The Fitzgerald coat of arms accompanied the "Sons of Gerald" ("Fils Gérald") out of Norman France and into assimilation among the Irish.
My name is Brian Fitzgerald and this is a website about looking for the roots of my father's family in Ireland. My particular roots are on the Dingle peninsula in the county of Kerry, and like most webpages dedicated to a particular search, not all of my experience in tracking back to my ancestors will be relevant to others looking to do the same. There are many many other lines of Fitzgeralds and FitzGeralds, and the resources available for search in other countries, and even within Ireland, can vary greatly. If you're looking for your own family's roots in Ireland, there's a few research tools that have helped me which you'll find in the Resources section -- along with a few that may help if your ancestors emigrated to the US -- regardless of what country they came from.
But I do have some general advice. Over the course of ten years or so of idle curiousity and bouts of directed research, the most useful information I 've gotten has come from... other researchers and other Fitzgeralds. A non-related Australian FitzGerald who had seen my website and detoured his own research while in Ireland to find the birth records of my Great-Uncles and Aunts. A cousin who pointed out I had the wrong ship's manifest for the wrong Fitzgerald's arrival in New York, because he remembered a crucial, tiny detail of a story: his own father recalling his father said his ship had arrived at Ellis Island on his birthday. And finally a distant cousin, still living in Dingle where my people came from, who like me simply enjoyed the thrill of the hunt through dusty data following little clues, who had reconstructed so much of the story I'd missed, and who knew the stories of many of the descendants of our common Great-Great-Grandfather -- some of whom still live in the area around Brandon and Cappagh.
In the early 12th Century, a fellow named Diarmait Mac Murchada of Leinster found himself exiled from the Emerald Isle when his friend the High King of Ireland died. He petitioned British King Henry II to allow him to recruit a possy of Norman knights to regain his land. Among the invading force were FitzHenrys and FitzStephens and fitz Godbert de Roche, the first Norman knight to set foot in Ireland. Why all these Fitzies?
Try mangling the word "fils" in one of those
Anglo-French accents from out of "Monty Python and the Holy Grail" and
you've basically got it. It meant 'Son of' in Norman. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, it wasn't until later times that an association with illegitimacy was brought to the prefix, as it was commonly used to name the illegitimate offspring of royalty.
I had my Y-Chromsome DNA mapped some time ago and had a look at the geographic matches to my genetic markers. I was suprised, given the Norman roots of the Fitzgerald name, that I didn't see any concentration of similar genetic markers in Normandy. I would have expected a high concentration of folks there to share a large part of my genetic makeup, if that's where the roots of my paternal name and genetics lie. But aside from Ireland, the Basque region and the Viking lands of Norway, Finland, and Denmark (all of which left genetic marks on the oft-invaded Irish) were genetically closer to me than anything in France.
But then I learned that surnames were not commonly inherited in Ireland until the 1700s -- "Fitz" played the same role as a Russian Patronymic or the "Son" appended to Scandinavian names. . A Fitzgerald in one generation could be a Fitzanything in the next: the son of William Fitzgerald would be a Fitzwilliam, not a Fitzgerald. So back beyond 1700, you can't expect the paternal genetics and the paternal name to follow the same course. Which makes my quest, to find my Great Grandfather's ancestry, all the more tricky.
George Ferriter, whose family also has deep roots on the Dingle
Penninsula, wrote me a while back with an interesting conjecture:
My guess would be that as you now know where you Great-Grandfather resided, you might make a fairly safe assumption that your line had been in the area for a long time - probably a reflection of a cadet branch of one of the principal FitzGerald lines that controlled both Corcaguinney (Knight of Kerry), or Desmond as a whole (The Earls).On my to do list: try to find a translation of Feiritear's manuscripts, in which he travelled across Dingle recording family histories and stories.
The Ferriters have been blessed by the life and work of one of our own, Padraig Feiritear, (1856 - 1924), who travelled West Kerry collecting Irish language poetry, manuscripts, folk tales, and genealogical data - in the oral tradition. The Irish were for centuries great keepers of spoken genealogical information, the the Hiberno-Normans picked up a bit of that. Thanks to Padraig's work, most Ferriters can trace their pedigrees back quite a bit farther than many other Irish. There are some FitzGeralds in his notes as well.
Based upon the geographical location of your family in Corcaguinny my initial suspicion would be that your line descends from the "Sliocht Eamon" or Edmond Clan, who descended from FitzGeralds who where entitled land in the Stradbally area in the 1300s. There was a long standing dispute between the Desmonds and the FitzMaurice Lords of Lixnawe over just who held these fiefs.
My father, Thomas Emmett Fitzgerald, rarely talked about his own father, Thomas Joseph Fitzgerald, who died before I was born. I knew he'd emigrated from Ireland, lived in the Bronx, and worked as a bookkeeper for Con Edison. I had his death certificate and a handful of stories that I'd heard or overheard from my uncles or aunt. From my aunt I learned that my grandfather had been born in County Kerry, though she mistakenly believed the town to have been Trallee. She knew the names of his parents as William and Mary, and his birthday to have been April 1st -- apparently the subject of a running joke that he was an "April Fool."
I wrote to the parish priest in Trallee, and received a birth certificate for a Thomas Fitzgerald born in the right year, but in August, with a different middle name. At the time my search had a very practical purpose: I was looking to apply for an Irish Passport to allow me to stay in the UK, where I had moved from the US and was working. I wrote to a records search company, Fitzpatrick's in Dublin, (now defunct) who searched Trallee records without result. I applied for my passport with the birth certificate I'd gotten from Trallee, and was granted it! Shortly thereafter, Fitzpatricks had the good sense to suspect the information I had about Trallee was wrong, and looked further afield. They found my real grandfather's birth certificate in Castlegregory.
Thomas Joseph Fitzgerald was born in Cappagh, Ireland, just outside Castlegregory on the 2nd April 1882. His father was Gulielmus Fitzgerald, though his birth certificate lists his name as the de-latinized William, and other records use Gerald. Living descendants have an oral tradition around the name "Billy." His mother was listed on the birth certificate as Mary (nee Sullivan) Fitzgerald, and William's occupation was "Farmer." Mary's name, like Guilielmus/Gerald/Billy/William's is a source of some confusion: my grandfather's death certificate lists “Hannah Sullivan’ as his mother's maiden name. Two of his children (my father, Thomas Emmett Fitzgerald, and aunt, Sister Anne Fidelis Fitzgerald), remembered hearing Hannah as well, though they never met her. One of my distant cousins, Mike Fitzpatrick, has written that the tradition in his side of the family remembers the name as "Nora" but also suspects that one may have been her baptism name, the other a familiar name she went by.
In Feb 2010 Brendan O'Donaghue alerted me that the Kerry Parish records had been put online, and that led me to my Great
Grandfather's Marriage record: 15 Febuary 1852, with a new
piece of information, his residence in "TAEAVAKNUCK" which appears
elsewhere as Teaveacnuck. Years later, Mike Fitzpatrick, a descendent of my Great Grandfather's brother, would send me a picture his sister took of the actual record, where indeed the name is listed as "Guilielmus" instead of Gerald, though all other details match. In 1852 Griffiths Valuation lists a "William Fitzgerald" owning land in "Cuppagh" in the Cloghane parish.
Mike also pointed out that the correct spelling in Irish is Taobh an Cnoic, and that it literally translates as 'the side of the hill.'
According to my paternal aunt, Sister Anne Fidelis Fitzgerald, her father was the youngest of 14 children.
For a very long time, I had not a shred of an idea who any of those other children were. That is, until Graeme FitzGerald, an unrelated researcher from New Zealand who had seen my query on the rootsweb forum found records in Castlegregory of the birth of all my Great Aunts and Great Uncles. These were the transcriptions he provided of the children of William (Guilielmus/Gerald) and Mary (Maria/Hannah) Fitzgerald:
1. Edmond Fitzgerald b: in Cappagh c: 7 Mar
1853 in Cappagh
2. Jacob Fitzgerald b: in Cappagh c: 14 Jan 1855 in Cappagh
3. Maria Fitzgerald b: in Cappagh c: 4 Dec 1856 in Cappagh
4. Timothy Fitzgerald b: in Cappagh c: 30 Oct 1858 in Cappagh
5. Honora Fitzgerald b: in Cappagh c: 27 Nov 1859 in Cappagh
6. Michael Fitzgerald b: in Cappagh c: 25 Dec 1861 in Cappagh
7. William Fitzgerald b: in Cappagh c: 10 May 1864 in Cappagh
8. Debora Fitzgerald b: in Cappagh c: 25 Nov 1866 in Cappagh
9. Janet Fitzgerald b: in Cappagh c: 21 Feb 1869 in Cappagh
10. Joanna Fitzgerald b: in Cappagh c: 13 Apr 1871 in Cappagh
11. Maurice Fitzgerald b: in Cappagh c: 11 Mar 1872 in Cappagh
12. Brigid Fitzgerald b: in Cappagh c: 3 Aug 1876 in Cappagh
13. Francis Fitzgerald b: in Cappagh c: 29 Aug 1877 in Cappagh
14. Thomas Fitzgerald b: in Cappagh c: 2 Apr 1882 in Cappagh
There are a number of small discrepancies in the names here and some of the records that have since come on line. "Janet" is elsewhere listed as "Jane," and "Jacob" would appear to be James, the second son who, according to Mike Fitzpatrick, probably inherited William's land. While land would usually go to the eldest son, it seems an exception was made as Edmond inherited a house & pub through his wife's family. I've taken Mike's corrections and put all of the information above into a family tree at Geni.com. Geni, by the way, is a great social site for building family trees along with photos, links and records.
I had hoped to find record of the house in which my grandfather grew up in the 1901 census, but Thomas Joseph was 20 at that point and the youngest child, so likely to have left an empty nest behind. His father and mother would have been in their 60s by then, if they lived that long. James, the second eldest son, can be found in the 1901 census in House 4 in Cappagh, so we may reasonably assume this was passed to him from Guilielmus and had been the house in which Thomas Joseph grew up.
Once again, my relative Mike Fitzpatrick appears to have picked up the trail, finding a Thomas Fitzgerald of the right age living as a farmhand in house 16 in Castlegregory, run by a publican named Mary Spillane.
With his kind permission, I reprint here his vivid description of what life would have been like for Thomas Joseph, and a fine piece of sleuthing based on the information I'd published at this site and his knowledge of the times:
There were two “national” schools in the locality, one in Cloghane and one in Ballyguin. Given the geographical location of Ballyguin school I would make an educated guess and say that it was here that your grandfather was educated, probably up until he was 14, although compulsory attendance at school was only introduced well after your grandfather had emigrated. Only the privileged few would have had the means to go onto a high school equivalent and third level would have been well beyond most people's means. (I noted with interest that your grand father worked as a bookkeeper, a testament to the education he received!)
Houses in the locality would have burnt turf (peat) as the main source of heating and cooking, they still do in fact. The turf would be cut from peat bogs, of which there are plenty in the locality, with each house having its own "bog" to harvest. The harvest would have begun in the spring, and following weeks (or months if the summer weather was wet) of back breaking, physical labour, (something to which I can personally testify!) the dried turf would be brought home to be stored for the winter. I am 99% certain that this is something your grandfather would have done. Cooking would have been done on an open fire, using steel, three-legged pots known as "skillets".
The staple crop of tenant farmers during the period of your grandfather's life in Ireland would have been the potato, land was rented from landlords and day to day life would have been little more than subsistence for the majority of them. I have no insight into how much land William would have had as his holding, I would guess that there wasn't much, probably enough to feed the family and pay the rent. The land in the area is not good, mostly bog which reduces the range of crops that can be grown. Some barley and wheat would probably have been grown but its quality would not have been great. Poultry would probably have been kept (I know my grandmother hand-reared a goose for the Christmas dinner, force feeding it corn to fatten it, something that your great grandmother Mary would probably have done). Given the proximity to the sea, I have no doubt that the diet was supplemented by fish. North Atlantic Salmon have traditionally been caught in the area until about 10 years ago when the practice was banned for conservation reasons. Mackerel and herring would also have been abundant as well as a wide range of shell fish. These would have been available on a seasonal basis, mackerel was preserved during the winter months by heavily salting it, and "salty mackerel" became associated with the religious tradition of consuming fish on a Friday.
Things we take for granted today were not present in your grandfather's youth. Electricity didn't get to Cappagh until 1956, running water until the 1960's, transport was walking, bicycle, donkey or horse and any work done on a farm would have been manual.
As we know, Thomas was still in Ireland for the 1901 census. I'm afraid that idle curiosity got the better of me and I did some looking. I think I found your grandfather in the 1901 census working as a farm laborer. (The transcription has him listed as a "servant" but if you open up the PDF and examine the original document, he is listed as "farm servant") This is speculation on my part, but it is plausible and I think this for several reasons. Thomas is the son of a farmer so would be familiar with the methods and tools used, it would also have been the one of the few types of employment open to a young man at the time and this is the only Thomas Fitzgerald in the parish of around the correct age. (The age is listed as 20, but that it is not unusual for ages to be incorrect in these forms).
There are numerous reasons why your grandfather would have emigrated, but taking everything in the round I think his main reason would have been economic. The USA would have been a huge attraction, not alone for the opportunity that the country offered, but also because friends and family would already be there waiting for him. I know Ireland has always been looked at with a sense of nostalgia by those who emigrated, but the truth is that rural life in Ireland at the turn of the 20th century was hard and would be considered third world by today's standards.
Thanks to a clue from one of my cousins -- that my grandfather arrived in the US on his birthday -- the record of Thomas Joseph Fitzgerald's arrival in New York was easy to find in the Ellis Island records. (Though given the number of Thomas Fitzgeralds from Ireland that are among those 2 million records, I had the wrong one for many years.)The age is correct (24 in 1905), and the time of arrival would make the statement on his death certificate that he had been “50 years’ in New York in 1956 correct to within a year.
According to the ship's manifest, he arrived 2 April 1905 in the port of New York aboard the SS Celtic (White Star Line – the same line which owned the Titanic) with $13.50 in his pocket. He had paid his own passage.
His destination is listed as 15 Worcester Place, Holyoke Massachusetts, the home of his sister Mary. I presume that to be Maria, 21 years his senior, the eldest girl in the family. The address still exists, and while the lot where #15 stood is vacant, the adjacent buildings look to date from the early 1900s. They were likely to have been newly built at the time as part of Holyoke's booming expansion.
Holyoke was a major industrial centre at the turn of the 20th century, with a massive textile and paper industrial base fuelled by the abundant hydroelectric power from damning the Connecticut River. How my Grandfather ended up migrating to New York remains a mystery, as is why my father returned there to meet my mother in the 50s.
Thomas Joseph Fitzgerald married Anna E. O'Flaherty, daughter of Morris O'Flaherty and Julia Barrett. Anna was born September 12, 1880 at St. Columbas hospital in New York.
They had four children, Jerry, Anne, Thomas Emmett, and Edward.
Thomas Emmett Fitzgerald was born April 28, 1919. At that time, the family was living at 512 West 136th street. Thomas Joseph's listed occupation was bookkeeper with Con Edison.
Shortly before he died, my grandfather left a handwritten note to his son Jerry which reads:
Jerry1. When the grave opens to receive me and I sink into its bosom contact Social Security 215 East 149 St and thell them to increase your mothers checks she is getting half now when I go she will be entitled to three quarters. Three quarters will amount to $65.32 per month. Also ask them for the funeral expenses they will give you that in a lump sum. So much for that.
2. I want no obituary no flowers just a cheap coffin and no epitaph but if you want to get a 2 x 4 and put it at the head of my grave have Edward make you a sign to read (Here lies a fool) tack it on the sign that will be appropriate.
3. All my papers and policies are in the envelope one Edison one Travelers one New York Life and one News. The Savings account at the Immigrant's 5 East 42nd street she won't have any trouble with that is in her name joint account she can draw any time but the small checking account in the National City Bank News Building 220 East 42nd street she will have to use the will to get that. Tell her not to leave it there because there is a service charge of 25 cents per month.
Thomas Joseph Fitzgerald died May 14, 1956 at 9:20 AM after being admitted 12 days previously to Parkchester Hostpital, Bronx. He was residing at the time at 2142 Houghton Street in the Bronx. He was 74 years old. His social security number was 123-01-2343. He was buried in St. Raymond's Cemetery on 18th May 1956.
Some of the research sites that I've found useful:
The Church records section of Irishgenealogy.ie is a fantastic resource and constantly getting better as more records are put online. If you're looking for birth, baptism, marriage, or death records that predate the 1901 census or Griffith's Valuation, you're best bet are church records.
Rootsweb forums and Ancestry.com: crowd source your research! There are great links to databases, Gedcon family trees, but the killer app here are the discussion boards where so many people looking for information can connect to others that have it. One person's dead end is another's gateway, and by articulating your search here you leave behind a little time capsule that can yield results years down the road. Unfortunately, there's no download link for patience, but trust me, it's the magic ingredient.
Cyndi's List: Just amazing. THE most comprehensive list of general Genealogy tools and family-specific sites anywhere.Ellis Island: Mormon volunteers turned literally millions of hand-entered arrival records and ship's manifests into searchable digital records.
Geni.com for building a family tree. My entire family has access and can collaborate by adding photos, documents, new trees and branches. Brilliant.
I'm deeply appreciative of the help I've had from people reading this page and sending information. If you have any tips, further information, or pictures, drop me a line at brianfit58[[at]]gmail.com.