Posted by Crista Cowan on May 9, 2018 in Heritage Travel, ProGenealogists

Put 28 people that all have Irish ancestors on a bus with a driver from Limerick.  Add three professional genealogists and a tour guide from Belfast.  Then, spend ten days touring Ireland.  That’s what I did for a week and a half in April.


Ancestry ProGenealogists has partnered with Go Ahead Tours for Heritage Travel experiences.  They are offering genealogy cruises, ancestral home visits, and guided ancestry tours.  Currently, the guided ancestry tours include itineraries in Italy, Germany, and Ireland.  I took the “Highlights of the Emerald Isle” tour.


Before my tour ever began, I consulted with Irish genealogy expert, Kyle Betit.  I was interested in learning more about my 4th great-grandfather, George Cowan (because even professional genealogists have brick walls and need other genealogists, with specialties in those areas, to help them out).  This consultation, and the ensuing written report, was included in the cost of my tour.  Kyle validated the research I had done so far (which is just as important as making new discoveries).  He also provided me with a list of new research strategies to try to determine exactly where in Ireland George was born and the name of his parents.

I took the AncestryDNA test several years ago.  But, if I hadn’t, a DNA kit and analysis of the results would also have been included.


On tour, we stayed at lovely hotels, ate delicious food, and mingled with fascinating people (both locals and the others in our tour group).  Along the way, Kyle, and the other professional genealogists accompanying us, provided us with classroom style presentations about various aspects of Irish family history research.  I kept thinking, “This is like a genealogy conference.  But, on a bus.  And, in the courtyard of a manor house.  And, in the National Library.”  Not to knock genealogy conferences but these venues were way more interesting (and relevant) than a boring classroom in yet another convention center.

Ancestry ProGenealogists Kyle Betit teaching us about landed estate records in the courtyard at Muckross House.

We saw quite a bit of Ireland over the course of those ten days.  I loved every place we visited.  But, three locations from my trip stand out.

Our tour started in Dublin.  There, in the Docklands, along the banks of the River Liffey, in a historic building built in 1817, is a new experience that opened in Spring 2016.  Billed as “the world’s only fully digital museum,” it is called EPIC, The Irish Emigration Museum.  More than 10 million emigrants left Ireland for destinations around the world – some voluntarily, many under duress.  While in the museum you walk through interactive exhibits that allow you to view the history of Ireland and the emigrant experience in a whole new way.  You learn about ways in which the music, dance, personalities, talents, and vision of the Irish (and their descendants) have affected the world, particularly the United States, for generations.  I was in awe.


Several days later, we found ourselves in County Wexford.  There we boarded the Dunbrody Famine Ship, an authentic reproduction of an 1840s emigrant vessel.  The stark realities of these “coffin ships” and the desperation of those who were forced to leave their homeland due to starvation was almost tangible to me that day.  And, while I originally went on this trip to learn more about the Ireland of my 4th great-grandfather, George Cowan, I started thinking more about my 2nd great-grandfather, John O’Brien that day.


George Cowan was a proud Ulster Scot, born in Northern Ireland, up in County Down.  He came to the United States shortly after the American Revolution, got married, and raised a family of 13 children (one of whom became a U.S. Congressman).  John O’Brien’s family were famine immigrants.  He moved from state to state, fought in the U.S. Civil War, and eventually ended up in Arkansas where he worked his way through several wives, had a few children (one of whom I am named after), and died at the ripe old age of 89, or 91, or 99, depending on which of his stories you believe.

There are some DNA matches to that branch of my family tree that suggest that John O’Brien’s family may have been from County Clare or County Galway.  So, while on tour, I worked on exploring John’s origins.  (And if you follow The Barefoot Genealogist video series I do, you know he has been a long-standing brick wall in my family tree.)  A few quick questions and consultations with the professional genealogists on tour and I now know precisely which resources I need to explore to gather the evidence I need to determine exactly who John’s parents were.  (I gained a whole new appreciation for the decades of experience that go into developing the knowledge and skill necessary to become a professional genealogist with expertise in a specific area of research.)


Turf cutting demonstration at the Dan O’Hara Homestead.

I also gained a brand new appreciation for what life was like in the wilds of Ireland’s west coast in the 1800s.  The highlight of the entire trip, for me, was visiting the Dan O’Hara Homestead in Connemara.  We got a demonstration of turf cutting.  We came in from the biting cold and huddled around a fire in the tiny cottage where tenant farmer Dan O’Hara lived with his wife and seven children.  We listened to stories and songs of Ireland.  They were everything I always imagined Ireland to be.  I could have stayed there for hours.

Dan O’Hara Homestead in Connemara, County Galway

Alas, my time in Ireland came to an end all too quickly.  But, I now know why the saying goes, “I left Ireland.  But, Ireland never left me.”

 


 

Learn more about Ancestry ProGenealogists Heritage Tours here.

 

Ireland, Italy, or Germany?  Where will you go?

Crista Cowan

Crista has been doing genealogy since she was a child. She has been employed at Ancestry.com since 2004. Around here she's known as The Barefoot Genealogist. Twitter

49 Comments

  1. Jeannette Birge Thompson

    What a delightful report; thank you! I only wish it had included something of your fourth great-grandfather from Northern Ireland, where I’m searching for mine.

  2. it does sound as if it was a wonderful trip. BUT there is no indication that the writer found any useful family information. What was learned about her family? Are all of those bricks still in place?

    • Crista Cowan

      Those brick walls are still in place. But, this trip, and my time with those professional genealogists helped me to find the loose bricks. Once I start pulling on them, I expect the whole wall to come tumbling down.

      • Coleen Kelly

        Hi, Crista. I was on your tour! I did not get to see the Irish Emigration Museum (I think I was at the National Library of Ireland). I too thoroughly enjoyed the tour. I also fell in love with Mr. O’Hara and his stories. It was worth standing in the cold rain as he explained what he did at his turf farm. To this day, some of the Irish still put turf “bricks into their fireplaces to keep warm. I loved our “horse and buddy” ride through Killarney National Park, which is larger than Central Park. I was able to take photos of the beautiful Irish red dear, which have been in Ireland for over 5,000 years! And the Cliffs of Moher in County Clare (where my Kelly relatives were born) was breathtaking.

        I’d better stop writing – I want to go back to Ireland to learn more about my 3rd great-grandfather. He was born in County Tyrone, Northern Ireland.

        • Crista Cowan

          It was amazing, wasn’t it, Coleen?! Thanks for sharing some of your highlights.

        • Judy Davis

          Colleen: I plan to go on ancestry trip to Northern Ireland in 2019 to learn more about my Irish ancestors. Our trip this April to southern part of Ireland to find out about Bill’s ancestors since his father died in WWI before Bill was born. You should go on that trip too. It would be fun to see you again. Judy Davis

      • Mary Lach

        I’m dying right now, because we are scheduled to go on the Highlights of the Emerald Isle tour at the end of August – and the only thing I’ll be missing is Crista Cowan being on the same tour! Can’t believe I missed you by just this much! A few years ago when I had to drag myself into the digital age when I re-opened my family research after 20 years. It was the Barefoot Genealogist who gave me a framework for doing so, and it’s meant so much! I think you need to come to Minneapolis sometime so I can thank you in person 🙂 Glad you enjoyed the trip – looking forward to heading to the Emerald Isle with Joe Buggy in August and wish you were going to be there with us!

  3. Starlla Christensen

    Dad saw himself as 100 percent Dane. However my DNA came back 60 percent Great Britain and no Dane. What gives?

    • BobP

      Look where the Angles and Saxons came from — and let’s not forget the Danelaw! Lots of what could be considered Danish ancestry in typical British populations…

  4. Elizabeth Cavlan

    I to have hit a brick wall. Looking for James Keaveny ,his wife Bridget Coyne and her brother Matthew. I think they must have been beamed here in 1864 from somewhere in Ireland. 🙂

  5. What a delightful report; thank you! I only wish it had included something of your fourth great-grandfather from Northern Ireland, where I’m searching for mine.

  6. Margel Soderberg

    Your trip sounds wonderful and reminds me of my trip to Ireland several years ago. However, my trip was self-guided and for those who want to find out more about their ancestors, this may be the best option. I was with non-genealogist friends who were very accommodating when I wanted to see cemeteries in the places we visited even though I had no relatives in them. They still transport you to another time and place. I also visited the Dunbrody and found it to be a very moving experience. The Cobh Heritage Center is also a great emigrant experience with a museum at the top of the hill above with many folders of ships, dates and emigrant names. So I found no new ancestors but like you, I encourage Irish descendants to go visit Ireland, drive on the left side of the road, stop at out of the way places, talk to the people, visit broken down castles, sit in a pub and listen to Irish music and on and on. I did write about a few of my experiences on a blog I used to write but it would share some of my Irish experiences if anyone is thinking about a trip. My dream is to return one day. http://www.2338wwashingtonblvd.blogspot.com

  7. Norma

    It all sounds like a great adventure, but, it also looks very costly. I would love to explore my Newfoundland background, but there is no way financially. If you have the finances I think its great to research your roots.

    • Charles G Rickards "Rick"

      Hi Norma, I saw your mention of Newfoundland. My wife Ronnie Doyle’s parents came to from Newfoundland to New Jersey in the 1920’s. Doyle and Walsh spoke with such strong Irish accents . I found Newfoundland Census and Marriage reports with their parents names on them. Would be a great place to visit. They playfully referred to as Goofy Newfies by other Canadians

  8. Danny

    Wonderful story! Made me want to be right there. Before visiting I feel it necessary to discover the name of my Irish ancestors. If, in fact, they were Irish. Still digging. Back to early 1700s and late 1600s and still here in the U.S. Can’t get them on the boat.

  9. Coleen Kelly

    Hi, Crista. I was on your tour! I did not get to see the Irish Emigration Museum (I think I was at the National Library of Ireland) but it looks fascinating. I too thoroughly enjoyed the tour. I also fell in love with Mr. O’Hara and his stories. It was worth standing in the cold rain as he explained what he did at his turf farm. To this day, some of the Irish still put turf “bricks” into their fireplaces to keep warm. I loved our “horse and buggy” ride through Killarney National Park, which is larger than Central Park. I was able to take photos of the beautiful Irish red dear, which have been in Ireland for over 5,000 years! And the Cliffs of Moher in County Clare (where my Kelly relatives were born) was breathtaking.

    I’d better stop writing – I want to go back to Ireland to learn more about my 3rd great-grandfather. He was born in County Tyrone, Northern Ireland.

  10. Tom (Dwyer) Knauer

    Enjoyed the article and the comments. Planning a trip in mid-September to the Dwyer reunion in the Cashel area.
    Doesn’t sound like you had much (any?) time to leave the group and find more of the specific information about your ancestors. Correct?

    • Charles G Rickards "Rick"

      Tom, In 2003 my wife and I went to Ireland with The Bantry Boys and Irish Band out of Bayonne, N.J. Headed by Jim Dwyer and brother Bill Dwyer. When we were in Galway, one of their relatives that still live in Ireland came to see them and hear them perform. Maybe be they will show up at your reunion.

  11. Barnie Cowan

    I was very interested in your comments as I researched our Cowans to County Armach. They emigrated from Scotland to Ireland in 1600. I did my research in early 1990 when there wasn’t all the internet help. As I am 87 I find it hard to work the internet now for me. To confusing! We have many George Cowan’s also and they emigrated to Ontario, Canada. Barnie Cowan

  12. Bradley S. Brennnan

    I’m a professor with a tourism background and I’d love the opportunity to interview some people about acestry/heritage tours for a research paper. Is there anyone at ancestry.com that I could speak with?

    Prof. Brennan

  13. Mary Lach

    I’m dying right now, because we are scheduled to go on the Highlights of the Emerald Isle tour at the end of August – and the only thing I’ll be missing is Crista Cowan being on the same tour! Can’t believe I missed you by just this much! A few years ago when I had to drag myself into the digital age when I re-opened my family research after 20 years. It was the Barefoot Genealogist who gave me a framework for doing so, and it’s meant so much! I think you need to come to Minneapolis sometime so I can thank you in person Glad you enjoyed the trip – looking forward to heading to the Emerald Isle with Joe Buggy in August and wish you were going to be there with us!
    (This is a duplicate post – the first try it went under someone else’s comment so fingers crossed it lands in the right place this time!)

  14. Glenn Schreck

    Need help with : ” GERMAN ” research , translate terms . I live in North Georgia .

  15. Esther Garcia O'Hare

    I had more luck than most in finding my husband’s family. He was born in Co. Down, & all but his mum were born there or in Co. Armagh (his mum in Co. Monaghan). Was able to go back to his 5th great grandfathers. I’ve been fortunate to have been to Ireland 3 times (beautiful country, lovely people). If only I would have such an easy journey through my own Mexico/Spain roots! Have only been able to go as far as my paternal great grandfather & maternal ggreat’s. ~sigh~

  16. Deb Quinn

    This tour sounds fascinating. My sister and I encouraged my husband who was adopted to take the test a couple months ago. His DNA came back 56% Irish! He then subscribed to the Ancestry.com and in 2 1/2 weeks my sister and I found his birth parents alive and married to each other and he now has 6 siblings. We just flew to our home town in NY and met his parents and one sister so far. We only lived 70 miles away when in NY and we now live in Florida where we are only 80 miles away when they come down in the fall! It was awesome!

    • Linda

      My great grandmother was Sarah Quinn, B: about 1857 in New York, M: Bernard Loughlin. Any chance your Quinn’s related to her? I have been unable to find her as a child or any birth information. Long shot for sure, but had to try. (Have any of your blood Quinn’s done DNA testing?)

      • Francine Warsalla

        I have been to N. Ireland twice to visit a pen pal. Wonderful people. When the Irish Catholic records were recently released I was able to trace my Irish ancestors back to Lau (Sandy) Quinn, my 4th gr. grandfather, who had John Quinn, who married Mary Kirk and had Mary Quinn, who married Patt Clarke. They had Sarah Anne, my gr.gr. grandmother who came to the US in 1854. Maybe through the Quinn’s we’re related.

  17. Lisa Leavitt

    I loved following your trip on Instagram. I’m so happy that you share so much with all of us. You have helped me many times over.

  18. lisa

    Sometimes we loss track on so many past stories and thinks it will make you feel better if you remembered them, traveling sometimes gets you frustrated especially when you loss meditation, Focus comes with a lot of hard work and prayers.. Be Amount the first to travel round the world with multiple identities, I met this lady and she introduced me to these IT magicians since then i have been on track with my travel dreams they will make traveling easy for you For more enquiry

  19. Paul

    I love to read about experiences people have when they travel to an ancestral home and get to talk to the people, eat local foods, and breathe in local sights and sounds. I too am financially embarrassed when it comes to traveling around. Being a disabled Vietnam veteran slows me down quite a lot.
    I have been working on my family research since about 1994 and my wife’s since 2006. I am by no means a professional when it comes to flushing out the hidden family members, but I this it’s wonderful when I finally find the chink in the armor our ancestors put up.
    We both have Irish and Scots/Irish ancestors but it seems that once I get to the Emerald Isles the peat bogs hides records.
    My wife is a Corsbie descended from Hance Corsbie, who was born in Co Down abt. 1740 and died abt. 1809 in Guilford, North Carolina. He was married to An “Ann” McDill, also from Co Down. I know my wife’s blood runs in Scotland, too, but I am unable to pinpoint an exact lineage to her family.
    My great-great grandmother Julia Ann McCain alway told her family and friends that her family was descended from Clan Donald, but when I get into Ireland I find different families of MacDonalds and I have been unable to sort them out. Someday, there’ll be some magical book or seer that will assist me in my struggles. Until then, I keep chipping away at the names I can still locate.

  20. Joel Alvarez

    Where’s my results? Seems like it’s been over a year. Your monthly updates don’t update me at all and only talk about people I don’t know or couldn’t care less about. Very disappointing!

  21. Steve Funk

    Are there reliable DNA indicators to distinguish between Irish and Scotch Irish? I believe I have some of both. One great great grandfather came from Mayo County, Ireland, not currently part of Northern Ireland, but I believe he was protestant. Another came from Antrim, and I believe he was Catholic. My DNA says 6% Connacht, Irish, and 42% generic British Isles.

  22. Nathaniel Johnson

    I’m a European heinzip 57 says your so called kit
    But I know I truly am multi racial

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