Family research during Covid-19 Crisis

Self-isolation : time on your hands

I’ve had to step back from genealogy for a while due to back surgery and then the Covid-19 restrictions came into force here in Ireland which means public buildings such as the main genealogy repositories: the National Library, National Archives, Churches, registration offices, etc., are all closed for the moment.

With self-isolation and social-distancing mandatory worldwide, it can mean a lot of time on our hands – there’s only so much TV we can watch!

Why not use this time to research your Irish family roots or catch up on a family research project you’ve started? It could be a good distraction and keep you connected with family.

While I’m not fully recovered, that’s what I’ll be doing – I’ve been ‘neglecting’ my own family research and other genealogy projects I was planning for this year. Usually I would encourage people to visit relatives but in these times of social-distancing, I’ve adapted my approach. To help you or get you started I’ve put together some tips and ideas.

Noreen’s top 5 tips for family research:-

1.Start with yourself and work back

List all your direct relatives back to grand-parents initially. This will help you identify who you know and who you don’t know. Concentrate on one side of the family at a time and start in the country where you live – try and go back to when your Irish ancestor arrived in your country, if you live outside of Ireland.

2. Check for any documents in the family


Do you have any photographs, family bible, newspaper cuttings, birth/marriage/death certificates? These will give you facts to work from. Make a note of dates and sources.

3. Interview family members

Normally I would encourage people to visit relatives but obviously not in the current crisis, however, we can use other forms of contact such as video calls/telephone calls or social media messaging. Give your relative advance notice so they are prepared.

4. Be organised

banking business checklist commerce
Photo by Pixabay on


Before you start talking to family members have a checklist and create folders – either hard copy or electronic. Start a ‘to do’ list. Draft some questions so that you make the most of the call or time with your relative and share these in advance. Keep notes and make use of note apps such as Evernote, Keep or OneNote.

5. Going back to Ireland – virtually!


While many of you may have had a plan to visit Ireland this year and see where your ancestors came from, you will have to adapt to a virtual visit this year.

There’s no reason why you cannot spend this time researching Irish records so that when the time comes, you will know exactly where to go when you get to Ireland. There are so many online sources  that you can consult from home. If you have identified the time period you ancestor emigrated you may have checked emigration/passenger lists. For example from 1908 approx. there was a requirement for emigrants to the U.S. to provide more detail and you will often find the family address or names of those they left behind as well as who they were going to stay with. This will give you a location to focus on which is crucial.

Useful free Irish genealogy sites

The main Irish sources are which is the free Irish government site, for civil birth marriage and death records (within certain time restraints), and some church records; the roman catholic parish registers available again for free, on the National Library of Ireland’s dedicated site  (not indexed), and under the auspices of the National Archives you will have free access to a number of genealogy sources, including the Census records, the most useful of which are the 1901 and 1911 Census years, the only complete (there are some errors and omissions) Irish Census years available online.

Of course the list is not exhaustive, and it depends on how much information you have on your ancestor’s Irish origins. The majority of Irish records only exist from the early to mid 1800’s. There are also subscription-based sites that give you access to information that you might only avail of by a personal visit to the National Archives for instance. This is the time to build up your research so that when we can travel again you will have all you need to pinpoint the ancestral home!

Virtual Tour of Ireland

If you’re feeling really homesick, there are a number of social media sites dedicated to Irish counties and Irish scenery photography that might keep you going until you get there yourself! There are also public buildings such as galleries and museums, and tourist sites that are now offering virtual tours. My facebook page has a collection of photos that I’ve taken from my travels around Ireland. If you finally get here, get in touch and I might be able to guide you in the right direction.

Ancestral cottage

If you have any tips or a system that works for you, let us know in a comment. If I can help with your research, let me know. Contact details below. I’d love to hear from you – I’m self-isolating too!

Bye for now and keep safe,


Website: Hibernia Roots

Facebook:  Hiberniaroots

Instagram:  nhiberniaroots

Twitter: hiberniaroots

Your own Personal Archive

The Paper v Digital Debate

As a Genealogist the issue of storage is an ongoing one!

This is the time of year when we have more time to go through our storage, and, of course, make resolutions to start a new organised habit of storing our data and records for the New Year!

Traditionally a genealogist dealt with historic or family documents in paper format but with more and more information databases becoming available online there needs to be a structure to downloading and saving documents as well as paper.


I attended a talk recently in Dublin on personal digital archiving, and it got me thinking about my own practices.

It goes without saying that if you are researching your family history you will have amassed a sizeable collection of both hard copy and digital copies of documents and photographs. So what do you do? How do you future-proof your important records?

Get into the habit of good archiving practice

Now, a lot of what I’m covering in this topic is relevant to any personal archives, not just genealogy research. In our personal lives we accumulate a large volume of records. We start with our own vital records (birth, marriage, medical records) and then there are bank and utilities statements (though more and more companies encourage you to create an online account to view e-statements), vehicle purchase and insurance documentation, photo albums, video tapes or photos on memory cards, and in my case, the last letter from my mother before she died, which at the time was short, with just the usual enquiry as to how I was getting on, and when was I visiting again. Little did I know that it would become more significant when she died shortly after, and my next visit home was to her death bed. I’ve now scanned the letter.

Some digital organizing hacks

First of all, you need to catagorize and organize the material – this is very much a personal system that you will need to put in place from the start. At the same time, if you are naming files or folders you need to use a system or code that is easily identifiable by others and makes sense.

Some tips I was given at the talk were to use the recognized standard for dates i.e. yyyy/mm/dd and if saving a file or electronic document drafts use v.1, v.2 if you need to keep different versions. Don’t use spaces, be consistent and use underscore or dashes so it will be easier to search. Photos on camera cards or phones often have a tag or date created automatically but later if you are looking for a particular event it can  be difficult if you don’t remember the date or year. I usually create a folder on an external hard-drive or flash drive with the event or holiday location i.e. ‘Sarahs Wedding’ or ‘San Francisco’.mr-cup-fabien-barral-o6GEPQXnqMY-unsplash

When I am commissioned by a client the first thing I do is create a digital file in the family name, then I set up sub-folders i.e. ‘Census’, ‘BMD’ (births, marriages, deaths), ‘research’ (this folder may be further subdivided into ‘my research’ or ‘info provided by client’), there may be specific research on the occupations of ancestors such as army, police, etc that I might separate as well. If I am looking at two family lines such as both parents of my client I would keep both separate with the same headings.

I also create a hard-copy file for any documents that I obtained that weren’t sourced online i.e. Birth certificates or any document provided by my client which I then scan to save with the other digital records. Sometimes my clients request a hard copy of my research as a gift therefore I need to save it in both formats.

Digital Declutter

For good practice, you should develop a system that you follow for every item you want to save and store. Create a list or inventory of what you currently have and the categories or types of documentation or formats. Are you saving on different devices? Do you actually need to keep it or should there be a time limit? Streamline your storage to a few back-up devices. do you need frequent access or can it be saved on an external hard-drive? There are a number of cloud storage sites some of which offer a free but limited volume capacity , so why pay if its not something you’re going to access or use often.


There’s a psychology behind the build-up of paper and how it can cause stress and a visual reminder of being behind, not on top of things.  ‘A tidy desk is a tidy mind’! Equally, a collection of digital files that are not stored in any organised way, can be time-consuming wading through them, opening and closing files, and panicking that you might have lost a vital document all because it was miss-filed or without a category. So, we need an easy filing system that allows for easy retrieval.

Securing your records – what if there’s a fire!

There are many types of security to consider when looking at personal archiving. The obvious one is whether it contains confidential personal information. These files should be password protected or saved in more than one secure location.

The other more pressing type of security is whether the storage device is likely to become obsolete. Who remembers floppy disks? Flash drives and CD roms will come to the end of their life at some stage soon. Cloud storage companies may go out of business, using an old format or old PC or laptop with an old operating system that might not recognise the external device or file format. Scary!


I had a conversation one time with a retired policeman turned genealogist who raised issues I hadn’t thought of such as what if there was a fire or burglary in your house! He suggested that you keep a copy or storage device in your workplace or car. I knocked an external hard-drive off a table once and couldn’t recover the content which left me feeling sick as it contained photos of my son over a 3 year period when he started secondary school, his confirmation photos and holidays. However, I asked friends if they had any photos of him, checked attachments in emails, and managed to gather a few special photos.

It was a hard lesson to learn and now I’m more careful, never leaving my laptop unattended with an external storage device plugged in, removing hard-drives, and backing up copies on other devices as I go.

Don’t forget the password!

Hand-in-hand with storage and security is the issue of using a password. Human nature being what it is, we can forget a password and fall into the habit of using the same one for all accounts. Don’t!

We sign up for e-newsletters, have online accounts, all of which means creating a password. There are apps that can help you create and store passwords, or you can use your own method, but don’t use the obvious ones such as your date of birth, children’s names or home address. Believe it or not, people still do!

Some sites create a password for you with a combination of letters, numbers and special characters such as !~%, but with so many to retain, these should only be used for creating the account and then changed to a more memorable one but still inserting some characters such as ‘zero’ for ‘oh’.

A little note on notes

As a genealogist I am constantly coming across websites that might be useful in the future, new database sites, or need to keep track of the sites I like or use a lot. I used to just save the link in an email and then create a folder within my email but there are better and more user-friendly options. There are a number of apps, some free, such as Evernote, Keep or OneNote, that allow you to create notes, notebooks, web clippings, folder and categories, like a digital library, which are easily searchable and can be accessed across devices on the go – ideal for genealogy site visits or showing the family at a get-together.



(photos credit: Unsplash free images and personal photos)


I’m not saying I’m perfect, and my son will laugh when h sees the theme of this post, but there’s a sense of satisfaction and relief when you know where to find your personal or business data, and the pay-off is you’ll start off the year motivated to continue which releases more time to be productive! Baby steps!

If you have any tips or  a system that works for you, let us know in a comment.

Bye for now,


Website: Hibernia Roots

Facebook:  Hiberniaroots

Instagram:  nhiberniaroots

Twitter: hiberniaroots

Its a long way from Tipperary to Montana – Part 2

Aunt Mary’s back story

Today’s post is the second part of the Mary Fitzpatrick Roach story and the events that culminated in her death in Montana. If you missed the first part of her story you will find it here

She was born Mary Maher in January 1857 in the small village of Gortnahoe, County Tipperary. She was the daughter of Jeremiah Maher and his wife Mary Gleeson.  Her mother died shortly after she was born and Jeremiah remarried in 1858 and had two further children, Margaret, and Patrick, my great-grandfather.

Mary was my great-grand aunt on my paternal side and we knew very little about her other than the story of her tragic death.

Mary Maher emigrated to the U.S. around the 1880’s and her first husband was Fitzpatrick. No record has been found so far, to confirm his name or their marriage date. As far as we know, she had no children, or at least any that survived her.

As we know from the first blog post about Mary, she married for the second time to Porter Roach, in Glasgow, in 1907.

it was only when I started researching my family history that her life in Montana came to light and made me realize that she was not just an ancestor with a paper trail – she was a pioneer in a era when women didn’t usually set up in business alone in dangerous territory, or become successful in their own right. She was a female entrepreneur before her time!

A brief history of Glasgow Montana

Just to set the scene and understand the times Mary lived in, I need to give you a bit of history. Glasgow was founded in 1887 as a railroad town by James Hill, who was responsible for creating many communities along the Hi-Line railway in the North West of the United States. He and a local railroader named the town when they spun a globe and their finger landed on Glasgow, Scotland.

Native Americans inhabited the region for centuries, and extensive buffalo and antelope herds provided ample food for the nomadic tribes. The Nakoda, Lakota, and Dakota peoples alternately inhabited and claimed the region from the 16th to the late 19th centuries.  In 1851, the US government formed the first treaty with the Native American tribes, in 1885 the tribes engaged in the last known buffalo hunt in the region, and in 1887, a treaty was signed where the tribes surrendered 17.5 million acres, which led from 1888 to the formation of the Fort Peck Reservation and the removal of the tribes from the Glasgow area. Mary arrived just as the town was being established.

Restaurant Glasgow

Mary Arrives in Glasgow

As I mentioned in the first blog, I was lucky to obtain a number of copies of newspaper cuttings from the Montana Historical Society that referred to Mary and enabled me to piece her story together.  

According to the articles, many of them written in the 1930’s and 1960’s as part of the celebrations for the founding of the City of Glasgow, Mary Fitzpatrick Roach featured as one of the first businesswomen in the town.

In the 75th anniversary souvenir history ‘From Buffalo Bones to Sonic Boom‘ published by the Glasgow Jubilee Committee in 1962, Mary features on page 13.

“Mary Fitzpatrick, the squarely built Irishwoman who came to Glasgow in 1890, was unquestionably the town’s best known early restaurateur and, indeed by dint of hard work, its first successful businesswoman”

Mary arrived in Glasgow Montana in 1890 and initially worked in the Waldo House before opening her own restaurant. She rented a log building and called her place the ‘Elite Restaurant’. Later, around 1904, she move to another that she called the ‘Cottage Restaurant’.

‘It said in the papers’

The Glasgow Courier dated 1937 reports that her restaurant was always a refuge for the homeless, and no one left her place hungry. She served meals on the ‘American Plan’ (3 meals a day often included with lodgings) on tables spread with old fashioned red-checked tablecloths and in the summer she served ‘delicious iced tea in big old style soup bowls’. Wonderful detail recorded!

The same article described Mary as ‘squarely built and brawny’. Yet when someone made a ‘nuisance of themselves’ she was known to grab them by both arms behind their back, place her head in the small of their back and push them out the front door! I can just picture her. What a feisty woman, acting as her own bouncer!

Another great story was how she celebrated getting out of debt – by buying a big beaver hat. She wore it to a concert one night in the Old Guild Hall and the town lawyer ‘Poke’ Evans (don’t you just love the name) asked her to remove it as it was blocking his view. She is believed to have answered: ‘I’ve just got this hat paid for and I’ll not take it off’! She bought a beaver coat to match and this was her winter wear for several years.

According to the souvenir publication, Mary Fitzpatrick featured frequently in the Glasgow newspapers of the 1890’s and early 1900’s with references to her many business interests.

This publication states that by 1899 Mary was advertising her City Meat Market and went into the cattle business (her Tipperary farming roots coming out) buying the stock of a local rancher for  ‘$10,000 in cold cash’.  At one stage she ran into trouble coming before the court on a charge of ‘allowing her pigs to run at large within the city limits’ but some locals seemed to have taken the law into their own hands as ten of Mary’s pigs were found dead four days later in their pens, apparently poisoned.

Mary liked to see her name in the papers it  seems. She placed regular adverts for her restaurant  describing it as ‘a famous resort with neatly furnished rooms in connection’ and her meat market  ‘all kinds of fresh and salt meats, fish and game in season, and fresh vegetables’ for those who would rather cook at home. Being an astute businesswoman, she was covering both the eat-out/eat-at-home market!

Showing the buying power she held, one time the Glasgow Record in 1896 forgot to mention Miss Fitzpatrick’s supper in connection with a recent dance.  Mary stopped her subscription. ‘Mary Fitzpatrick is going to break us up in business’ said the editor ‘She stopped her subscription last week.  However, we feel confident in announcing that we will get out another paper next week’.

I also found a photo of her grave on Findagrave_Highland Cemetery and it is very imposing, inscribed with the words ‘Mother of Glasgow’.  The Glasgow Courier in 1962 stated:

“From her years of extending a helping hand to many down-and-outers in Glasgow’s early days, Mary Fitzpatrick Roach is memorialized in Glasgow’s cemetery by one of its most imposing monuments calling her ‘Mother of Glasgow'”

I feel so proud of Mary. The true story of why she died may never be known.

She was a woman ahead of her time. What I loved about researching her life story was how she brought a smile to my face from the anecdotes, was kind-hearted to those less fortunate but was at the same time a determined businesswoman.  I was so lucky to find out so much about her. A real ‘character’! Its the kind of story every genealogist wants to find.

Maybe my research will inspire you to start researching your family – you never know what you might find! If you need my help contact me through the links below or email me at

Bye for now,


Website: Hibernia Roots

Facebook:  Hiberniaroots

Instagram:  nhiberniaroots

Twitter: hiberniaroots

Its a long way from Tipperary to Montana – part 1

Aunt Mary

When you start researching your family tree its always with a hope that you’ll find something juicy, a ‘skeleton in the cupboard’, a story that stands out.

A few years ago I’d been told by my Dad’s cousin in Tipperary, that they had a grand-aunt Mary who had emigrated to the US, and was killed by her husband in Montana, and he wondered if I could find out more! This was the story I was waiting for! However, there was little else known about her, including her married name. I put it aside hoping that he’d find something among his documents and photos that might give me a lead, and come back to me.

The Genealogy bit – digging for records

Fast forward to last November 2018. I was due to meet with family and knew I’d be asked if I ever found out what happened, so I decided to do a quick check online to see if I could find anything. Well, it didn’t take me long. I decided to search for a marriage of a Mary Maher with parents Jeremiah Maher and Mary Gleeson, in Montana. The result was a record of a marriage index for a Mary Fitzpatrick to a Porter Roach but her parents matched. (The reason she was listed as Fitzpatrick was because she must have been married once before and that was her name at the time of her second marriage). This marriage took place in Glasgow, Montana in 1907. The next step was to look for a death record of a Mary Roach and one turned up for 1909! She was only married two years.

The Montana trail

Being a genealogist and loving a mystery to get my teeth into, I started thinking about how I would find out more about her death. The fact that I was living outside the US meant I had to think how I could source records in Montana. As I know from experience, a local history society can be a treasure trove of sources and local knowledge so I checked to see if there was one in Montana that might give me a lead. I found the Montana Historical Society had a website so I searched for Mary Roach and up popped a page with details of biographical files held. This piqued my curiosity – biographical files wouldn’t be held on everybody who lived there so there must have been ‘Something about Mary’ !

Mary’s story is so interesting!”

I made enquiries and got a reply saying Mary’s story was so interesting. They held a number of articles in the file about her life and death but as I was from out of State I’d have to submit a form and pay a fee. Of course I had to see what they had. I sent off the fee and my request form and received a package 2 weeks later. Inside were newspaper articles, 2 of which were from the week she died, and others were in the 1930’s and 1960’s covering the founding history of Glasgow, Montana and notable pioneers. They also provided a copy of relevant pages from a 75th anniversary souvenir publication on the town’s history that included mentions of Mary’s business (more about these in Part 2!)

Newspapers’ tragic tales


Mary Roach newspaper - pioneer dies

The Valley County News dated Friday July 16th 1909 had a lengthy column titled ‘ A pioneer dies suddenly’  which detailed the death of Mary Fitzpatrick Roach. According to the article Mary had died the previous Friday, 9th July :

“R.M. Young was in his room adjoining Mr and Mrs Roach’s apartments, when he heard Mrs Roach call him”

He found her in a pool of blood, got assistance and the doctor arrived. It appears her nose was broken, she was ‘suffering considerably’ , was given a morphine injection and a short time later she died. The article goes on to say ‘as the circumstances seemed to indicate that her death was not due to natural causes, Coroner Peterson took charge of the remains and held an inquest and post mortem examination on the Monday evening.

Mary Roach valley co news front page

Strangely the Coroner’s jury brought in a verdict that ‘the deceased’s death was caused by acute alcoholism and that the circumstances did not justify the jury in implicating anyone in the cause of her death’ but on the front page of the same paper hidden under the column titled ‘Local Happenings of the past week’  it states ‘ Monday night ‘Port’ Roach was arrested on an insanity charge made by the Coroner’s jury acting in the Mary Roach case and is now confined in the county jail awaiting the action of the Insanity Board’…. (No further details were found to see what happened to him but I found a reference to his death in 1911).

Further down in the same column: ‘R.M. Young, cashier of the First National Bank, has been appointed special administrator of the Mary Roach estate until proper action can be taken to care for the property’. This is the same R.M. Young who came to her assistance.

What a tragic end but ‘Mary was so interesting’ – that story has yet to be told – in Part 2! If you found this blog interesting and would like to be notified of the next installment in Mary’s story, I’d love you to follow my blog site.

Bye for now,


Website: Hibernia Roots

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Did you get a DNA kit for Christmas?

Cousin Connections

Everyone I know seemed to have gotten a kit recently! Wondering what it will reveal? Will it produce cousins you didn’t know you had?

I did a test a few months ago purely out of curiosity so that I’d know what it entailed. As a genealogist I have been asked more and more lately whether it was a good idea, what would it reveal and would it produce cousins and family trees without having to do any research (ah, the answer is no by the way, you still need to do your research). I usually referred people to articles or other sources so I thought it was time I dipped my toes in!

Little did I realise it would be just as absorbing as document research!

I’m lucky that I’m a genealogist living in Ireland and have been able to trace my family, both maternal and paternal, back at least 4 generations to the same part of Ireland, Tipperary and Kilkenny borders, to where my Dad now lives.

My grandparents on both sides married local people. I didn’t expect any unknown branch of the family to materialise but with both paternal grandparents and paternal great-grandparents having the same surname (no, not cousins!) it was going to be a challenge working out who was who! That’s the unique and quirky side to Irish Genealogy, family name origins evolved in regional clusters and people often married people from the locality.

The Big Reveal

Now, I’m no expert in the science of DNA analysis, but I am fascinated by the results and matches I received. I had done an Autosomal DNA test which is the most popular and tests both males and females.

My Ethnicity and Ancestry

I had been given a gift of a DNA test kit so it was not that I chose a particular kit over another but purely convenience. The ethnicity result was no big surprise, ‘80-100 per cent Irish, with links to Munster, Ireland’, but then I uploaded the raw data to another site and they said I was ‘95 per cent Irish, Scottish, Welsh; 4 per cent West Asian; and 1 per cent Greek’! From what I understand from reading sources,  the accuracy of results such as this are dependent on the size of the testing ‘pool’ with a particular DNA kit site.

Cousin matches revealed

The other important feature, and much more interesting, is the relationship results or cousin matches. Only one of my first cousins had done a test and I knew who he was so the first entry was fine. After that the next closest matches were 7 possible 3rd-4th cousins with a confidence rating of ‘extremely high’, then the next 40 were classed as 4th-6th cousins with a rating from ‘very high’ to ‘high’. There were a lot more but the chances of making connections would be low so I focused on the 47 which is still a lot to go through, and I have only started, but that’s the life of a genealogist, we love a challenge!

Examining the DNA matches

I started going through each ‘cousin’ to see what we might have in common. The thing about these tests is they don’t separate your mother’s side from your father’s side, they are just listed in descending order of centimorgans ( basically, this is a unit of measurement, which estimates the number of generations to a common ancestor). Some had either listed their family surnames, and/or given access to their family trees so I had to look and see if there were any clues or shared matches. Because of my profession, I wanted to find the connections for myself and prove who they were. Some turned out to be my father’s paternal side, some his maternal side, and a few were on my mother’s maternal side with only one of her paternal side.  To find even more matches there is a third-party site called Gedmatch where you can upload your raw data and cross reference with kits from other test sites if the tester had uploaded them there too. More matches to go through!

Traditional genealogy research v DNA research

Document research is time-consuming in itself but now that I have all these leads in DNA matches I’m only feeding my genealogy addiction! This could be a long running saga! I have plans to create a spreadsheet with workbooks for each family side, matches and any detail and sources that will help identify the family connections. I have been in contact with some of the matches and we have shared information that has explained or broken through a brick wall where genealogy research had come to a standstill. That is the ultimate prize – finding living relatives!

At the end of the day, DNA tests are just another tool in your genealogy toolbox so bear that in mind, to have a complete picture of your family history you should support your research with documents sourced as well as DNA test results. If you would like to find out more, the book I would recommend is ‘Guide to DNA Testing and Genetic Genealogy’ by Blaine T. Bettinger; published by The Family Tree books.  There are also a number of websites and facebook groups that could explain the science behind DNA testing better than I can.

While I’m still learning as I go, if I can guide you or use my experience as an example, do get in touch and leave a comment if you found this article useful. I plan to do follow-up articles on my DNA cousin research as it progresses so if you ‘follow’ my blog site you’ll be kept up to date!

Bye for now,


Website: Hibernia Roots

Facebook:  Hiberniaroots

Instagram:  nhiberniaroots

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