In the search for our sometimes elusive ancestors, we all hit the proverbial brick wall. It’s incredibly frustrating when we get stuck on a particular line and can’t seem to find any new information. Sometimes, in order to find our own ancestors, we have to expand our tree to include not just our lines, but those of the other families in the neighborhood.
This is very true in researching Irish genealogy, where many families emigrated over multiple generations. It’s not unusual to discover the same surnames popping up in a town or region in Pennsylvania, and it can be a real challenge to figure out which Thomas Ryan or Bridget McGee is the one you’re looking for.
The coal mining regions of the north central parts of Pennsylvania in particular drew many immigrants from Ireland, and names associated with County Donegal families show up quite frequently. Which is why you see the counties of Lackawanna, Luzerne, Carbon, Schuylkill, Columbia and Northumberland filled with O’Donnells, Boyles, Gallaghers, Dohertys, McGees and McGills.
It’s a daunting task to sit down and try to sort out your line, but if your ancestors came to Pennsylvania in the late 1800s and early 1900s, there are two resources in particular that can be invaluable. Both are accessible only through subscription databases, but if you’re serious about finding your roots, they’re worth at least a short time membership. It’s going to take some dedication, and I definitely recommend taking a lot of notes and doing a lot of printing.