Searching for My Relatives Part 1: Kilkenny, Ireland

By: Matthew

Three Castles 05

We have all seen the commercials on TV for Ancestry.com, and I am sure some of you have even contemplated signing up and digging into your family tree. Well, I did just that. Then I followed it up by planning a trip that centered on doing some actual on the ground searching. For those of you that haven’t signed up for an account, the main limitation stems from the inability to view names or records for anyone who is still alive. This little wrinkle makes it a bit harder to actually shake hands with a distant relative. I wasn’t going to let that stand in my way, though.

My plan was to amass as much information as possible and then get to the town listed and place some local inquiries. First up, a search into my father’s line. As I started my research, the first relatives I could find born outside of North America were from Kilkenny, Ireland. I was hot on the trail now, or so I thought. Further research into Kilkenny led me to the discovery that not only was it a town, but also it was the county. Consequently as the county seat Kilkenny was used as the main records center, and entries could be for anywhere in the county.

John-Irish-Records

A sample record from Ancestry.com

Persistence and comparing a lot of other users family trees to mine led to my first clue. My relatives appeared to be from a little town called Three Castles that reside in Kilkenny County. I had my first solid lead as my great-great-great-grandfather, and his father were both known to be buried in the area. Unfortunately, tiny towns typically mean small amounts of info available over the Internet. I didn’t let that deter me though as I started to search for cemeteries in the area. That’s when I got my first lucky break in the form of a blog called “Ireland In Ruins” by someone dubbed Castlehunter. A photo on his blog matched one I had seen posted on Ancestory.com, and now I knew the cemetery I was looking for. As a bonus Castlehunter had included directions to the old church and cemetery; Yahtzee!

The moment of truth had come, and I was on the ground in Ireland with Heather and my parents. We had rented a car and were staying in Kilkenny, as Three Castles is tiny and is only 7 miles away. We proceeded to follow Castlehunter’s directions to the cemetery, and only managed to get ourselves turned around a few times. As we parked the car, I started to get excited. We headed up the walkway towards the church and proceeded to enter the grounds, and suddenly I became aware of my accelerating heartbeat. Thanks to some help from another user on Ancestor.com, I had a picture of the set of gravestones I was looking for. As I showed the image to everyone it became like a game for a moment, to see who could find them first. Within a few minutes, we were able to locate them, and then we took another few minutes to soak it all in. It is an odd feeling to have some attachment to a stone planted in the ground with words carved in it, but I did. After that, we each spent time examining the grounds and scouring the other headstones for more possible family members. We were all pretty excited that it was working out so well, but what happened next was unreal.

Steps leading up to the Three Castles church.

Steps leading up to the Three Castles church.

Inside the remains of the Three Castles church.

Inside the remains of the Three Castles church.

Searching for grave markers from my family.

Searching for grave markers from my family.

After we left the church, we just wanted to take a drive through the town of Three Castles in an attempt to get more of a feel for the place. I had spotted some cows that I was thinking of taking some photos of on our first pass and pulled over on the way back to do so. That is when my dad noticed a man doing some yard work and decided to go over and chat a moment. Turns out the man knew of some people still in the area that shared our last name and gave us directions to their place. 20 minutes later we were knocking on the door of a house of a potential relative. We had gone to Ireland in the thought that maybe we would maybe get lucky and find a few graves. However, thanks to my dad for taking a complete shot in the dark we spent the next hour or so having tea and cake and talking with our family. It felt like straight out of a movie; we couldn’t have asked for a better outcome.

The cows that initially had caught my eye.

The cows that initially had caught my eye.

Next up was tracing my mother’s heritage in Sicily. Would we be so lucky again, stay tuned…

Have you ever gone searching for your ancestors, any luck? We would love to hear your stories.

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Comments 7

  1. Pingback: Road Tripping: Ireland Part 1 - Travelationship

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      Ami, I wish others countries were half as organized as India sounds to be. I think for sure you should plan a trip to visit your relatives, it was a great experience. Thanks for stopping by.

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  3. I have been doing genealogy on my birth family since the early ’80’s. For someone who is adopted that is extremely difficult when you have no names to go by. In 1991 in my birth city of Madison, WI, I got the big break. I was able to obtain my original birth certificate. This led to me asking for the birth certificates of my sister, brother, birthparents. It is illegal in Wisconsin for adoptees to search for their families. I didn’t know this at the time. The clerk who was very adoptee-searching friendly let me know that my birth father had changed his last name in 1949 when the state of WI learned that he had been using his step-father’s surname. This was the big break as well as my sister’s certificate that stated there were 4 living children before her. The clerk pointed me to the huge ledgers in the next room. I spent some time perusing the books. Hint: sealed records are blacked out but if you discreetly hold them up to the light you can read the names blacked out. If you searched old newspapers for birth announcements in the local papers at the library you may come up with some real gems. On all of our certificates it lists the parents of the mother and father. Names, state or country of birth are included. Sometimes only the country and not the actual city. Ancestry now has birth records from other countries. My great-grandfather was listed as coming from King of Kings. Had no idea where that was so I googled it. Not much info except that it was a region in Italy. It took another 10 years before I discover a photo of my great-uncle’s application for a passport that listed the city as Naples, Italy. My great-grandfather had emigrated from Italy in the 1840’s. He met and married an American born Irish girl. Somewhere along the line they separated after having 8 children. Still not sure of the circumstances. She took the 2 youngest with her to Wisconsin. One of those was my grandfather who married a German/English woman who family can be traced to indentured servants on the Mayflower. They were also generals in the Am. Revolution fighting alongside Gen. George Washington. In June of this year I met a long lost 4th cousin from this side of the family. I was the only member of the Wolf family that he had ever met. DNA is what connected us. I have found over 200 matches on my DNA. My husband and I attended the Wolf family reunion in Minneapolis and had a wonderful time. I hope that I will be able to find more on my Irish great-great-grandparents. Her name is Bridget. She married ? Kane. There are thousands of Kane family members – but which one is mine. I’ve only seen 1 reference on Ancestry regarding my g-g-grandmother visiting my g-grandmother during a census. Also my g-grandfather’s Italian lineage is still a mystery. I do know that his father was Michael Angelo Gilberti or Giliberti. They changed it to Gilbert when they arrived in America. They lived in Brooklyn, Kings, NY. I know the info will come to me eventually and I search every day for it. I am planning a trip to the east coast to do more research sometime next year. Then I hope to visit my g-g-grandparents homelands of Ireland and Italy. Oh. My maternal side was easier. She was born in the USA but her parents were both Swiss. After finding my birth records I found my older sister the same day and she filled me in on the other siblings. We found a younger brother. We still have 2 younger ones to find. The sister, brother I grew up with and me were 3 of 10 children. My brother is gone now but I was so glad that shortly before he died I was able to tell him about his Italian roots.

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