Monday, October 26, 2020

Connecting With County Kerry


How hard it seems to be to connect the generations of Irish descendants with their origin in famine-era Ireland. Especially for those with Catholic roots, the question is always there whether records have even survived over the generations—or, for those few which have been preserved as transcriptions, whether the records were accurately reflected in the process.

To search for the Falvey line among our DNA matches has been straightforward on one point: these Falvey ancestors claimed their heritage as County Kerry. But where in County Kerry? For my husband's second great-grandmother, the best we could find was a newspaper article at her passing which credited the location as the Lakes of Killarney. While that may seem helpful, it is nearly useless as such a generic label.

Tracing the generations of my husband's Falvey DNA match in New Zealand—one match of many, though the closest to date of the tests at—I chose not to trace Mary Falvey, the actual ancestor, but her husband, Humphrey O'Leary. There were several reasons for this, not least of which is the difficulty with searching not only a married woman—who most likely would be listed in the few public mentions I'd find as Mrs. H. J. O'Leary—but a woman with a name as common as Mary.

Fortunately, Mary's husband was held in high regard at the time of his 1934 death. Correspondingly, there was much to be gleaned from New Zealand newspapers concerning the man and his personal history. In one memorial, however, I couldn't help but notice a treatment similar to what I had found for our Johanna Falvey in Indiana at the time of her passing: that he was "born near Killarney, County Kerry, Ireland."

There was much to learn about the life of this Humphrey O'Leary from this August 6, 1934, article in the Wairarapa Daily Times. Although the date of arrival in New Zealand given in the newspaper does not agree with the passenger record we've already examined, the Times article also mentioned the age at which Humphrey arrived in New Zealand. Whether we rely on the data provided in the newspaper or that from the passenger record, either combination of dates leads us back to an approximate birth year of 1853.

Now that we have a likely birth date, what are the chances that we can find a baptismal record for this particular Humphrey O'Leary? With a surname like O'Leary, I figured the chance would be slim, indeed, but that didn't stop me from looking.

Just in case everyone had that year of birth miscalculated, I searched with a two year range on either side of the 1853 date extrapolated from Humphrey O'Leary's date of death. Though the baptismal date for one finding—December 9 of 1854—was a bit later than I felt prudent in accepting, it was still within a reasonable range. That digitized record of the actual baptismal entry showed a "Humphreus," son of "Dionysii Leary" and Ann Sullivan—yes, another Sullivan—with sponsors listed as John and Julianna Leary. An encouraging detail was that the baptism occurred in a location in which I've found other family records: Molahiffe.

While not wishing to discard this entry prematurely, I also wanted to see what other records might be available. Although not a copy of the actual parish record, there was a transcription for a baptismal record for another son named Humphrey O'Leary. The entry was copied from the parish record for Tralee, and gave the residence for the family as Cahirleheen (likely a misspelling of Caherleheen, townlands which span two civil districts in County Kerry).

This transcription extrapolated a date of birth—"based on other date information"—as 22 September 1853. The parents were listed as John O'Leary and Margaret "Leary," leaving questions as to whether that was her maiden name or a poorly copied married name. Still, the listing of baptismal sponsors caught my eye. The godparents were listed as Elizabeth Hurly and James Barry.

With the surname Barry, we stumble upon our first sign of what may become yet another difficulty we'll confront with researching the families related to our Falvey line. From Humphrey O'Leary's own obituary, we can see that one of his daughters happened to marry a man by that same surname, Barry. Could that be coincidence? Or did that Barry also arrive in New Zealand from County Kerry, Ireland? It was not unusual for settlers in the early years of colonization in North America to marry cousins; perhaps that was not an unlikely scenario for those emigrants from the British Isles, headed in the opposite direction to the shores of New Zealand. 


  1. Sometimes it all seems like a circle, doesn't it!

    1. Yes...and I'm getting dizzy! I think I'm in a tailspin.

  2. Well one good thing, you wont find that many Humphreys in Ireland :-)

    1. That is what I thought at first, Dara, despite noticing that there was not just oneHumphrey O'Leary on the boat to New Zealand, but two!

      However, thinking it might be a British name, I checked out the origin of the given name Humphrey. Surprise: it came over with the Normans--you know, that wave of "immigrants" to Ireland who eventually became "more Irish than the Irish."


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