Getting My Irish Ancestors Back to Ireland

Getting My Irish Ancestors Back to Ireland

I am completely stuck on my Irish lines. I’ve got them back to the late 1840s in New Hampshire, but can’t make the leap. I know they were from County Roscommon, but that’s it.

There are a few problems holding up my research. First, Martin and Catherine (Dolan) Kelly moved the family out to San Francisco in the 1850s. Then they had the audacity to die before the 1906 earthquake and fire. Since most official records were wiped out on that fateful day, including Martin’s naturalization records, I haven’t been able to learn much more beyond what census, newspaper, and city directories have to say. I’ve found plenty of records but nothing that will help me move over to Irish records.

Martin Kelly appears to have had no relatives in the United States. No records point to a connection between him and anyone else in New Hampshire, Massachusetts, or California.

I have yet to learn whether Martin and Catherina were married before or after they arrived in New Hampshire. I don’t even know if New Hampshire was the state they came in through of it was another state in a long string of residencies.

The Kelly’s are a dead end, so I have to turn my attention to the Dolan’s–a family that has blessed me many times over. Catherine’s brother, Patrick, died in 1905 just before official death records were kept by the state of California. But, my loss is my gain. Because Patrick’s probate wasn’t finished before the 1906 earthquake, the entire probate had to be refiled in 1907. Relatives from Boston came out of the wood work wanting a piece of the Dolan pie. Patrick Dolan’s probate file left no details on where he was born, but it told me all I needed to know about our cousins in Boston.

So, where do I go from here with these pesky relatives? Let’s take a look at each family to see what research angles I can find.

Martin and Catherine (Dolan) Kelly

Unless some miracle happens, I’m pretty much stuck there. I’ve exhausted most research avenues in San Francisco.  Since where they lived on Mission Road was one of the hardest hit areas of the quake and fire, it’s hard for me to believe that some distant cousin has an important family document sitting in their filing cabinet.  All the relatives who lived in that area were living in other parts of San Francisco by 1908.   It’s possible some record exists out in New Hampshire or Massachusetts but I’m not even sure where to start.

Patrick Dolan

Patrick got his citizenship before he came out to California (Good boy, Patrick!) When I have the time (and some extra money) I will try to find out how to obtain the records in Massachusetts. No doubt there will be many helpful bits of information within his citizenship file.

Bridget Dolan

I’m not sure I can do much with Bridget. According to the probate file, she was going by Bridget Dolan, died before 1905, and had an illegitimate daughter, Mary Collis. Since I have no clue if Bridget ever married, it would be like finding a needle in a haystack. The name Bridget Dolan is like Mary Smith.  I am not even sure if Collis is Mary’s maiden name or married name.

Margaret (Dolan) Coyne

Thanks to a kind researcher, I’ve been able to get some information on Margaret and her children–the people who contested Patrick’s will. Margaret also died before 1905. I need to find her death record in Massachusetts, then try to find an obituary. She was married in Massachusetts, so her marriage record might also be available.  I’m not sure what information was collected for marriage records in Massachusetts ca 1860, but it just might have the names of her parents.

Although Margaret had several children, only one or two married.  I would like to find descendants, but it’s possible the line has died out.

“Unknown” Dolan

Patrick Dolan’s probate file gave me another mystery to solve. There was a brother who came out to California. Two sons, William and Michael, are listed in Patrick’s obituary. My relative, Mary (Kelly) Meincke was the adminstratix of  Patrick’s will (Patrick had no children and was widowed when he died).  That tells me that Mary (Kelly) Meincke knew all about her cousins. Interestingly, William and Michael never contested the will. They weren’t even listed as witnesses when the whole hearing process got underway.

So, what can I do with Mr. Unknown Dolan? I’ve done a little research and I believe I’ve found him in San Mateo County in 1880. His name is John and his wife’s name is Bridget. They have two sons of the right age named Michael and William. No other Dolan family had sons with these names.

My instincts tell me that this is my family, but I really don’t have anything to base it on except that they are in the right place at the right time. I’ve got one huge problem. It appears that John died before 1900. Without an 1890 census, I’m probably going to encounter the same issues I have with Martin Kelly.  It also looks like John and Bridget married in California.  Newspapers might help me out with that angle.

There is also a curious discrepancy in Patrick’s obituary and will. While Michael and William Dolan are listed, none of their siblings are (John, Lawrence, and Mary). Why the oversight? If Mary knew about Michael and William, she must have known the others.  Were they just forgotten, is it a printing error, or do I have the wrong family?

Whenever I’ve had a research problem of this nature, my plan is to find every single document I can on every person in the family. Other’s might find that a waste of time, but like Patrick’s refiled probate file, you never know what bit of information might be tucked away in a seemingly uninteresting document.

Here’s what I plan to do in the next year:

1. Find death information for the John Dolan of San Mateo. I may not find a death certificate, but an obituary will be just as good. That might at least confirm his connection to the family. If I can get the obituary, I’ll then write for the cemetery records.  At least, I will know where he is buried and who he is buried with.

2. Find information on John’s widow, Bridget. I will try to figure out when she died and see if I can get some death record that will give me her maiden name. If I learn her maiden name, I might be able to find a marriage record.

3. Find information on their children. I already have three obituaries and can connect Mary Agnes, John Edward, Lawrence, William, and Michael together. I’ve searched for them in the 1901 and 1915 San Francisco city directories and can place them during those times.

My first stop is to to see if I can find them in the Census from 1900 to 1930. Then I will search the California Voter Registration Records at If they were registered to vote, I can track them from 1900 to the 1940s depending on if the years are available.

I might also have some other resources to look at such as societies that were listed in their obituaries, cemetery records, city directories, and police department records (both John and Lawrence were police officers) Their may also be business records to search as it looks like John and William ran a business called “Dolan Bros.” What that was is a mystery to me at this point, but I hope to learn more soon!

I have my work cut out for me. I’m going to need a bit of help getting over the lost records in San Francisco, a sister who doesn’t appear to have married, siblings who died before 1900, and an unknown brother whose name I’m taking a stab out. I feel in my bones I’m on the right track. Now I have to prove it.

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3 thoughts on “Getting My Irish Ancestors Back to Ireland

  1. Good Luck! Marriage records c. 1860 in Massachusetts should be available. The 1900 census may provide clues but a quick peek shows that you’d have your work cut out untangling the lot. I have Kelly’s in my file too so I know how hard the name is to research.

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