Put Some Green in Your Genealogy

By: Carolyn L. Barkley


One of the most satisfying things about writing this blog has been the unexpected connections with those of you who are reading it (hopefully every week!). The following article has become my standard Saint Patrick’s Day article, updated as new information or insights have become available. To my Holdcraft contacts in Ireland who got in touch with me after the 2010 article, I apologize for the long silence on my end following our brief flurry of emails. I indeed have kept them all and plan to reopen our discussion and share some information in the near future.

Saturday, March 17th is the day when everyone claims to be Irish. For many of you, however, your research has documented a bit – or a lot – of green in your family tree. You may have known of such ethnic connections prior to your research, with family surnames such as O’Meara, Hennessey and others. For some of us, the discovery may have been more serendipitous.

First, a genealogical story with an Irish twist: I grew up with a piano in the house and several generations who enjoyed an evening of song around the piano. Among the sheet music was George M. Cohan’s Harrigan, written for the 1907 Broadway musical of the same name. (“H – A – double R – I – G – A – N spells Harrigan / Proud of all the Irish blood that’s in me…”). It’s a catchy tune – one of those that once it’s in your head, it stays there, seemingly forever. Once, when I was doing some research in the Pioneer Valley Historical Society Library in Springfield, Massachusetts, the only people in the room that morning were me and a rather gruff (at least that was my initial impression) archivist/family historian. He was whistling the tune and without really thinking about it, I supplied the words – out loud. He was, needless to say, surprised to be in the presence of a singing researcher, but was also quite pleased that I too knew the song. This shared snippet of cultural literacy thawed the ice and he provided me with outstanding assistance for the rest of the day. One never knows when Irish-related musical information will prove the key to a great research experience!

Some years ago, tired of the brick walls in my own research lines, I turned to my son’s paternal ancestral lines for a fresh start. I knew that his great-grandmother’s maiden name was Susan Holdcraft and that she lived in Frederick County, Maryland, but not much more. Having looked at the name from time-to-time, I had assumed (never wise) that the surname was German. Knowing absolutely nothing about German genealogical research, I ran in the other direction! The time eventually was right and I finally began to research the Holdcrafts – possible German research or not.

My assumption proved to be partially incorrect – Holdcraft was indeed not a German name–but other family lines connected to the Holdcrafts were …….??.

An IGI search revealed that Susan was born 12 February 1870 at Brook Hill in Frederick County, Maryland, the daughter of James Patrick [alternately given as Patrick James] Holdcraft and Catherine Anne Sophia Dutrow. The Dutrow line clearly includes German research as its corollary surnames are Ramsburg and Devilbiss. A further IGI search indicated that James Patrick Holdcraft was born in September 1836 at Keagh’s Cross, co. Louth, Ireland, the son of James Holdcraft and Rose McCabe. Subsequent emails I received from Holdcraft researchers indicated that the family may have come to Ireland from the Lancashire area of England a few generations earlier. A James Patrick Holdcraft was in the United States by the time of the Civil War, and in June 1861 enlisted in Co. K of the 5th Regiment, Massachusetts Foot Volunteers, later Co. K of the 9th Massachusetts Infantry. Left behind by his unit in Maryland in 1862, he stayed in Maryland for a long time, and, fearing arrest on charges of desertion, enlisted in Co. D of the H1st Regiment Potomac Home Brigade, Maryland Cavalry, on 29 July 1863, under the name of James E. McCabe, using his mother’s maiden name. When I read all of his service records, an enormous (three folders) widow’s pension file, and consulted Frederick County records, I was able to document that the James Patrick Holdcraft who was born in co. Louth and the James E. McCabe who served in the Maryland Cavalry were the same individual – the James Patrick Holdcraft who married Catherine Ann Sophia Dutrow. I then had Irish research to pursue (while continuing to let the German lines languish).

While several family events prevented me from pursuing this research much further over the last few years, my son’s recent interest in genealogical research led him to locate a picture of Catherine Ann Suphia Dutrow linked to an individual’s family tree on Ancestry.com (an extremely unflattering picture to say the least.) Not only has this photographic discovery made me more open to searching these family trees, where previously I have considered them as “last resorts” given the frequency of inaccuracies and undocumented information, but has also reenergized my research into the Holdcraft family and its origins.

Whenever you begin research in a new geographical area, whether in the United States or elsewhere, the best way to begin is by reading a good overall research guide. For Ireland, one of the best is the third edition of John Grenham’s Tracing Your Irish Ancestors (Genealogical Publishing Co., 2006). Grenham discusses major record groups (civil records, census records, church records and land records) as well as wills, emigration, deeds, newspapers, and directories. Ireland also has distinctive genealogical records, including Griffith’s Valuation (index CD and currently on sale from genealogical.com), Tithe Applotment Books (available on CD from genealogical.com), flax tax records, and more. In addition to providing an understanding of these various types of records, Tracing Your Irish Ancestors includes county source lists. To assist me in my Holdcraft research, I was able to find a list of co. Louth census returns and substitutes beginning in 1600 and ending in 1911. The census substitutes include such things as voter lists, a 1796 Spinning-Wheel Premium List, and Brewers Lists. In addition, Grenham also lists local histories, local journals, directories and county guides, published gravestone inscriptions, and estate record lists. A section on Roman Catholic registers includes a map of co. Louth showing twenty-three churches in three dioceses and listing extant baptismal, marriage and burial registers. I now know what records are available, often where they are located, and I can read about the purpose, content and use of each. Now I just need to find the time to continue my research!

A useful resource to take with you on research trips is Brian Mitchell’s Irish Genealogy Research, part of Genealogical Publishing Company’s Genealogy at a Glance series. A great deal of helpful information is packed into four pages with tips on specific types of records (passenger lists, civil registers, church registers, census returns, Griffith’s valuations, tithe applotment books, and census substitutes) and suggestions for further reference. Researchers should also consult FamilySearch’s Wiki articles on Ireland or join the Irish Research Forum, where you can post research-related questions and receive assistance. (A link is provided from the Wiki to the Forum; then click the Forum Tools box to subscribe.)

An additional strategy for learning about new areas and resources for Ireland is to attend a national conference and attend lectures by experts in the field. Two of the lectures included in this year’s program for the National Genealogical Society’s Family History Conference in Cincinnati Ohio (9 – 12 May) includes “To Be Irish and American: the Famine Immigrants” and “Unpuzzling Ireland’s Church Records.” If national conferences are not possible, see what programs are being offered in your local area, perhaps as part of Saint Patrick’s Day activities. For example, the Augusta County Historical Society (Staunton, Virginia) is offering the program on the evening of March 20th, “Discovering Your Irish and Scotch Irish Roots,” presented by Fintan Mulland and Brian Trainor of the Ulster Historical Foundation. As an adjunct to the evening lecture, one-on-one consultations can be scheduled.


Among the 178 Irish research titles available from genealogical.com are:

Irish Flax Growers List, 1796 (available on CD; currently on sale).

A Topographical Dictionary of Ireland by Samuel Lewis, 2 volumes (Clearfield, 2004).

A New Genealogical Atlas of Ireland by Brian Mitchell (second edition, Genealogical Publishing Co., 2008).

A Guide to Irish Parish Registers by Brian Mitchell (Genealogical Publishing Co., 2009).

A Guide to Irish Churches and Graveyards by Brian Mitchell (Genealogical Publishing Co., 2001).

General Alphabetical Index to the Townlands and Towns, Parishes and Baronies of Ireland  (1861, reprinted by Genealogical Publishing Co., 2006; currently on sale at genealogical.com).

Land Owners in Ireland 1876 (1876, reprinted by Genealogical Publishing Co., 1988; currently on sale at genealogical.com).


Selected additional resources include:

Duffy, Sean, ed. The Macmillan Atlas of Irish History (Macmillan, 1997).

Grenham, John. Grenham’s Irish Surnames (CD from Eneclann Ltd.).

Index of Irish Wills, 1848-1858 (CD from Eneclann Ltd.).

MacLysaght, Edward. The Surnames of Ireland (6th edition from Irish Academic Press, 1991).

Ryan, James G. Irish Records: Sources for Family and Local History (Ancestry, 1988).

Cyndi’s List. Ireland and North Ireland Section.

Family History Library. Place name search for Ireland in general or for specific counties.

National Archives of Ireland.



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