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

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

Facebook:  Hiberniaroots

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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

Twitter: hiberniaroots


Vacations and Relations


A recent trip down memory lane, literally, with my Dad to the city of Birmingham UK got me thinking of the value of revisiting the past. When I was young I loved the summer. It was when our relatives might arrive on their vacation and call to see us. One particular aunt who lived in England loved taking photos of us and we all had to stand outside with a suitable rural backdrop! I was the eldest of a large family and we grew up in the country so it was exciting to have relatives we didn’t see very often come to visit. This visit would be planned for weeks so the house was painted, best clothes put on and apple tarts made!

My aunt would catch up with my Dad (her brother), ask about other family members and what was happening in our lives. We loved sitting in on the conversations but didn’t really know who they were talking about most of the time.

Now that I’m a genealogist I’d love to have those moments back. Sadly my aunt is no longer alive. My trip to Birmingham though was a chance for my Dad to catch up with his two younger brothers – out of a family of 10 there are just three ‘boys’ and their sister who is over 90, left. We got to talking about family connections and my recent DNA test results. I had found a match to a family that I couldn’t find a link to – one short conversation with Dad and I discovered there was a definite connection to this day. Of course when I got home I was on the trail and quickly unlocked the mystery. Despite the plethora of online databases and resources you can’t beat a conversation with an older family member to bring down that ‘brick wall’ – very apt analogy as my Dad was involved in the construction industry in his younger days!

My Geni Tips

So, what are your plans for Thanksgiving and the Christmas Holidays?

If you are planning to meet up with relatives and want to research your family tree, here are a few tips to get you started:

  • Know what you don’t know!
  • Start with what you know, work back from yourself, your parents, their parents
  • Are there gaps – do you know your grandparents names on both sides? Do you know your grandmothers maiden names?
  • Do you know your parents and grandparents siblings names?
  • Do you know where they were born or lived?
  • Do you know what your father/grandfather’s occupation was?
  • Arrive prepared with your questions but give your relative advanced warning so they too are prepared
  • Have the right setting – not in the middle of a busy coffee shop or wedding venue with loud music!
  • Ask their permission if you plan to record video or audio and let them listen back before you share with others
  • Family stories and anecdotes are embellishments to any record searches you might do and make the whole family history process more personal.

If you would like more tips or individual advice email me at 

 These are just some of my suggestions and tips – I would love to hear your experience of interviewing family members at a get-together!


Website: Hibernia Roots

Facebook:  Hiberniaroots

Instagram:  nhiberniaroots

Twitter: hiberniaroots

My Genealogy Journey

Where it all began

I was bitten by the genealogy bug over 8 years ago. It all started when I wanted to find out more about my husband’s family for our son and then realized I didn’t know where to look beyond family photos. I decided to do a course to learn more and ended up with a professional qualification – Diploma in Family History (Genealogy). I never intended becoming a professional genealogist but a year after I graduated I had a website up and running. That’s how easily you get sucked in! I named it Hibernia Roots as ‘Hibernia’ is the Latin/Roman name for Ireland.

Why I do what I do!

I’ve made some great friends through researching their families – I treat each case as if it was my own family,  and I still get excited when I find a piece of the puzzle. I’m like a dog with a bone, I don’t give up! I love connecting people with their Irish homeplace and have worked for clients all over the world – anywhere there are Irish Diaspora.

I’m passionate about Irish family history and local history and added another qualification string to my bow – a Certificate in Oral History.

As anyone who has started their family research knows, its the stories you’ve heard from older relatives that whets your interest in finding out more so Oral History is just as important – and more interesting than document searching! They complement each other though.

Hiring a genealogist

You might say ‘why do I need to hire a genealogist – a lot of information is online now‘ – but its not as simple as that. You need to know the reliable sources, how many sources are out there, and how to search for and identify the facts. We are all time-poor these days so ‘outsourcing’ your family research makes sense.

If you’d like me to help you find your Irish Roots then get in touch using the links below and we can start the journey together.

Talk soon,


Website: Hibernia Roots

Facebook:  Hiberniaroots

Instagram:  nhiberniaroots

Twitter: hiberniaroots

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