I would think most of us will remember being told we had Irish ancestors from Grandma Dorothy. But, from the outset, we have a problem looking into these ancestors because, as with the other ancestors, next to no written narrative was passed on to us. Everyone seems to have remembered being told that our Irish immigrant ancestors were very poor and immigrated to the US to escape the Irish Potato Famine (1840s and 1850s). But little other information seems to have survived.
It hasn’t helped that Irish immigrants are among the most difficult ancestors to research, as a general rule. In fact, the stark reality is that, even if in the best case we are able to identify the actual immigrant and the part of Ireland they came from, records are not likely to exist for that immigrant’s family further back than the early 1800s. There are several reasons for this. The most obvious reason is that, as with other areas of Europe, only persons of wealth or rank were counted or memorialized, such as through land deeds and court records. The vast majority of the Irish population were illiterate peasant tenant farmers. Even church records were not made for this population until beginning in the late 18th century, and only spottily so until the mid-1800s. Making matters worse, detailed records about immigrant arrivals are hard to find, at least for those of us whose Irish ancestors arrived long before Ellis Island opened in 1892. And for all Irish immigrants arriving in the 19th century and before, we are forever cursed with the fact that the immigrants themselves (a) didn’t keep good records, (b) commonly had the same names and (c) sometimes even used variants of their own surname through life, making them all the harder to track (such was the case for our Maggie Dugan, discussed below).
It has been my basic goal to just identify our Irish ancestors and at least put us in the position of being able to have a good starting point for any further research into their backgrounds in the Irish homeland. I can happily say I have at least accomplished this much. And Ireland, like all of Europe, has a rich history and a beautiful landscape – there is much to learn when we connect with our Irish roots.
Our closest connection to our Irish immigrant ancestors was Grandpa Joe’s wife Annie McCarty. Some of us remember her being referred to as “Grandma Berger”, but she didn’t have an ounce of German in her: both of her parents were Irish immigrants. I am just going to be cheesy and, for sake of discussion only, call her “Grandma Annie” (I don’t even know what her grandchildren called her).
I have to say that we have nothing to discuss about Grandma Annie, other than to acknowledge that she seems to have led a simple life. We know she was born in 1881 on a farm in Ste. Genevieve, Missouri. (This is located by the Mississippi River and south of St. Louis by about 60 miles.) After life on the farm, her family moved to St. Louis, and the 1900 US Census reported her as being “at school”, suggesting that she at least obtained a full high school education, something rare for women of her time. Not surprisingly, she married her blue collar husband, Grandpa Joe, and lived out her life as a housewife and birthed and raised 7 children. They were Catholics, and stayed that way. Grandma Annie lived a long life, not dying until 1970, when she was almost 89. The only thing that anyone still alive in recent years could recall about Grandma Annie is that she was a quiet, reserved person.
Christmas 1955: four generations of the McCarty-Dugan bloodline: L to R: Sally with Kimberly, Grandma Dorothy, and Grandma Annie McCarty. (Sorry about the photo alignment, 🙂 )
Grandma Annie’s full name was Anna Theresa McCarty. Her baptism entry for the Church of Ste. Genevieve listed parents as “Peter McCarty” and “Margaret Dugan”. I will take each of these in turn.
Both Peter McCarty and Margaret Dugan can be traced to the Province of Munster, Ireland. Here is a Map of Ireland circa 900 AD, showing “overkingdoms and principal (Viking) towns”. Prepared and shared by Wiki user Erakis. (Munster looks like it is today as large today as it historically was).
I was happy to be able to identify Annie’s father, and also to learn that he most likely originated from West Cork in Southern Ireland, ancestral home of the Clan McCarty.
Details about his life before he moved to Ste Genevieve are extremely hard to confirm. The problem for us is that the name “Peter McCarty” (and variant spellings) was such a commonality that picking out an ancestor with that name among the millions who immigrated from Ireland in the mid-1800s is akin to the classic needle-in-a-haystack.
Confirming his birth date has been a huge problem. We have only one “solid record” entry for him of his age, in 1880, and this is from the only US Census record I am able to confirm was him. That year, the Census listed him as 36. This would put his birth year at 1844. We are able to confirm his death year from a couple of sources, including State of Missouri death records; in the state records was a handwritten “40” for his age – although no month and day was provided. I also cannot locate any church record for him, so we are relegated to those age numbers.
Ste. Genevieve was a small enough town that Peter’s death generated the following obituary in the local newspaper:
“Peter McCarty died at his residence near Quarrytown last Wednesday morning, of consumption, aged about 40 years. He came to this county in the year 1869 during the flourishing days of our Sand stone quarry, at which he was employed until it closed work, he then rented a farm on which he has lived ever since, a hard working, honest upright citizen. He was an Irishman and though full of the impulse and warm heartedness of his dear Emerald Isle he was an exemplary citizen and humble though his sphere in life, he did his part bravely, nobly and earned the respect of all classes of our community.
He was buried in the Catholic cemetery last Thursday with the ceremonies of the Catholic church, in which faith he lived and died. May the sod rest lightly over his grave for many a more pretentious man could have been better spared.”
(Ste Genevieve Fair Play–December 6, 1884)
We can get an idea of the kind of life Peter lived with his family. Basically, they were most likely poor as dirt. They did not even come close to the likes of, say, Matthias Berger — who, across the river in Monroe County, IL, acquired substantial land ownership. Peter must have struggled in his last years, as his death record said he had suffered tuberculosis for 6 years before the disease finally took him.
We also learn from this article that Peter arrived in Ste. Genevieve in 1869. The entry says nothing about where he came from before that. When did he arrive in the US and what places did he live in? I have some guesses. First, it’s possible he was the same Peter McCarty who was listed in service to the Missouri (Union) infantry during the Civil War, which would not be surprising as he would just have been among the thousands of Irish immigrants who was drafted for the war. It’s also possible that he was the same Peter McCarty listed as a day laborer in the 1870 Census for St. Louis (but that listing would actually make him older). Finally, there are a few Peter McCartys listed on passenger manifests during and after the Potato Famine. But with little reference to go on, I conclude that anything about his life in the USA prior to Ste. Genevieve remains in the dark.
Nevertheless, a leprechaun’s pot of gold shines at the end of the rainbow: I do believe our Peter McCarty may well be the same Peter McCarty who was baptized in the village of Boherbue, County Cork, Ireland, in 1841. I reach this conclusion for several reasons which I will relegate to an endnote for the benefit of my time-constrained readers. But the essence is that the Peter McCarty in both cases had a father names Michael McCarty and a mother named Joanna Toley, and the ages basically match.  More cross-verification may be required, but this is encouraging enough that it would be worth diving into Irish records and evaluating other family members to see if some additional corroboration of linkage can be made (other than names and ages). Anyone want to dive in to find that out? 🙂
Kilmeen Graveyard, site of the very old Killmeen Parish Church that at one time served the village of Boherbue. The church burned down in the 19th century, but the old cemetery site remains. (Original photo by onecresap, 2018.)
Clan McCarthy Roots: Boherbue is in the northwest area of County Cork, and in the central part of Munster. It is not surprising we could trace Peter’s origins to this area, since it’s located within the historic lands of Clan McCarty. This was a large medieval clan that can be traced back as far as the 11th Century, and grew to become a power ruling force. We all have known people named McCarthy, and it has become one of the most common Irish surnames; no doubt this is because large numbers of emigrants from Munster spread the surname in the UK, Australia, and of course our own USA.
Despite the difficulty of identifying many facts from an Irish peasant ancestor’s history, Irish genealogy offers the redeeming quality of a truly rewarding experience that can be had just by researching the history of the clan associated with the ancestor’s name. It doesn’t matter which clan – every common Irish surname can be identified as historically associated with a particular part of Ireland, and each one has a deep, rich history. And when you have some comfort that you have identified the family name of the immigrant – as we do – you can learn about their clan and realize that these are YOUR people. If you come from a McCarty (or any variant spelling) there seems no shortage of places to find out about your Irish history. And the history of Clan McCarthy is quite fascinating. For starters, the Clan MacCarthy Society has an excellent website with well researched and written articles. And of course, if you can make it there, there seems an endless number of historic buildings and sites associated with McCarthy.
Late afternoon in late February in Kilbarry Cemetery, County Cork. This is what remains of an original 7th Century monastic settlement in the Irish countryside. Many locally important members of Clan McCarty were buried here over the centuries. Those clumps of grass are covering tombstones. There are many such cemeteries throughout Cork. (Original photo by onecresap, February, 2018.)
I endured a several years’ long emotional roller-coaster on my path to discovering the true identity Grandpa Joe’s father. But by far the most difficult ancestor for me to research has been Grandma Annie’s mother, Maggie Dugan. Here is a summary of Maggie’s story.
Maggie showed up in Grandma Dorothy’s album in a photo marked only as “Grandma Deming”. None of us had any idea who she was, and so she became a “mystery ancestor”. This made it seemingly impossible to research her. Women ancestors are supremely more difficult to research than men, prime reasons being they adopted their husband’s names while omitting their maiden names in records, in the majority of cases they were not allowed to own property (which meant that there is usually no real estate or tax records, short of wills and probate court records). They were otherwise not considered heads of household.
But Grandma Deming takes the cake: she didn’t just have a married name and a maiden name, she went through life with no fewer than five (5) surnames (!). And, that’s not including alternative variants of one of those names. Also, she went by at least two variations of Margaret (Maggie being just one of the two). I call her Maggie, based on one record entry – and the informality suggests this might have been what her siblings and friends called her at home.
Maggie Dugan, a.k.a. “Grandma Deming” (c.1849 – 1933), I am guessing in about 1930 or so. Most obviously, this was not a member of the upper classes. Just by looking at her hands, you can tell she spent her life doing backbreaking work. She was remembered as a hero by her offspring.
If I find out nothing else about this person, I still feel vindicated simply by tackling the feat of reassembling her life story. I will spare you all the gory details of my frustrations and of how it is I reached my conclusions on specific points, and will now just cut to the chase by summarizing her history as follows:
1) Circa 1849: Maggie is born in Ireland. As with Peter, we have an imprecise date, because she seems to have given a different birth year in different census years. I give my estimate here.
2) Circa 1849: Maggie’s birthplace was listed in Peter’s death record as “Munster”. That area, as we know, covers the entire southwestern one fourth of Ireland – so her town could have been anywhere. We were also told when we were young that she became an orphan during the Great Famine.
3) 1857: This was the year entered for Maggie’s date of immigration in the 1920 St. Louis census. However, I note that the 1930 census lists 1870, which we know is not the case from other facts gathered. So: circa 1850s: lots of Margaret Dugans (and variant spellings Duggan, Doogan, and so forth) appear on passenger manifests from throughout the decade. It remains to be confirmed which one of those entries was ours.
4) 1860: Maggie appears in the household of John Mackey and Mary Mackey. I conclude this record is fairly solid evidence that Maggie immigrated as a child, and thus before the outbreak of the Civil War.
5) 1868: Maggie marries Simon McMahon in St. Louis, and bears at least two children over the following 4 years. Simon dies in 1872. Maggie appears as “Margaret McMahon” in the 1870 census.
6) 1873: Maggie marries Peter McCarty. In her church book marriage entry, she is entered as “Margaret McGhee”, with her parents being John McGhee and Mary McGhee. But, confusingly, the official State of Missouri marriage record has her alternatively as “Margert Mackay” and “Margaret McAckey”. I later learned that the surnames McGhee, Mackay, and McAckey are just variations of one another, and Irish folks back in the day did not seem to have a beef about interchanging them. (Who knew? And does it suggest that researching Irish ancestors is a royal pain?) Anyway, Maggie ends up having several children with him, including Grandma Annie, born in 1881. It is in Annie’s baptism record that we first learn of the name “Dugan”.
8) 1884: Peter McCarty, my/our great-great grandfather and Maggie’s second husband, dies. Since they were not landowners, there was likely not much estate. I cannot find a probate for Peter. So, Maggie did what every other financially desperate single mother needed to do, especially in those days: she found herself another husband. This time she marries a Henry J. Deming, an older man and himself a widower from another marriage. Maggie moves back to St. Louis to be with him. Her kids took on the Deming name — even Grandma Annie adopted the name “Anna Deming” before she married Grandpa Joe.
9) 1898: Henry Deming dies. Maggie, widowed for the third time but now close to 50, does not re-marry and stays a widow for the rest of her life, remaining a resident of central St. Louis.
Cross-verification of the above conclusions can be found throughout the records. As for the surname Dugan, this fits in well with the narrative that she was an orphan. I place a high evidence value on the name, since she gave this name to the Ste Genevieve church – an action which, as I noted with respect to Henry J. Berger, what a God-fearing Catholic back in the day would not do: one would be less likely to lie in the House of God than to the census taker. I further note that the entry for her marriage to Peter, one of the witnesses present was an Annie Dugan, and I suspect this may have been one of Maggie’s relatives.
Black Widow or Hero? Maggie was an Irish immigrant born c. 1849 or so. She became a widow three times. That’s a lot of husbands for someone who was not a 20th Century movie star. So my first natural instinct was to think something was awry with her. But, no: recall that the story of Maggie as passed down to us was that she was an orphan who survived the Potato Famine and then went on to raise a bunch of children, much on her own. It turns out she was also greatly loved and admired by her children and grandchildren, as her newspaper death notice suggests. The short story is that she was remembered as someone who made great personal sacrifices for her family.
Maggie died in 1933 from injuries sustained from a fall.
About Dugan: As with Clan McCarthy, the Dugan surname also has a rich history tied back to Irish medieval culture. It seems like a lifetime of interesting reading can be found on this name!
More on Our Irish Roots
For those who feel shortchanged by not being able to do much research before the mid-1800s, and for whom identifying their Irish clans is not sufficient depth of knowledge, there is still a lot more interesting subjects to research. Here are a few:
Our Irish Stone Age, Celtic and Medieval Roots: Prehistoric Ireland left a rich archealogical record running from the time of the earliest inhabitants of the Emerald Isle, including migrations during the last ice age. As time goes by, more archeological evidence reveals itself. They are wonderful places to visit., including a number of “mini-Stonehenges– i.e., megalithic stone architecture arrangements that are not as large as Stongehenge in England, but still quite significant. I visited one incredible megalith site, the Drombeg Stone Circle, which is in Cork. It is dated later in history than many other megaliths, to just under 3,000 years ago.
Drombeg Stone Circle, February, 2018. This is located in County Cork on the Southwest Irish Coast. I specifically planned to go in February primarily because I knew the weather would be crummy. And it was. But I will enjoy that in Ireland because that is actually how our ancestors lived from day-to-day, only without our modern comforts. The advantage of going on such days is there are usually fewer tourists – especially important since this is a heavily visited site. The catch is that you must be happy in the cold, grey, windy. rainy, muddy landscape. But on this day, I got lucky: the sky cleared and got a lot brighter just before the sun set. In this view we are looking southeast. That’s the Gaelic Sea in the distance.
The Book of Kells, (folio 292r), circa 800, showing the lavishly decorated text that opens the Gospel of John (image from Wikimedia Commons).
Inside the ruins of Timoleague Monastery, built in the 12th Century. The monastery was attacked and burned down by forces directed by Oliver Cromwell in 1642.(Photo by onecresap, 2018.)
Extreme Genealogy: There seems to be a popular deep-dive into DNA use to research ancient migrations and culture in Ireland. I am not sure I am ready to deep-dive into this effort myself, but the contributions of others seem to yield a lot of information about our collective history.
The Potato Famine: To me, just about everything about the Irish Potato Famine is fascinating. There is so very much to learn, from its causes, to its effects, to the reaction of the English upper class, to the social forces that enabled our ancestors to escape it, and to the records documenting their emigration. If you do get a chance to get to Cork, I can highly recommend the Skibbereen Heritage Centre, which has an informative display on the Great Famine. I found not only a good amount of information on the famine, I also was able to make an appointment to receive help on genealogy research. This appointment I can gratefully say led to the 1841 baptism record of Peter McCarty.
Scene at the Gate of the Workhouse, c. 1846, from Ridpath’s History of the World (illustrated, 1907). Ireland adopted the workhouse model of providing for the peasants, but when the potato rot disease shook the population, the Workhouses were not set up to respond. During the years of the Great Famine, several hundreds of thousands of people died, and at least a million emigrated.
Anti-Irish Sentiment: Finally, I think it’s important to remember that our Irish immigrant ancestors arrived here in an environment of widespread anti-Irish sentiment. Irish people were often depicted in cartoons as drunk, loutish, violent, unruly, crude, or just unkempt. A common depiction in the press was of a Gorilla likeness.
I wonder how Peter McCarty and Maggie Dugan dealt with that.
Cartoon likening Irish immigrants to uncivil gorillas, alongside an African American stereotyp; Harpers Weekly, December 9, 1876; the caption reads: “The Ignorant Vote – Honors are easy”, by Thomas Nast
This cartoon contrasts Florence Nightingale, the pioneer of modern nursing, with “Bridget McBruiser”. I think this is political literature instead of a newspaper, but I am not sure; any suggestions appreciated.
 For tips and considerations on researching Irish ancestors:
 The parents for that entry were listed as “Michael McCarty” and “Joanna Toley”. We also know from Peter’s church marriage entry in Ste. Genevieve that his parents were listed as “Michael McCarty” and “Joanna Foley” –or, actually, based on the handwriting, it could have been “Toley”. In both the 1873 marriage record and the 1842 baptism record, the handscripted “F” for Foley is not crossed a second time. But the OCR scan read the entry for the marriage as an F, and the one of the baptism entry as a T. Thus: we have matching parent names and child’s name in the two church records. When you see the handwriting, it just looks to me like in both cases the scrivener either forgot to cross the “F” – or, perhaps equally possible, they actually used the names interchangeably. This is important because we learned that this was definitely the case for Margaret, who was all of McGhee, Mackey, and McAckey, names that historically have been used interchangeably. At least Victorian-era British researcher in the past, in commenting on the history of the surname Foley, stated “I cannot help thinking that the two names Foley and Tolley are the same name”. Notes and Queries, a Medium of Intecommunication for Literary Men, Artists, Antiquaries, Genealogists, Etc., p. 386 (1862, available on Google Books). Thus, I am nowhere near ready to rule out that this baptism record was our Peter.
Now, you might be asking: what about the year of this baptism, listed as 1841? Well, again we need to consider the context. Peter was a poor farmer and easily could not even have known his own age. It’s not as crazy as it sounds; many people today in third world countries don’t even know their own age. Peter may have forgotten it if he emigrated as a child and lost contact with his parents. A scrivener may have written his baptism down and then Peter, subjected to a very hard life of subsistence farm labor, drudgery and famine, during his time in Ireland might never even had an opportunity to be reminded of his birth date, such as through a birthday celebration, or a school or program. Another possibility is that Peter knew full well his age, but upon immigrating, learned that food and a bed would more likely await him if he was seen as a sympathetic younger child instead of an older teenager or adult: at least today, there have been claims that some immigrants to the US and the UK in recent years have fabricated their age (for example, to be entitled to status as minors).
Driving home this point, Peter’s obituary also says something in passing and easily missed, but nevertheless very important for our purpose: it reported he was “aged about 40 years”.
Under what circumstances is someone described as aged “about” a certain number of years in a small town obituary that contains other biographical information? How was his age not known? Why not just say “40”? Yes, it’s possible the news copy editor was pressed for time and could not make contact with the family before going to print; but… it’s all just so very odd to say “about 40 years”.
I note also another fact: the Missouri death record gave Peter’s birthplace as “Southern Ireland”. Boherbue is located in Cork, which is in Southern Ireland.
 Here is another example of cross-verification at work. I note Maggie was living with the McAckey family in Tennessee in 1860. I base this fact on an entry in the 1860 census that was more likely than not her family. Indications that this was more likely to be our Maggie. The 1860 census report lists 3 girls as children: Margaret, Bridget, and Ann. We know all of these names from other sources as being from the same family. The facts of the individuals also match: the Maggie listed in the 1860 entry recorded being born in Ireland, as were both of the parents in the household, John and Mary. In the 1860 census entry, each of these three names cross-verifies the other, and acts as corroborating evidence that both Maggie and her parents were born in Ireland, and also in the years they were born.
Meanwhile, we also know from separate records that Bridget and Ann were born in the US and in the 1860 census entry they are recorded as having been born in Kentucky. For Ann, this is the same birthplace listed in 1910 census, which lists a “sister” named “Ann Froelich” living with Maggie. (Apparently Ann married, became a widow and then moved in with Maggie.) Ann died the next year, in 1911. Her her death certificate – which was reported to the coroner no doubt by Maggie — also listed Ann as having a birthplace of Paducah, Kentucky and that she was a widow. Notably: this report listed Ann’s parents as “John Mackay and Mary Hanebury”. These, incidentally, were the same names listed for Maggie’s parents in the 1868 St. Louis civil marriage record of Maggie to Simon McMahon. Finally, we learned that Maggie became a widow when Simon died in 1872. When Maggie married Peter McCarty in 1873, her parents’ names were listed as John and Mary McGhee (which I later learned is just a variation of Mackay and records spell these surnames in alternate ways).
Based on the foregoing, we can reasonably conclude that these facts cross-verify one another that the persons listed in the 1860 entry were more likely than not our Maggie with her adoptive family.
Wikimedia Commons: Book of Kells — https://digitalcollections.tcd.ie/home/index.php?DRIS_ID=MS58_003v
You can research passenger manifests during this era in the National Archives database at:
 https://www.britannica.com/event/Great-Famine-Irish-history; image from Wikimedia Commons;
Full text appearing around the image in the book [with errors in scanning corrected]:
“It will surprise the American workingman to know that, in 1845, not a few of the Irish peasants, but all of them, lived, not principally or in the main, but wholly, exclusively, on the potato. Such a thing as meat, or any other of the more concentrated forms of human food, was absolutely unknown in the Irishman’s home. His meal was of the potato only. All of his meals were so. He had nothing else. His children grew to manhood and womanhood, and then to old age, without ever having once in their lives known the taste of meat-food. In such a condition, what shall we say of the terror which the gloomy, wet summer of 1845, and the spread, ever-increasing and widening, of the potato-rot must have inspired among the crowded populations of the ill-omened island ? The cry was soon heard across the channel. At first the country squires of England, satisified in their abundance, were disposed to deny the story of the famine, to put it off as a scare, as a hobgoblin conjured up by the Opposition and the Free Traders; but the specter would not down, and the shadow thereof soon fell across the obdurate and conservative conscience of Great Britain. Such was the condition of affairs that Johu Bright, speaking of the crisis afterwards, declared that Famine itself had joined the Free-Trade cause. But why the cause of Free Trade ? For the reason that the grains which all the world stood ready to pour into the harbors of starving Ireland were excluded therefrom by the Corn Laws of Great Britain. Even if not excluded, the price was so exorbitantly high as to be beyond the reach of the Irish peasantry. The Corn Law thus stood, like the tree of Tantalus, with its boughs hanging low and laden with abundance over the heads of the Irish people, but ever beyond their reach. Grain must take the place of the potato, or the Irish must starve. But grain can not be substituted as the food of the people so long as the present prices are maintained.”
File:Ridpath’s history of the world – being an account of the principal events in the career of the human race from the beginnings of civilization to the present time, comprising the development of social (14749361956).jpg; Created: 31 December 1906
See also, http://www.workhouses.org.uk/Skibbereen/
 Illustration from Harper’s Weekly, 1876 Dec. 9; Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, D.C. 20540 USA http://hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/pp.print, ID cph 3b05167 //hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/cph.3b05167; Library of Congress Control Number: 2005676066; Reproduction Number: LC-USZ62-57340
 Wikimedia commons, unknown, Irish-stereotypes/ anti-irish_sentiment;