Martin Sheen has always been interested in his maternal uncle who was involved in the Irish Civil War, so that is where he began searching for his family history. I had to chuckle to myself when Martin Sheen began by searching on Ancestry.com for his mother's brother, Michael Phelan, found his death certificate showing he died in County Tipperary, and then said, "Looks like I'm going to have to go to Ireland myself to find out more about Michael Phelan. I'm going to go the Military Archives in Dublin (Cathal Brugha Barracks)."
Well, heading off to Ireland at the beginning of a family history search makes for interesting television, but the TV show makes it seem as traveling to your ancestral homeland is the only way to research your family tree. If that were true, that would make genealogy a hobby out of reach for most of us. You do not have to travel around the world to start your family history search. Instead, if interested in an uncle's involvement in the Irish Civil War, most of us would just do additional search on the Internet. I poked around a bit and it didn't take long to find the Irish Military Archives, which is the repository for the Military Service Pensions Collection where Martin Sheen found his uncle's pension:
I read in the Archives FAQ and found out how to do the same research by mail that Martin Sheen traveled to Ireland to do. And note the pension records are only available to next of kin and only available by mail - definitely the type of thing to double check in advance before booking a trip to the homeland.
Your ancestors who served during the 1916 Rising or during the War of Independence may have made application for a medal or pension in respect of their service during that time. Pensions were awarded under the 1924 and subsequent Pension Acts. Due to data protection requirements, these pension records are currently available to direct next of kin only. Direct next of kin should write to the following address for information in respect of their relatives’ service during 1916 and the War of Independence:
Veterans Administration Section,
Department of Defence,
Renmore, Galway, Ireland
Please provide Veterans Administration Section with as many personal details as possible to include full name (and any variations in spelling), date of birth, the address/s resided at during the period in which they may have made the application (1924 to 1949 most likely) and the name of any next of kin at that time.
Here are some additional websites that can help you find out more about Irish Ancestors:
- Ireland GenWeb
- Genuki (UK and Ireland Genealogy)
- Ancestry.com Ireland Databases
- Irish Genealogy
- Ireland Genealogy Project
I think people are fascinated by family history because it helps them understand themselves. We see our own selves reflected in those who came before us. In Martin Sheen's case, the same passion for political activism was present in both his maternal and paternal ancestors. Martin Sheen described his involvement in political activism: "You do it because you cannot NOT do it". He discovered his ancestors felt the same way. It's in his DNA. As the TV show says, "To know who you are, you have to know where your story began."
You can see the entire Martin Sheen WDYTYA episode online
Want to get started in your own family history? You don't have to travel the globe.
Get started in genealogy.