Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Tuesday's Tips: Poet, Priest, or Mariner?: Not every Irishman was a farmer

Coopers and Scribers, Jameson Distillery, Smithfield Dublin.  Great-grandfather Patrick Magee, back row 2nd from right.
This is an updated version of a post which I first wrote in the summer of 2010, after I came upon a surprising number of sites which posed the question, "Did you know your Irish ancestors were tenant farmers?".  This update includes new links to assist you in finding those Irish ancestors who were not farmers.

While 19th century statistics show that most Irish worked the lands as tenant farmers, the fact is that not everyone who ever lived in Ireland was a farmer.  There were some Irish landowners as well, and you may find your ancestors among them (see Failte Romhat site check index and PDFs).

Also, your ancestors may have lived in an urban area such as Dublin City.  The city of Dublin is over 1000 years old, a very significant period of time within which to search for ancestors who were neither farmers nor farm workers.  Even some of those who lived outside the walls of the metropolis were not necessarily farmers.

Consider some of the professions held by members in my own family tree:

Ball Family:

Patrick Sr., Francis, Patrick, Anthony: at least four generations of Cabinet Makers (furniture makers)

Cavanaugh Family:

John and William: two generations as Proprietors of a Carman's Stage (a.k.a. Innkeepers)

Fitzpatrick Family:

Thomas: Victualler and Grocer
Leo: Jockey

Geraghty Family:

Patrick: Car Proprietor (i.e. owner of a service providing Horse-drawn carriages, Flys, Funeral Corteges, etc.)
John: Car Driver (driver of above mentioned carriages)
Patrick: University Professor
Michael: Parish Priest and later Canon in the R.C. Church

Kettle Family:

Andrew J.: Secretary of the Land League (okay, he was a farmer too.)
Thomas M.: Barrister, University Professor, Writer and Poet
Laurence J: City Electrical Engineer, Dublin

Magee Family:

Francis: Engineer
Patrick and Michael: Scribers at Jameson's Distillery
Francis: Manager at Jameson's Distillery

Ward Family:

Thomas and James Joseph: Mariners


Learning the occupations of your ancestors can give you insight into the fortunes of the family.

You may be able to glean information about their social status, level of education, and even migration patterns.  The main breadwinner of the family may have held a single job long term, or may have held many jobs over time, particularly if he was an unskilled labourer.  Unskilled labourers would often move around the country, or to the U.K. and beyond, in search of work.   Many Irish worked on the docks in Liverpool, as well as in the Lancashire mines.  Also, a record which reveals a married woman with a profession, particularly in the early part of the 20th century, may hint at a suffragette.

Consider the following sources:

1. Marriage registrations.

Civil registration of ALL births, marriages, and deaths in Ireland began in 1864. (Registration of Non-Catholic marriages began in 1845). What a boon for researchers, since these records offer so much more information than Parish Registers, including the professions of those mentioned on the record, such as the betrothed and their fathers.

It was not unusual for sons to follow in their father's footsteps, so you may find a son in a similar profession to that of his father. This marriage registration of my great grand-aunt Alice Fitzpatrick and her husband James Joseph Ward indicates her father was a farmer, and both James and his father were Mariners.
Click on image to view larger version.

2. Birth Registrations

In the civil registration of a birth you will find the occupation of the child's father included, along with the father's address. While the address of father and child are usually the same, if the father was working abroad or in another part of Ireland, then his address from that place will be included.   If your ancestor came from a large family compare the birth registration records of all the children. You can get a good picture of their father's working life, giving you insight into the fortunes of the family from the changes you see in employment.

Birth registration of my maternal grandmother Mary Angela Fitzpatrick.
Her father's profession is noted as Victualler and Grocer.
Click on image to view larger version.
NOTE: You can apply for and purchase birth registrations online through the Health Service Executive Ireland website. This is the official government website of the Civil Registration Service, and can be accessed through the General Register Office website as well.  The registration is mailed to you.  Ideally you should have the exact date of the event or at least a good approximation of the date, and as much information as possible. Also, registrations for marriages (from 1922) and deaths (from 1924) can be purchased through this site, but only for those registered after the dates I have indicated in parentheses. See the website for complete information.

3. Cemetery registers.

Often the job title or profession of the deceased, or the father or husband of the deceased is listed in the register. For example, this image from the register of Glasnevin Cemetery shows the burial record of Francis Ball Jr., son of my maternal great-grandfather Francis Ball. You will note the child is referred to as 'Casemaker's son'. If your ancestor was interred in Glasnevin Cemetery, then records such as this one can be accessed via the Glasnevin Trust website.

Click on image to view larger version.

4.  Obituaries

Although the professions of none of his other children are mentioned in the obituary of my paternal great-grandfather Patrick Geraghty, the profession of his son Michael and that of one of his grandsons show up in the first line of the obituary, "...father of Rev. M. Geraghty, C.C., and grandfather of Rev. D. Geraghty, O.P.".  You may come across this in the obituaries of your own ancestors, particularly if a family member held a job considered to bear some prestige. The Irish Newspaper Archive is a good source to use if you are searching for obituaries. As the world's largest archive of Irish newspapers, they offer access to newspapers from all over the country of Ireland dating back to 1763.

Click on image to view larger version.

5.  Census Records 

The fully extant Census Records from 1901 and 1911 have a column for specific identification of the job held by an individual at the time of the census taking.  On the National Archives site you can even search by occupation. (see this Census search page of The National Archives of Ireland website).  Click on 'more search options' to search by occupation.  It is apparent from this 1911 Census record that Thomas Kettle wanted to ensure his profession was well understood, as well as that of his wife, Mary Sheehy.

In addition to Thomas Kettle's occupation as Barrister and Economics professor,
both he and his wife Mary are recorded as graduates of the National University of Ireland, and as writers.
Click on image to view larger version.
6. Directories

City and Country directories are a great resource for learning about an ancestor's occupation, and some of them can be found online (click on the blue links below to view various editions). Many of these are freely available on Google Books, although not all years are available. FindMyPast.ie also has a significant collection of almanacs and directories from all around Ireland, offering access to information on over two million persons. The site is membership based, but materials can be also be viewed by purchasing credits.

Some classes of workers are excluded from directories, such as landless labourers, small lot tenant farmers, and servants; however, you will find the following included: shop keepers, apothecaries, pawnbrokers, bankers, ecclesiastics, and a whole host of others.

Look for the following titles:

1751-1837: Wilson's Directory and The Treble Almanack (Wilson's Directory was published as part of the Treble beginning 1837).
from 1820: Pigot & Slater's countrywide directories; Slater's Directory.
1834-1849: Pettigrew and Oulton's Dublin Almanac and General Register of Ireland
1844-present day: Thom's Irish Almanac and Official Directory

If you have ancestors who were members of the Catholic clergy, then you may want to take a look at The Irish Catholic Directory, Almanac and Registry 1876.  Google Books has various years freely available including 1872, 1874, and the year I have linked to, 1876.  These directories also include the Australian registers and U.S. registers of Irish Catholic clergy.

The Dictionary of National Biography:  If you have any ancestors who were in a profession which gave them even a modicum of fame, such as judge, lawyer, archeologist, or geologist, then you may want to take a look at this twenty-two volume alphabetical series.  It contains biographical information on thousands of prominent figures in Ireland (and in Britain) up to the year 1900. A number of these volumes are freely available for viewing on Google Books.  The link I have included above will take you to volume two.


Click on images to view larger version.


  1. My ancestor Patrick Fox from the townland of Drumbrick in County Leitrim was a cooper. I found this using the Ireland Census records of 1901.

    Is there any way to find out how successful he was as a cooper?

    Regards, Jim
    Genealogy Blog at Hidden Genealogy Nuggets

    1. Hello Jim,

      You’ve mentioned finding your ancestor listed with the occupation ‘Cooper’ in the 1901 census, but where does the trail go from there?

      You may wish to consider some of the following: Have you checked the birth and/or marriage registrations of his children? These will indicate his profession. The 1911 census records have his wife Mary as a widow, so do you have his registration of death? His occupation will be on it. A life spent in a single profession is indicative of some level of success.

      Also the fact that his son Patrick was a Cooper (and continues to be a Cooper in 1911 in County Cavan, his mother’s birthplace) may indicate a family business. Do you know what firm either Patrick was employed by? Did he have his own shop or work for someone else? What cooperages existed in his area of Leitrim (and Cavan) in the period in question? Have you checked trade registers or directories to see if he is listed as an independent? Also, have you done collateral research to see if any of his brothers were employed as Coopers. Again, this may point to a family business.

      Although none of these methods taken on its own will give the whole picture of his success, drawing them together may give you some sense of his life as a Cooper.

      It would be interesting to continue to follow the trail of Patrick junior to see if any of his sons became Coopers.

      I wish you much good fortune with your search.



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Cheers, Jennifer

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