On one Saturday morning each month, however, an organization dedicated to recovering family information that had been lost over the generations meets at Bethpage Public Library on Long Island.
The Irish Family History Forum begins each of these meeting with a "help" session for people tracing their ancestors. Then, a guest expert speaks on some aspect of genealogy.
Five family research enthusiasts established the organization in 1991. That same year, its current recording secretary Kathleen McGee independently set out on her own roots quest. In time, she became friendly with a couple of the founders and joined in 1993. "Over the last seventeen years I have met many wonderful people through the forum who have shared their stories with me and showed me how to research my Irish ancestry," she said.
At first, she had success finding information about her husband's family. "Even though he knew his grandfather," she said, "the family didn't know where in Ireland he was from until I discovered he came from Cavan in his marriage records."
McGee would eventually trace him to the townland of Cloonose in the parish of Drumlumman.
"After many years of research I was able to find my great-great grandparents and their siblings arriving in the port of New York on the Ship Erin in May of 1870," McGee said. "I found out that my great-great-grandparents were married in Dublin just days before the ship departed from Liverpool."
Ellen Perry said she was from Wicklow and Peter Noble gave an address in Dublin on their marriage registration. Noble's descendant would eventually discover in Irish records, using leads found in America, where he was born.
"Friends at the Irish Family History Forum suggested that I look at the records of their relatives to find more clues," McGee said.
The key was Robert Noble, a cousin who employed Peter in his construction company in New York. Peter Noble would fall to his death at a work site, leaving behind three young children. His wife Ellen had already succumbed to tuberculosis. Robert Noble assumed responsibility for the three orphans.
McGee said: "Robert's death notice in 1894 stated that he was a native of County Kildare and I found other family members whose records mentioned Kildare. I concentrated my search in Kildare and after researching Irish land records, church records, civil registration and census records as well as many U.S. records I discovered that Peter was born in Kilgowan, Kildare.
"My surprise came when I checked the 1901 census and found that not all of Peter's family emigrated with him and he still had a brother living in the family home in Kildare," she added.
McGee visited Ireland in 1998, but hadn't yet discovered her connection to Kildare. She did go to Bath Avenue in Dublin where Peter Noble was working as a servant prior to his marriage. The house was gone but locals showed her where it had been. She also saw the nearby church, St. Mary's of Donnybrook, where her great-great-grandparents, who died tragically young in New York, were married.
"I look forward to the day when I can visit the parish where Peter was born and see Kildare and perhaps if I am lucky meet some of the descendants of my family that remained in Ireland.
"I still continue my hunt for my grandmother Ellen's family in Wicklow," McGee said. "I am lucky to have a photo of her taken in Dublin before she left Ireland in 1870."
Said Patricia Mansfield Phelan, a book editor who is vice-president for programs: "I was one of those members whose research was deadlocked. But since joining the forum a dozen years ago, I have learned the research tools that have allowed me to find that that my Nannery and Wrenn family were from Granard, Co. Longford, my Ryans from Dublin City, my Stewarts from Tyrone, my Reillys from Cavan, and my McNultys from Donegal and Londonderry. I'm still working on my Mansfields and Fitzpatricks.
"Many of our members have made similar discoveries and some have been able
to connect with relations in Ireland with whom contact had been lost over the years," Mansfield Phelan said. "Some members have traveled to Ireland to visit their ancestral home."
The Irish Family History Forum will have a special double presentation on this coming Saturday morning, March 20, beginning at 10 a.m. Fintan Mullan and Brian Trainor of the Ulster Historical Foundation will speak on "History of the Ulster Plantation and the 17th-Century Records Related to It" and there will be a live tutorial using online genealogy databases. It will take place at Bethpage Public Library, 47 Powell Ave., Bethpage, New York.
For more information about the Irish Family History Forum, go to www.ifhf.org.