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