The O’Connors: Their Native Tongue

Having been sidetracked for a few months (three countries, five apartments, and a global pandemic will do that!), I finally got back into researching the O’Connors. For this phase of the research, I’ve had my 3rd great-grandfather, Thomas O’Connor, as the central figure.

Part of this early research consists of compiling all of the known documentation that myself, my grandma, and my great-aunt have collected over the years, starting from the basics with census records. While I’ve referenced these records for years, in my meticulous re-examination I’m poring over every column and each pencil mark in an attempt to catch as much valuable information as possible.

And in doing so, I am reminded that this is So! Important! Because….

When I got to the 1910 US Census, I noticed that for some individuals whose parents are listed as having been born abroad, more information seems to have been squeezed into the columns. In fact, it seemed to me that not only were foreign birthplaces recorded, but so were what appeared to be native languages.

To be sure, I referenced the 1910 Census Instructions to Enumerators (an invaluable resource for deciphering each census, as the instructions given to enumerators changed with every edition). Sure enough, I found that enumerators were instructed to record not just the birth country, but the “mother tongue” as well- in the same given space for each column! This is due to the question having been added after the schedules were printed, and is represented in the enumerator instructions.

Information like this is essential to understanding the context in which specific censuses were compiled!

At this point, I started to get very, very excited, as what I saw when looking at Thomas’ entry was that, as expected, both of his parents had “Ire” as their place of birth, but there was more. What was written for each parent was “Ire Irish.”

1910 US Census

They were native Irish speakers.

And that’s not all– if you take a look at what information is given for Thomas in his children Henrietta and William T’s lines, we see that his birthplace is listed as Ohio, but his native language given is Irish!

So far, this is the only reference I’ve come across that suggests Thomas grew up as a first-generation American speaking Irish, but it has been enough to floor me. I’ve yet to write about my own experience learning and studying the Irish language, but this revelation that my family spoke Irish at the time of their emigration serves as my direct link to a patrimony that I have long extolled.

More evidence that Thomas’ parents, Patrick and Catherine, spoke Irish is given again 10 years later in the 1920 census. This iteration had the separate columns that the 1910 census lacked, but it seems that the native language of Thomas wasn’t inquired about this time, presumably due to his birth in Ohio.

1920 US Census

This new information isn’t just personally meaningful to myself as a linguist of Irish descent, but it will also help us as we continue searching for where the O’Connors came from. At the time of the Famine, the Irish language was in decline and used mainly by populations of speakers among Ireland’s west coast.

The day I came across this information was exactly 110 years since the day that that 1910 census sheet was enumerated. 110 years later, Thomas’ 3rd great-grandson now lives in the country that his family was forced to leave, learning the tongue that they brought to foreign shores, attempting to preserve the precious heritage they left behind.

Slán go fóill,


The O’Connors: An Introduction

The flights are booked, the documents are in order, and it’s actually happening–

I’m moving to Ireland. By way of Italy, naturally, but come St. Patrick’s Day 2020 I will be a resident of Dublin. And as my genealogical pursuits have always been closely tied to contemporary narratives in my life, I find it fitting to apply my newfound research focus to the family that first sparked my interest in genealogy as a young boy, my grandma’s family, the O’Connors.

My very namesake (“We dropped the O in the ocean,” my great-grandfather would always tell my grandmother and her siblings), hearing the story of how, generations ago, this group of people left their native land to end up in Ohio fascinated me. I wanted to know more about Ireland and their motivations for boarding a ship and sailing away, to understand the historical context of colonial oppression and the dynamics of the Great Famine. Since those early days of intense interest, I have learned a bit more about them, but even bigger questions remain, ones that I hope to address through making this my research focus.

I will first gather all of the information that we know of and have discovered, compiling it into my new tree in the Gramps desktop software, meticulously citing sources and creating a comprehensive view of what we know so far and what we hope to discover. One of the guiding questions for this process will be one of the biggest questions that remains unknown to the living descendants- where are we from?

Since I wish to discover all there is to tell about this particular family, I’ll be engaging in cluster research. I will not only look for known members the family in the usual places, but I will study censuses, land records, directories to understand who they knew and interacted with in their daily lives, who they may have known from Ireland and possibly immigrated with, what their business dealings looked like, what patterns show up in names, their neighbors… I will give my utmost dedication to painting the stories not only of their individual lives, but the greater contexts of time, place, and community that they found themselves in.

I will complement this historically centered research with my growing understanding of genetic genealogy and DNA research techniques. I am fortunate that not only my grandma but many of her siblings too have tested their DNA, which could prove critical in supporting eventual hypotheses.

In these ways, I hope to discover long sought answers and narrate the stories until-now suspended in time. It will be a journey that spans decades, oceans, faiths and languages, the grand tale of our arrival in America.

To Fresh Starts and New Beginnings

In a general way, I’m reevaluating my life and the systems I have left employed and unquestioned. I’m questioning if I really enjoy the sweaters in that pile that remain unworn, or the foods I eat mindlessly that leave me wishing I hadn’t. And I’m taking stock of the things that do bring me joy, and optimizing them. One of these omnipresent interests has been my genealogical research.

In line with my reappraisal of Everything, after years of hot and cold, on and off family research, I’m finally revamping, renovating, and renewing. This quest for optimal function has led me to realize that I need a genealogical overhaul. Simply put, halfhearted source searches on Ancestry that lead into rapidly-proliferating tangential side quests just aren’t good for big picture productivity and accountability.

This blog is hence born from this new, nervous place of opportunity. One in which I realize that my methods and systems won’t grant me the success I strive for as a capital-R Researcher. Here, I will hold myself accountable and document my journey as I learn and implement better ways to do genealogy. I also would like to begin crafting more personal reflections on the process, what genealogy means to me, and shining stories dusted off from the family archives.

The journey of a thousand sorted sources begins with a single citation, or something along those lines. Here we go! It’s bound to be a fun ride.