Saturday, February 19, 2011

Rosie O’Donnell, Ireland and Canada - WDYTYA?

In her quest for her family roots on the TV show, Who Do You Think You Are?, Rosie O'Donnell asks the same two questions that many U.S. genealogists ask.
  • Where (what country and what town) did my family originate?
  • What caused them to immigrate?
In Rosie’s search, she was able to find the answers to both questions. 

Her family was from Kildare, Ireland, and they came because they were the poorest of the poor living in an Irish workhouse in horrible conditions. Their transportation to Canada was paid for by two benefactors. This info was found in the Irish Poor Law Union minutes in Ireland.

The show didn’t state why they were given tickets to Canada instead of the U.S.  But I've always heard the answer is that passage was cheaper from Ireland to Canada than to the United States, and, also, they didn’t have to change citizenship.

Many Irish immigrated to Canada before coming to the U.S.  They came to Canada before, during, and after the Irish Famine.  They came even before the creation of workhouses in 1838.

Just briefly, we see Rosie at the National Archives of Quebec looking at the the Drouin Collection.  The Drouin Collection records of Quebec province spans the years 1621 to 1967 - (yes, 346 years of records) .  It has over 30 million names taken from baptism, marriage and burial records of Quebec, as well as church records from Ontario, Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and some of the New England states. Those with ancestors in Canada, or even those like Rosie whose ancestors were in Quebec for a brief time before immigrating to the U.S.should be very excited.  We don’t have to travel to Montreal to see these records.

The records of the Drouin Collection are primarily French-Canadian, but many people of Irish descent will find their ancestors' name in these French-Canadian records because so many Irish immigrated to and lived in Quebec.  Some of the Irish immigrants stayed in Canada while some went to the United States like Rosie’s ancestors (and mine).

If you have Irish ancestors, it might be worth a look to see if your ancestors came to the United States via Quebec. For example, in the Drouin Collection, there are over 20,000 search results for the Irish name Murphy, and over 10,000 for the Irish name Sullivan.

Records in the Drouin Collection can be searched in French or English by name, date, place, church or institution, and religion. You will find some of the records of Irish immigrants are recorded in French. You can use this French Genealogy Glossary to help translate.

This collection is  available online through a subscription to but you can view them via a Free Trial or at your local library.

I enjoyed the show a lot.  It showed Rosie staring with what she knew about her family, working with original documents, reading info on a microfilm, and meeting previously unknown second cousins.  She said she felt moved than she expected to.  I think anyone who has begun to trace their own family tree can relate to all of that!

But the question Rosie didn’t ask, and that I really wanted to know, was why her family left Canada for New Jersey.  My Irish family did the same and I have never been able to find the reason.


PG said...

In spite of the fact that I can't stand Rosie O'Donnell... the show was very good. I enjoyed her search

donnelly said...

hi, i live in montreal and am of irish descent, the last name donnelly.
the fords and kennedys came through here too enroute to the usa. you may want to look up the history of the black irish stone. this is a memorial to the 6000 irish burried in mass grave here on the mtl waterfront. not only was mtl cheaper than boston or new york (no port tariff) but only mtl, new brunswick or quebec bound ships would accept people who were sick. so many people came here only as a stepping stone to the states, because the canadian policy was a more humane one for the refugees.