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Irish Eyes

By Mattie Lennon

Have You Lost Your Census?

By Mattie Lennon

I can trace my ancestry back to protoplasmal primordial atomic globule. Consequently, my family pride is something in-conceivable. I can’t help it. I was born sneering.--(The Mikado)

It has been said that ancestors are like potatoes; the best of them are under the ground, but have you ever wondered if your great-grandmother was related to Royalty or if your grandfather was in the Black-and-Tans, but didn’t know how to go about finding out?

In the last four hundred years millions of Irish people emigrated; some through wander lust or a spirit of adventure but mostly because of economic necessity. People of Irish decent are now to be found in all parts of the world. It is a slight exaggeration to say that everybody has an Irish grandmother; but perhaps you have.

Perhaps one or more of your forebears sailed out from Queenstown after a night of merriment turned into a tearful farewell, taking their last fond look at Irish soil. (The late Eamon Kelly once said, “The best American Wakes were in Ireland and the best Irish Wakes were in America.”)

If you think you have Irish ancestry and you have an enquiring mind what is the next step?

If you have limited information and a creative mind I suppose you could do a bit of designer genealogy yourself.

Let’s say that your great-great uncle Patrick Murphy, a fellow lacking in character, was hanged for horse stealing and train robbery in Montana in 1868.

A cousin has supplied you with the only known photograph of Patrick, showing him standing on the gallows. On the back of the picture are the words: Patrick Murphy: Horse thief, sent to Montana Territorial Prison, 1865. Escaped 1867, robbed the Montana Flyer six times. Caught by Pinkerton Detectives, convicted and hanged, 1868.

A pretty grim situation but if you were slightly dishonest (which of course you’re not) you could revise it a bit. Simply crop the picture, scan in an enlargement and edit it with image processing software so that all that is seen is a head shot.

Next, rewrite the text:

Patrick Murphy was from County Donegal. He emigrated during the great famine and became a famous cowboy in the Montana Territory. His business empire grew to include acquisition of valuable equestrian assets and intimate dealings with the Montana railroad. Beginning in 1865, he devoted several years of his life to service at a government facility, finally taking leave to resume his dealings with the railroad. In 1867, he was a key player in a vital investigation run by the renowned Pinkerton Detective Agency. In 1868, Patrick passed away during an important civic function held in his honour when the platform upon which he was standing collapsed.

But there is no need to go to all that trouble. Irish Roots Magazine, which has been running for seventeen years, has been purchased by Historian Maureen Phibbs and her daughter Julie, a broadcast journalist and film director.

It has been said that you know you are a genealogy addict when your dining room table has been transformed into an office and the table has been pushed into a corner to make more room for your files, you introduce your daughter as your descendent, you have more photos of dead people than of living ones and you’d rather go to a cemetery than a shopping-centre.

Maureen Phibbs had all the symptoms. She is originally from Cullen a small village outside Millstreet, Co. Cork. She is married to Pat and they live in Co. Wicklow. They have six children. Maureen’s passion for genealogy was first ignited in 1984 when a relative contacted the family from Australia. The family had been unaware of these relations and so an exciting discovery of relatives was uncovered as was a deep interest in genealogy and family history.

This led Maureen to undertaking various courses in genealogy and local history, among them a course in Maynooth NUI as well as many intensive courses in different strands of the subject. In April 1998 Maureen founded the Blessington Family History Society which went on to inspire many members and which continues to be a thriving, active and invaluable part of the West Wicklow community. She has compiled and contributed to many books.

Maureen, who believes that research, like charity, begins at home organised a conference style reunion for Phibbs family members. The highly successful ‘Phibbsfest’ brought together Phibbs family relatives from all over the World. The emotional celebration unearthed the Phibbs family tree and culminated in an enriching experience and a powerful tribute to the many Phibbs ancestors which had long since scattered across the globe.

Maureen joins the Irish Roots’ team as editor and brings with her over twenty three years experience of research in the genealogical field. Her enthusiasm, zeal and genuine passion for genealogy and family history will be reflected in her involvement in the magazine.

Julie Phibbs is Maureen’s eldest daughter ( or should that be descendent?). Julie’s background is mainly in TV Production which she studied in the Liberties College, Dublin. Julie went on to further her career in Broadcast Journalism with East Coast Media in North East Lincolnshire in 2001. She was proud to collect two of four NTL television awards at the 2002 ceremony where she won ‘Best College TV Item’ and ‘Best Community or Business Item’.

Julie was first introduced to the world of genealogy by Maureen where they collectively combined their skills to document elderly Gerard Wakelam’s moving story ‘When Evening Falls – The Search for Barbara O’Connell’. The documentary tells the story of Gerard’s search for information about his Irish mother who died when he was only four years old. Gerard from Herefordshire in England was forbidden by his grief stricken father to ever speak of his mother after her death and so the woman who was Gerard’s mother remained largely a mystery to him. The documentary follows Gerard on what would become his last trip to Ireland and his final chance to answer questions that had haunted him about her all of his life. The documentary has been shown at various film festivals around the Country.

Julie has directed various videos and DVDs for the corporate and commercial sector including ‘A Journey through West Wicklow’ and more recently ‘Sunrise on the Wicklow Hills’ a DVD commemorating four hundred years since the inauguration of Co. Wicklow. The County is depicted through ballads, stories and breathtaking scenery. See also

Julie is looking forward to working with the Irish Roots team and to further excavating her interest in the world of genealogy.

The next issue, which is out in March, has informative articles on many aspects of genealogical research as well as Links to archival material in Ireland. Back-numbers of the magazine contain articles on subjects as diverse as Irish National Dress, Hitler’s Irish Relatives and The Black Irish. If you have any interest in Ireland (or wish to develop one) Irish Roots is for you. Just remember it’s not all plain sailing as this poem (written by a frustrated researcher) will testify;

I went looking for an ancestor I cannot find him still.
He moved around from place to place and did not leave a will.
He married where a courthouse burned. He mended all his fences.
He avoided any man who came to take the US census.

He always kept his luggage packed, this man who had no fame.
And every 20 years, this rascal changed his name.
His parents came from Wicklow, they could be on some list
Of passengers to the USA, but somehow he got missed.

And no one else anywhere is searching for this man.
So I’m perusing Irish Roots to find him if I can.
I'm told he's buried in a plot, with tombstone he was blessed.
But the weather took the engraving and some vandal took the rest.

He died before the county clerks decided to keep records.
No family Bible has emerged in spite of all my efforts.
To top it off this ancestor, who has caused me many groans,
Just to give me one more pain, betrothed a girl named JONES!

And if you discover a parsimonious forefather remember . . . misers make great ancestors.

Irish Roots Magazine is now published by Irish Roots Media, Blackrock, Blessington, County Wicklow. Subscriptions for 2008 can be taken by post immediately, but not online until further notice.

Prices of 2008 subscriptions (four issues including postage) Ireland: 21 euro; UK: Stg 15 / 23 euro; US: US$28 / 23 euro; Australia A$36 / 23 euro; Canada: CAN$32 / 23 euro; Rest of World: 23 euro; please make subscrition, in draft or cheque, payable to Irish Roots and post to: Irish Roots, Blackrock, Blessington, County Wicklow, Ireland.

You can email the Editor at:

And the website is: Irish Roots Magazine or you can check the index which will point you in the right direction for the info you need, here:

Helpful Index for Irish Roots Magazine

About Irish Roots (as quoted from the home page of the magazine.)

"Ancestry is the strongest thread connecting the Irish abroad to Ireland. Tens of thousands come to Ireland each year with tracing their roots as a main objective. Irish Roots is the only publication with a modern format and a general appeal that caters for this interest.

"Now going into its seventeenth year of production, this modern, glossy magazine provides information and advice on all aspects of constructing family trees, and keeps its readers in touch with what's going on in the world of genealogy.

"Irish Roots is much more than a magazine for the family history enthusiast. It is aimed at all those who wish to know about and to identify themselves with the positive aspects of their Irish heritage. The international nature of the Irish community is particularly stressed (emphasized) by the inclusion of articles from and about Irish people round the world."

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Reader Comments

Name: John I. Blair Email:
Comment: Mattie, Thanks for the interesting, and humorous, article. While I am, to my best knowledge, not Irish (not even a little bit), I do have a Scots ancestor or two, so feel like kin. The Scots, too, are more represented by their expatriate contingent than by those who remain in the home country. While I have spent relatively little effort on genealogy, I'm fortunate to have a couple of distant cousins who did succumb to this enthusiasm, and shared their research with the family. Knowing a bit about those whose DNA I inherited has brought history to life and given me stories to share with my grandchildren.



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