Monday, December 19, 2011

How I Found the Mysterious McGarrs of Ballyraggan

    My immigrant McGarr ancestors have been frustrating me for years.  Quite a feat considering they’ve all gone to their rewards.  For over ten years I’ve tried in vain to find any information about their lives in Ireland.  It didn’t help that the only clue I had was the obituary of my great grandfather Edward O’Hora from the local weekly.  It erroneously gave his parents names as James and Maria McGraw O’Hora.  I spent years trying to locate Maria McGraw in any records before finding her name was in fact McGarr.  Even with that discovery the McGarr family did not reveal itself.  No, they remained as elusive as ever, occasionally throwing tantalizing clues my way to keep me coming back.   

     In church records from Auburn, NY where they originally settled, I found the marriage of the above mentioned Edward’s parents, James O’Hora and Maria McGarr, also the baptisms of the children of James’ brother John O’Hora and his wife Catherine McGarr.  Later after James and Maria had left Auburn they turned up a mile or two from Bridget McGarr and her husband Martin Kinsella, also former Auburnians, in Shortsville, NY.  I seemed to have no trouble finding McGarrs in this country, Auburn was full of them, but there was no way to tell how they were related.  Wills, land records and death certificates yielded nothing to indicate their relationships.
     I began to come up with all sorts of exciting, romantic explanations for why they seemingly did not want their pasts in Ireland uncovered.  Visions of Irish rebels fleeing to America for their lives danced in my head.  I fantasized they had changed their names upon arrival here to avoid detection by British agents in the US.  I know, farfetched, especially considering once in Auburn several began businesses and entered politics; hiding in plain sight, how crafty of them.
      All that changed a few weeks ago.  I hadn’t worked on my McGarr line for some time, and feeling slightly masochistic that day I opened their file and began going through old notes I had taken and emails from a cousin in Rochester researching the same line.  One of his old emails mentioned that Ballyraggan in County Kildare, (where an old McGarr tombstone in Auburn indicated this covert band may have originated), was actually part of the Catholic parish of Baltinglass in neighboring County Wicklow.  At that point, I remembered The Irish Family History Foundation now had parish record indexes online.  I had searched that site for the McGarr family before, but forgetting that email from years ago, I had searched in the county of Kildare, not Wicklow.
    I tried an advanced search using the parish of Baltinglass and the name McGarr with no luck, par for the course.  I knew from Cousin Jack in Rochester that Bridget’s parents were Daniel McGarr and Ann Donahoe so I omitted McGarr and tried Daniel for father’s first name and Donahoe in the field for mother’s surname.  BINGO!   Of course I bought the transcription and got the details.  Up popped Sally McGar born in 1836, address (drum roll) Ballyraggan!!  Seems like the search engine should have caught McGarr/McGar, but nonetheless I had found them.  I bounced off the walls and ceiling a few times, annoying my Yorkies, then tried again.  There was Catherine, the future Mrs. O’Hora and her sister Maria, also a future Mrs. O’Hora; another sister Anne and two brothers Richard and John!  There was even the baptism of Mary, the first daughter of John O’Hora and Catherine McGarr, the only one of their children born in Ireland.  What could I do?  I bought the transcriptions of the whole lot. All were residents of Ballyraggan as it turned out.  

   McGarr was spelled a variety of ways in the records, McGah, McGhaa and Magar, none of which came up if “McGarr” was used for a search term.  Fortunately the parish priest could spell Donahoe, or maybe the fault lies with the transcriptionist.

  Regardless, I now have a much better picture of the McGarr family, a townland and confirmation that Maria, Bridget and Catherine really were sisters as I always suspected.  I also have a reminder of a tip that has worked for me before; old notes and emails can contain forgotten clues that later, seen in the light of new research and/or newly available resources can prove invaluable.