Most descendants of Irish Catholic ancestors know the bitter truth about research progress, when it comes to reaching back to the homeland before the Great Famine: records that can provide assurance that, yes, we are tracing the right individuals are few, if any.
I thought perhaps I had a chance at reconstructing one branch of my Irish-American father-in-law. His paternal grandmother hadn't left Ireland until almost 1870, long after the famine exodus had flooded American ports with record-keeping challenges. By that later date, I hoped, governmental officials and other keepers of records—think newspapers, for one—would have upped their game enough to capture greater details about each new arrival. Likewise, Catholics back in the home country would, by that point, have been less likely to be punitively excluded from customary civil records, and ecclesiastical duties would have been less covert, as well.
So far, though, that shining hope has not lit on any revealing documents. I am still as much at a loss over these most-recent immigrant arrivals from my father-in-law's heritage as I've been for the past decade.
Except for one detail: my husband has had this DNA match who claims this very same heritage—and is diligently researching the same family line, as well.
The line we are both pursuing has the added misfortune, in my father-in-law's case, of being associated with a surname claimed by a great number of Irish, both remaining at home and circling the globe in their quest for a better home: Kelly. In my father-in-law's history, fortunately, that Kelly ancestor married a woman by the name of Falvey in March of 1859.
As it turns out, that Falvey surname could possibly be the one to help untangle my father-in-law's Kelly roots. We have a DNA match between my husband and a descendant from that extended Falvey family from County Kerry, Ireland. The only issue is that this DNA match is not living in the United States—and is not even a descendant still living in Ireland. This DNA match comes from a line which left Ireland and journeyed halfway around the world to settle in New Zealand.
Not to worry about that match out of left field. I'd already made the exciting discovery that our Falvey ancestor had, indeed, had a family member who had moved to New Zealand. I learned it from reading the fine print in Johanna Falvey Kelly's own 1903 obituary:
She was born in County Kerry, Ireland, but came to America with her husband, John Kelly, in 1870, locating in Fort Wayne the same year, and has resided in this city continuously since that time. The husband died about eleven years ago. Three children survive.... There are also several sisters living in Ireland and one in New Zealand.
Don't you wish those old-fashioned obituaries would have been more specific about the details we seek? With that one clue about New Zealand, though, I feel I have enough of a confirmation to proceed with what will turn out to be a considerable amount of research grunt work.
While we can't just flip open a record book and point to a specific page where the document lays out everything we need to know about this Falvey family, we can, with the help of DNA confirmation and several related documents, construct a collection of records which can allow us to draw inferences from the few hints we find along that research trail.
Above: Excerpt from the handwritten Catholic Parish Registers for Kilcummin in County Kerry, Ireland, showing the 1859 marriage of Johannis Kelly; courtesy Ancestry.com.