Tracing our KERRY Ancestors

Sharing an article I put together on Tracing our Kerry Ancestors for the Journal" The Septs" First published in the Irish Genealogical Society International (IGSI) quarterly newsletter "The Septs." 2005


By Kathleen Healy Coburn

If the title to this article gets your attention, you most likely have ancestors that came from County Kerry Ireland. My name is Kathleen Healy Coburn, also known as KerryKate. I was born in County Kerry, though I now make my home in Canada. I am a genealogist who specialises in County Kerry research.

Fifteen years ago, my daughter Jane brought home a school project that required she fill out our family tree. I did not realize until I sat down to fill in the details, how little I actually knew about my own family history. This was the start of my journey into tracing my own Kerry ancestors. Many long distance phone calls and mail to Kerry, helped to fill some of the gaps, but also left me with unanswered questions.

I would have to do some homework, to fill in those gaps. I began by finding out as much as I could about every town and village in Kerry that my ancestors came from. I turned to years of back issues of The Kerryman and Kerry's Eye newspapers. I made files, of every town and village in Kerry, using the articles from the newspapers. Then I got a computer. It was the age of the Internet. Researching became much easier. What began as a simple school project, turned into a business for me. Over the years I have shared my knowledge to help hundreds of clients from all over the world find that place, their Kerry ancestors came from. I would like to share with you, some of the routes that will hopefully lead you to that place in Kerry, where your ancestors came from.

I'm assuming you've completed all the research of your ancestor's life in their immigrant country. You've interviewed family members, checked all the censuses during your ancestor's lifetime, reviewed their civil records, tax and probate records, obituaries, and whatever church records you could find. You believe you know many of the facts of your ancestor's life and are ready to begin researching in County Kerry.

Websites to Review

One of the first places I recommend you visit is the website of Mary O' Connor Tossell. Almost everything you need to know about County Kerry, its townlands, churches, and people is contained on Mary's website "Waterlilys" located at: Mary has also written a very good article on how to trace your Kerry ancestors. This is available on her website at:

Another great resource of information is the Kerry Mailing list located at: Join the mailing list, it's free. Post your surnames and pedigree information there. Hundreds of members from all over the world share their knowledge and experiences of tracing their Kerry Ancestors. I have been helping out on the Kerry Mailing list for six years, sharing when time permits, items of interest on Kerry, its places and people

Also, while in the website, leave a query about your ancestors on the County Kerry message board. Make a habit of checking your query regularly for a response, internet queries can be a great way to connect with distant cousins.

You've reviewed the "Waterlilys" website, surfed through all the Kerry links, joined the County Kerry mailing list, posted a query on the message board, and now feel ready to explore all the other options out there. If you have an unusual surname, your search will be a bit easier. If like most of us, your surname is O'Sullivan, or O'Connor, it makes the journey a bit more challenging.

Use Census Substitutes

During the 1922 Irish Civil War, almost all of the 19th Century census records were burned in a fire at the Four Courts building in Dublin. This makes Irish research a bit tricky as we must rely on alternative methods of tracing our Irish ancestors. Possibly the greatest source of Kerry records, are the sixteen volumes of O'Kief, Coshe Mange, Slieve Lougher and Upper Blackwater in Ireland, by Albert E. Casey and Thomas Eugene Dowling. These volumes, also known to most as The Casey Collection, contains approximately 3,000,000 records of individuals who lived in Eastern County Kerry and Northwest County Cork. Some of these records go as far back as 52 BC, most end around the year 1900. These volumes are available in some of the major libraries around the world. The LDS church has also microfilmed fourteen of the volumes. You can review these microfilms at your nearest LDS Family History Center. The films numbers are:

  • Vol. 1-2. FHL BRITISH Film 823801
  • Vol. 3-4. FHL BRITISH Film 823802
  • Vol. 5-6. FHL BRITISH Film 823803
  • Vol. 7. FHL BRITISH Film 823804
  • Vol. 8. FHL BRITISH Film 823805
  • Vol. 9-10. FHL BRITISH Film 823806
  • Vol. 11-12. FHL BRITISH Film 823808
  • Vol. 13-14 FHL BRITISH Film 823809
  • Vol. 14 (another filming) - 15. FHL BRITISH Film 1145995

If you'd like to learn more about the Casey Collection, read Ray Marshall's article "The Mother Load of Irish Genealolgy" located at:

If you already know your ancestor's townland you have a good chance of locating them on the Griffith's Valuation. If you aren't familiar with the Griffiths Valuation, Beth Mullinax, of the Irish Genealogical Society International, has written an informative article which is available at: The Family History Library has microfilmed the indexes. Film numbers can be found at or visit your nearest Family History Library for assistance.

For those of you who don't know your ancestor's exact parish or townland, a search of the householder's index of Griffith's Valuation a good way to narrow down which parish or townland to begin your research. This is especially useful if you have an unusual surname or another family name, such as a cousin or spouse (if your ancestor married in Ireland). Search the index by both names to narrow down a group of possible parishes and/or townlands. You can find an index to Griffiths Valuation at:

As Griffith's Valuation lists only the owner, lease and/or the head of the household you should also review parish records as your ancestor may have lived in the parish but was not included on the Griffith's Valuation. The LDS Family History Library has indexed many Kerry parish records. Check the website for more information or visit your nearest Family Research Library for assistance.

Another great site to review, if you know your ancestor's townland, is the Republic of Ireland's Valuation website at: This site allows you to search for details of any taxable property in the Republic of Ireland. As the Valuation Office holds maps and tax valuation records from as early as 1850, they can trace the occupants of a particular property over the years.

Helpful Books

Look for books such as "Tracing your Kerry Ancestors" by Michael H. O' Connor. This book is a great source of Kerry historical records useful to anyone with County Kerry ancestry.

"County Kerry Past and Present" by Jeremiah King, is a real treasure if you can find a copy. This book is basically an index to the 1901 Kerry census.

For those of you with Killarney roots, "Exploring Family Origins in Killarney" written by Noel Farrell has the 1901 and 1911 census information, Griffiths Valuation (1858) maps and history of Killarney. Other wonderful sources of Kerry information are books such as Ardfert in Times Past by Tommy O'Connor, The History of Ballymacelligott published by the Ballymacelligott Active Retirement Assoc., and the Castleisland Church and People by Kieranan O'Shea.

Learn About Your Ancestor's Town or Village

Learn as much as you can about the town or village your ancestors came from. I know, now, that having the personal knowledge of the area has been the most useful tool for me. Many of the villages, towns and parishes in Kerry have their own websites. Killarney, Moyvane/Newtownsandes, Abbeydorney/Kilflynn, Beaufort Parish, to name just a few.

Also contact the parish your ancestor came from and ask if they publish a parish magazine. Subscribe to it if you can. These parish magazines can be a great source of local history. Two such parish magazines are The Ballydonoghue Parish Magazine, and Knocknagoshel Then and Now.

To learn more about Kerry read the county's on-line newspapers: The Kerryman, Kerry's Eye and The Kingdom. When you have enough information, write a letter to the Editor. They post ancestor search letters from time to time, space permitting.

Contact Clan Members

Check out Ireland's on-line telephone directory at: Write to people with similar surnames who currently live in the same town or village that your ancestor came from. You may find distant cousins who can offer you research assistance, and may be happy to hear from you.

Kerry Heritage Centre

Most people interested in tracing their Irish roots are familiar with Irish Heritage Centres. Each county has a centre, where parish and other records are housed. Many of you know that The Kerry Heritage Center is currently closed while they computerise their records. I have been informed that they expect to be open in late July, early August of 2005. If you have any queries please forward them to the Kerry Genealogical Centre, St. Brendan's College, New Road, Killarney, Co. Kerry."

The more places you leave your ancestor search details on the Net, the better the chance of meeting up with someone who might share your family lines. The world is a smaller place, thanks to the wonders of the Internet. I have connected with cousins I never knew existed, and formed friendships with people from all over the world, who share my love of Kerry. It is a magical County, the people, the scenery, that special place your ancestors came from. The beautiful Kingdom of Kerry.