Never Give Up!

Family history research is both solving mysteries and putting together a gigantic zigsaw puzzle.  You need to be part detective and part puzzle solver, and be very, very patient.  My Dad’s family is 100% Irish (at least as far back as I can currently trace), so it has been very trying at times to get any “hard” information about the families before they came to Chicago in the mid-to-late 19th century.

One of my great-grandmothers was Ellen Jones, born in Ireland, somewhere.  Isn’t that a wonderful rare surname!  Ellen married Andrew John McDonough in Chicago in 1867 and I have been able to trace many of their descendants.  But Ellen’s family has always been one of my research “brick walls”.  Her death certificate identified her parents as Richard Jones and Margaret Anglim, but I was never able to find any US record of them and the name is too common, even in Ireland.

But patience is rewarded.  About two years ago, the FamilySearch website updated their index of Chicago death records.  I tried a parent search and found two siblings for Ellen, and discovered that they both were born in New York State!  I never considered the possibility that Ellen’s family had lived anywhere other than Ireland and Illinois.

This also taught me another important lesson.  Census records are only very general clues, especially to ages.  As I located additional records, I found that the ages reported in the various US census enumerations, for all of Ellen’s siblings, were at least five years too young, some as many as eight years.  Lesson learned — the further in time you get from a birth or baptism, the more likely the age is “off” in the record.

I found Ellen’s family living in Rome, Oneida, New York in 1850, 1855 and 1860.  Most had moved to Chicago before 1870.  Tracing back, I found the arrival at Castle Garden, New York, for most of the family, in 1849, at the height of the Great Irish Famine.  But, where was their Irish home?

Using two websites, and, I found the baptismal records for Ellen and all of her Irish born siblings in the register for the Catholic Church in Newmarket, County Cork, Ireland. I also found that Margaret’s surname in Ireland is spelled ANGLAND.   However, the entries did not identify the townland where the family lived.

Ireland’s land divisions are quite different from other countries, with the townland being the most important land division to identify.  So, I now knew the Catholic parish, but where within that fairly large area did the Jones family live?  Back to being patient.

Last week, I attended a two-day Irish records workshop sponsored by the Fountaindale Public Library (Bolingbrook, IL) and the Plainfield (IL) Public Library.  The presenters were from the Ulster Historical Foundation ( and they presented two information packed days.  Among other research ideas, we were informed that the National Archives of Ireland had recently released the Valuation Office house, field, tenure and quarto books for the 1824-1856 period.  These books contain the field notes taken during various valuations of Ireland’s land holdings, many of which are before the Great Famine.  So, on the off chance I could locate Richard Jones in Newmarket, I checked the website (  AND THERE WAS RICHARD JONES — the only Richard Jones in Newmarket.  So, my patience was rewarded and I can now note that, in 1846, Richard Jones and his family lived in Scarteen Upper Townland, Parish of Clonfert, Barony of Duhallow, County Cork, Ireland!

Time to finally think about booking a trip to Ireland.

Speaking Engagements in April:

Saturday, Apr. 8th, Wheaton Public Library (Wheaton IL), FamilySearch website

Tuesday, Apr. 11th, Elburn Public Library (Elburn IL), Scottish research

Saturday, Apr. 15th, Wheaton Public Library (Wheaton, IL), FamilySearch’s Family Tree

Wednesday, Apr. 19th, Dupage Genealgical Society (Wheaton, IL), Research in the British Isles

Speaking of patience, Spring will come.