St. Patrick’s Day is a day to celebrate your Irish heritage. One of the cool things about this holiday is that you don’t have to be Irish to celebrate it. Everyone is Irish on St. Patrick’s Day, no matter where their ancestors originated from. Are you Irish? If you aren’t sure, there are some things that genealogists can do in order to find out.
Start by taking a look at your surname. Certain letter combinations tend to indicate that your ancestors were Irish. If your last name starts with an O, like O’Leary, or O’Connor, then you most likely have some Irish blood. Names that begin with Mc or Mac, like McCarthy or McKenna, indicate that you might be Irish, but you could also potentially be Scottish. Ireland isn’t the only country that used Mc or Mac in surnames.
Then, there are Irish names that don’t fit into either of those two patterns. Surnames like Kelley, Donnelley, or Fitzpatrick are usually connected to ancestors who are Irish. Richard Daley, Mayor of Chicago, is definitely Irish, and his surname doesn’t start with either an O, a Mc, or a Mac. The surname Kennedy is Irish, as well.
If your surname doesn’t happen to be Irish, then it’s time to dig a little deeper. Check the last names of your grandparents, for more clues. One of my grandparents had the last name Darcy, which I am told means something like “Dark” in Gaelic. You can check out a list of the top 100 most common Irish surnames and learn the Gaelic equivalent of the name, as well as the meaning behind it.
Still unsure if you are Irish or not? Genealogists can try checking the census for more information. Every census requires people to indicate their ethnic origin. There is potential that one of your ancestors noted that he or she was from Irish heritage when a particular census was taken. Of course, this isn’t always going to be completely reliable, either.
Every time there is a census, there are changes to the questions. The terms used for different races tends to change, and the choices one can select to identify themselves with is inconsistent from one census to the other. However, it might be worth taking the time to look up, if you are especially curious about your heritage.
If all else fails, you could start interviewing your relatives, to see what they know. Relatives who are a few generations older than you are may have a lot of memories of family history that they would be happy to tell you about. These conversations could lead to more clues for you to explore, and do some research on. Are you Irish? You just might be!
Image by Michelle Tribe on Flickr