of Dublin, are treated with special care in two chapters at the end of the book (Chapter 18, "Researching in Cork" and Chapter 19, "Researching in Dublin"). And the final chapter (Chapter 20, "Useful Information") lists addresses of libraries and other repositories, archives, heritage centres, professional researchers, and genealogical publication offices.

"Tracing Your Cork Ancestors" will serve the needs of three kinds of readers:

First, the genealogical "browser" will benefit from a quick read and will take away a firm grasp of the general problems of Irish family history research, as well as specific Cork genealogical resources and the archives which house them.

The casual browser will find this amble through Cork genealogy punctuated with guideposts adorned with well chosen words of warning. A couple of samples:

"If you chop the head off a chicken, some quirk of its nervous system permits it to run around for a while, to enjoy a few last moments of frenzied activity....The approach that many people have to the work of genealogy could be described as the headless chicken technique...."[5]

Ouch! On more than one occasion, I confess to losing my head chasing a reluctant ancestor, and this insightful, albeit startling, analogy gave me a chuckle.

And later...

"There are those, of course, who never finish, who spend their time following leads and postponing the onerous task of writing up the family history After the amateur genealogist has, perhaps, gone on to actually meet those ancestors who have so tantalizingly eluded him during the course of his lifetime, what happens to ....all of those certificates, those newspaper cuttings, photocopies, old photographs and other treasures that took years to compile? The unpalatable but obvious truth of the matter is that your life's work, having all the outer appearances of rubbish, is thrown out."[6]

Sound familiar? I, for one, am tidying up straight away! Bits of colorful, engaging prose like this are sprinkled throughout the book and the important messages they convey will keep your attention.

Second, the beginning researcher will find the book to be a steadfast companion on the journey in search of Cork ancestors. Proven strategies and research guidelines are offered as part of a methodology for success in the pursuit.

Many a novice will be tempted to acquire this book on the assumption that there is a strong possibility that his/her ancestor came from somewhere in County Cork. You would do well to yield to that temptation, even if your Cork assumption later proves to be false. Chapter 2 "Preliminaries" stands alone as a short but worthwhile primer for any genealogist, with some good points worth reviewing by everyone.

Chapter 3, "Emigration & Emigration Sources" not only discusses documentary sources, but places emigration as a social and economic phenomenon in a historical and geographic context. As the authors point out, an understanding of the causes, modes, and patterns of emigration will help the beginner better understand his immigrant ancestor's motivations, and may put you on his/her trail much faster. The chapter includes a good set of steps to follow to 1) determine an ancestor's point of entry and 2) find that all important point of origin.

Chapter 4, "Administrative Division" is aimed at the newcomer, but includes subtleties which advanced researchers will find enlightening. Each administrative division is examined from smallest to largest and the history, longevity and original purpose of each division is explained. The result is a sort of simple Irish "geography of mind" from a bureaucrat's point of view. While this bureaucrat's mind is often confusing to the beginner (myself included!), the authors chart the terrain with refreshing clarity.

Special focus is given to the civil parish, as it is the most likely to be encountered and therefore most likely to be useful. The chapter includes a table of all of the civil parishes of County Cork (including cities), 253 in all (Table 1). The civil parishes are listed alphabetically, and the table includes a Tithe Applotment Book date for that parish, a concordance with Catholic and Church of Ireland parish names, and a map reference number corresponding to a set of four keyed companion maps following the table which situate each parish visually. Very handy indeed, and a good reference which will be turned to again and again.

Chapters 5 through 10 give the reader a tour of each of the major categories of Irish records available to the Cork researcher. The treatment of the most important sources - censuses, civil registration, Griffith's Valuation, Tithe Applotment Books and sacramental records - is clear, concise and very helpful. Along the way, tips are offered on how to use each of these records in their various "incarnations" (originals, microform photocopies, finding aids and indeces, and more recently, CD-ROM). This information is valuable in deciding which version of a record to consult, and also for planning "next step" strategies.

Chapter 9 ("Catholic Parish Records") includes a table of all Catholic parishes in the County, showing the diocese into which they fall, the inclusive dates for baptisms and marriages, the source of the information (Mallow Heritage Centre list, National Library of Ireland microfilm index, and, occasionally, O'Kief[7] and an annotation of the modern name of the parish when relevant (Table 2). Chapter 10 ("Church of Ireland Parish Records") does much the same, also tabulating the parish name, diocese, inclusive dates for baptisms, marriages and deaths, and the source of the information (Representative Church Body Library handlist, Mallow Heritage Centre list or indeces compiled by Michael Leader or Noel Reid)(Table 3.) While the data in these two tables is streamlined slightly (dates in particular) and some of it has been published elsewhere, it is helpful to have this information in one place for easy consultation.

Later chapters (Chapter 11 through 16) are devoted to less frequently used sources. These range from postal and business directories, to newspapers, to gravestones, to published surname and family histories. Much of these chapters is devoted to actual lists of the references (thoughtfully arranged in date and/or alphabetical order, as appropriate), with a quick review of their contents and discussion of where to find them and how to use them.

Chapter 17 is devoted to "Miscellaneous Sources" and treats two sources which are unique to the region. Here is found an overview of the amazing but intractable "O'Kief" as it has come to be known, or as the authors sometimes hear it called, "them big blue books up there," which contain a dizzying array of original and secondary compilations of hard-to-find sources. While most of the material in O'Kief pertains to County Kerry, there is significant overlap into Cork, and the books reproduce many sources such as baptismal and marriage records which are not readily accessible elsewhere.

In addition, the important series of books compiled and published by Riobard O'Dwyer, N.T.[8] on the family trees and local history of the several parishes of the Beara peninsula in West Cork is reviewed. These valuable books are the fruit of Mr. O'Dwyer's 30+ years (and on-going) of research tracing family trees using parish registers and civil sources. Most importantly, O'Dwyer worked with elder informants, some of them now deceased, whose recollections made it possible to reconstruct missing or confusing portions of the registers and embellish the genealogies with family stories and local folklore. Many family entries enumerate several generations and show where offspring emigrated, while some even contain mailing addresses for descendant researchers in the U.S., Canada and Australia. A beginner with family in these parishes who stumbles upon the O'Dwyer books will count him- or herself fortunate indeed.

This chapter also touches on such miscellaneous sources as the twin multivolume catalogues edited by R.J. Hayes[9], Registry of Deeds records, estate papers, school records and many other small but important sources. While most of the material in these later chapters is directed at the advanced student of Irish genealogy, it is important for beginners to be aware of them. I was glad to see that the authors are careful in these chapters to point out what it is reasonable to expect of a given source, as well as what is not to be expected, in terms of the type and quality of information, the range of dates and places included, etc. This type of advice helps the beginner avoid wasting time on arcane sources which a well-meaning colleague might recommend, but which have little or no relevance to one's own specific case. (Remember that headless chicken?!)

Third, the expert Irish genealogist will find "Tracing Your Cork Ancestors" to be a treasure trove of detailed sources. As suggested above, much of the book is ideal for beginner use, but the seasoned veteran will not be disappointed at all. To the contrary, Chapters 12, 13, 15, 16 and 17 in particular are laden with sourceworks. A sampling:

  1. "List of Gravestone Inscription Transcripts"
    (Chapter 13, p. 77-80)

    Arranged alphabetically by town, townland or area, including abbeys and military cemeteries, many of them published in JCHAS[10] and O'Kief.

  2. "Occupational Sources"
    (Chapter 15, p. 83-85)

    Sources for tracing Army personnel, Board of Ordinance employees (1815), Church of Ireland clergy, clock and watchmakers, doctors of medicine, goldsmiths, attorneys and barristers, merchant seamen, Navy and Coastguard, nurserymen, Royal Irish Constabulary and tradesmen.

  3. "Family Histories"
    (Chapter 16, p. 88-92)

    Arranged alphabetically by surname, most appearing in books and journals, and the majority in recent publications.

The authors also include references to works which are not yet in print, but will be forthcoming, such as the parochial census of Midleton dating from 1842 and 1848, intended for 1999 publication by Canon B. Troy, P.P.[11] Ongoing, long-term projects are also described such as the Irish Genealogical Project and Cork Ancestral Research indexing project[12] and the Cobh Genealogical Project (computerizing Church of Ireland records in the dioceses of Cork, Cloyne and Ross).[13]

The multitude of books, articles, manuscripts, abstracts, and transcriptions which are enumerated demonstrate the authors' stunning breadth of knowledge of local history and their familiarity with the original sources. Best of all, many of the items referenced appear in published books and periodicals. And although many of these sources are not likely to be found in your local library's stacks, full academic-style citations are offered, making them reasonably accessible. (Let's see, where did I put that Interlibrary Loan Request form....?) Just when you thought you could close your files and begin that "onerous task of writing up the family history" in accordance with the authors' exhortation, you are likely to discover in "Tracing Your Cork Ancestors" a tantalizing resource you had never before encountered! Ah, well.

In summary, I found "Tracing Your Cork Ancestors" to be everything one could hope for in an introduction to Cork genealogy - and more.


  1. ^Other titles published by Flyleaf Press include: "Tracing Your Dublin Ancestors," "Tracing Your Mayo Ancestors," "Tracing Your Donegal Ancestors", and "Tracing Your Kerry Ancestors," as well as "Irish Church Records" and "Longford and Its People."
  2. ^Cork ranks second only to County Kerry in the rate of emigration of its population for the period 1856-1910, and County Cork contributed an astounding 13% of all Irish emigrants between 1856 and 1920; based on statistics in Table 2 and Table 4 in Kerby A. Miller, "Emigrants and Exiles: Ireland and the Irish Exodus to North America," Oxford University Press, 1985
  3. ^"Tracing Your Cork Ancestors," p. 9
  4. ^"The Irish Roots Guide," Lilliput Press, 1991
  5. ^"Tracing Your Cork Ancestors," p. 11
  6. ^ibid., p. 13
  7. ^Albert E. Casey, "O'Kief, Cosh Mang, Slieve Lougher and Upper Blackwater in Ireland," Birmingham, Alabama, 16 volumes, 1952-1971
  8. ^Riobard O'Dwyer, "WHO WERE MY ANCESTORS? Genealogy (Family Trees) Of The Eyeries Parish, Castletownbere, Co. Cork, Ireland," 1976; "WHO WERE MY ANCESTORS? Genealogy (Family Trees) Of The Allihies (Copper Mines) Parish, Co. Cork, Ireland," 1988; "WHO WERE MY ANCESTORS? Genealogy (Family Trees) Of The Bere Island Parish, Co. Cork, Ireland," 1989; "WHO WERE MY ANCESTORS? Genealogy (Family Trees) Of The Castletownbere (Killaconenagh) Parish, Co. Cork, Ireland," 1989; K.K. Stevens Publishing Co., Astoria, Illinois
  9. ^R. J. Hayes, ed., "Manuscript Sources for the History of Irish Civilization," G.K. Hall, Boston, 11 volumes, 1965 and 3-volume supplement, 1975; and "Sources for the History of Irish Civilization: Articles in Irish Periodicals," G.K. Hall, Boston, 9 volumes, 1970
  10. ^"Journal of the Cork Historical and Archeological Society," 1895-present
  11. ^"Tracing Your Cork Ancestors," p. 40
  12. ^ibid., pp. 105-6
  13. ^ibid., p. 60