Friday, September 16, 2016

Near the Lakes of Killarney:
Looking for a Footprint in the Sand

There are no census records still in existence for the time period in which John and Johanna Kelly, my husband's second great grandparents, married and raised their family in Ireland. The work-around for that research dilemma has been to look to the "tenement" survey known as Griffith's Valuation, a record of properties throughout Ireland, instituted by the British Government. Though the survey, an extensive undertaking, saw its first reports printed in 1853, it took a while to roll out the full extent of the information.

Fortunately for us, one little blip of a mention of Johanna Falvey Kelly's origin was alluded to in her obituary, which gave her home as being near the Lakes of Killarney. While that is certainly a more helpful designation than listing her origin as "Ireland," it still leaves the possibilities wide open for speculation. The Lakes of Killarney may be a useful landmark, but other than pointing us to a specific countyCounty Kerrythis clue doesn't lead us to a specific townland or civil parish.

Everything else about Johanna and her family's origin is speculation, at this point. I can search for a place where the surnames Kelly and Falvey intersect, on the hunch that the two young people couldn't have decided to marry if they didn't live in enough proximity to at least know of each other. The drawback to such a course of action, of course, is that the name John Kelly is a rather popular one in that region of the country. So is Falvey, as it turns out.

Another quandary I found myself in, once I tried hunting and pecking through the sparse Irish records, was that people in Ireland might not have seen themselves as tied to the land as the common folk of other nations might have been. I've found Kelly-Falvey connections in a number of parishes in County Kerry. Perhaps, rather than indicating that our Kelly family moved around a lot in seeking work, these records might just represent multiple families. It is hard to tell.

The completed survey for County Kerry was printed in mid-July, 1853, quite a bit before Johanna Falvey decided to exchange her vows with John Kelly. Looking on Griffith's Valuation at that date would mean finding the separate households of the parents of Johanna Falvey and John Kellyalthough if some American census reports are to be believed, John may have been old enough to be listed as an independent adult at that point, himself.

That leaves me in a genealogical catch-22; I want to use the Irish documentation to lead me to the generation prior to Johanna Falvey, but in order for Griffith's Valuation to show me the household of the then-single Johanna, I'd likely need to know her father's name.

Still, let's take a look at what can be found in the Valuation. First, a useful source for information on Griffith'sand on surname distribution in generalis John Grenham's website, where the now dismantled genealogical guides once housed at the Irish Times website currently reside.

A quick look at the Grenham site shows the visual for households listed in Griffith's by specific surname. For Falvey, the concentration is predominantly in County Kerry. Johanna's obituary was likely not waxing eloquent in referring to those Lakes of Killarney as her childhood home.

Mr. Grenham further explains that the Valuation sought to delineate which John Kelly might be my John Kellyas opposed to yoursby such references as John Kelly (Michael) or John Kelly (Weaver). Such entries would be read, "John Kelly, son of Michael," or "John Kelly, the weaver."

The website I find most useful for actually searching those Griffith's Valuation records is Ask About Ireland. There, you can search by surname and county, or drill down farther to Barony, Poor Law Union, or Civil Parish.

Because I don't know exactly where to searchin drilling down to smaller geo-political designations beyond that of countyI first tried my hand at pulling up all the Falvey families in County Kerry. This, as you can surmise by looking at the surname distribution chart provided in John Grenham's website, was a futile attempt: there are 139 households listed under the surname Falvey.

While that may seem like an unwieldy number of responses, it does provide me with another bit of information: identifying the civil parish in which each of those Falveys lived. Ostensibly, I could repeat the process, this time entering the surname Kelly, and see which entries also showed those same civil parish designations.

Though that might provide a slightly smaller list of possible parishes, it also assumes one other point: that both John and Johanna lived in exactly the same parish. It is possible that they did not.

Another approach was to put the search engine through its paces in a different way: searching by specific townlands for all residents. One of the townlands I had seen pop up in records for tentative Falveys was called Knockauncore. It turns out this townland was part of the civil parish of Kilcumminanother name I had seen pop up in records as I searched for tentative Falveys.

Searching the Griffith's Valuation, once I located the Knockauncore page, I spotted an icon labeled, "Occupants." Clicking on that pulled up the names of all residents in that townlanda much more manageable eighteen households. Included in the list was an Anne Falvey and a Mary Kelly. In addition, there were some Fleming households, a surname I had spotted as sponsors on some possible Kelly baptismal records.

Of course, what are the chances? It is not beyond the realm of reason to find any given townland in County Kerry populated with both Kellys and Flemings, as well as Falveys. Besides checking for the intersection of Falveys and Kellys in each of these townlands, it will help to add clues from possible baptismal recordsif these can be found in the Catholic records for the church parishes in the area. 

Above: "The Waterbabies," watercolor by Dublin-born artist Rose Maynard Barton (1856 - 1929); courtesy Wikipedia; in the public domain.


  1. Jacqui, you are incredible ! Thanks for demonstrating the steps you took to make working in the Griffiths less insane (-: It is daunting but if one stays on course cross- referencing with church records, it could open up strong pathways to our families. Btw, all of my own Irish lived in Kerry. In fact, I heard from two DNA Falveys cousins from Kerry a month ago. I wonder if ours connect somewhere near Killarney.

    1. Magda, I had no idea you were researching Irish--and not just sharing this common County Kerry connection, but Falveys, too? We really must compare notes!


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