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A Class in Irish Research

Yesterday I had the good fortune to listen in while Paul Milner, specialist in British genealogy, taught a Legacy webinar on Irish Immigration to North America.

I learned that the Irish came over in waves. My ancestors were in a couple of them. The Reeds and Kirkhams, I think, arrived sometime in the 1700’s. I do not know where they lived in Ireland or exactly when they arrived. They were here before the American Revolution, and Robert Kirkham served at Boonesborough during the war.

My Lawless and Ryan forebears came over during the Irish potato famine in the late 1840’s. The Lawless group has been easy to track. They left County Louth in 1849 and settled first in Peoria, Illinois.

The immigrant Daniel Ryan has been harder to follow. He was born around 1829 somewhere in Ireland.

I have tried to follow Mr. Milner’s advice and exhaust American records before attempting to jump the pond searching for Daniel. Documentation so far has been sparse:

  1. The Find A Grave website has a memorial for Daniel Ryan. He died in 1863 and is buried at the military cemetery in New Orleans.
  2. Daniel’s widow Bridget applied for a Civil War pension. The unit information led me to records of Daniel’s places and dates of enlistment and mustering in.
  3. This pension application also generated a thick file of family papers. It told me that Daniel had married twice—first to my 2nd great-grandmother Jane Lawless, and subsequently to Bridget. Each wife had one child.
  4. Information in the file pointed me to the Catholic Church records for Bridget’s home in the vicinity of Springfield, Illinois. Those Diocese records are available on Ancestry. I found the 1854 marriage record for Daniel and Bridget, the 1855 baptism record for their son James, and Bridget’s death record from 1896. The marriage record tells me that Daniel’s parents were Edmund Ryan and May Junk.
  5. The pension file also led me to the 1851 Peoria County marriage record for Daniel and Jane.

So that is what I have for Daniel: a FindAGrave memorial, a Civil War enlistment and pension file, two marriage records, and a son’s baptism record.

Other research avenues have led to dead ends:

  1. U. S. census records. I have not located Daniel on any census. With such a common name and little identifying material, he is hard to differentiate.
  2. Catholic parish records. Daniel’s dealings with my 2nd great-grandmother and their son took place in Peoria. That Catholic diocese does not open its records to the public, and they will not do lookups. The local parish church kept no copies of records.
  3. Immigration records. How many people named Daniel Ryan came to America during the potato famine? A lot! So far there is no way to know which Daniel is mine.
  4. Family trees on Ancestry and Family Search. No one has posted a tree that includes my Daniel Ryan.

I still have some clues to pursue:

  1. DNA. The ethnicity estimates on the testing sites get better and better. They pinpoint my dad’s Irish DNA to Limerick and Tipperary. That is where many of his Irish DNA matches live today. Daniel may have come from one of these counties. I learned from Mr. Milner that the eviction rate in Tipperary was particularly high.
  2. DNA, again. Every so often I run a DNA cluster report looking for Ryan family matches. I am working to build ancestor trees for these people to see if I can identify a birth family for Daniel.
  3. Ryan relatives in America. Daniel Ryan first appears in the American records when he married Jane Lawless at Peoria in 1851. Their son was baptized at the Kickapoo church the next year. Other Ryan families lived at Kickapoo during that time, and perhaps they were Daniel’s relatives. Mr. Milner told us that new immigrants usually joined their relatives. I can build trees for these other Ryans to see where Daniel might fit.

The webinar helped me think of additional ways to approach the research problem of Daniel Ryan’s origins. I try to tune into these specialized webinars whenever I can. I always learn something.

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