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Monday, 27 October 2008

Irish Roots of Barack Obama

Documents unearthed by an Irish vicar show ancestors of Democratic presidential hopeful Sen. Barack Obama may have arrived in the United States from a tiny village in central Ireland as early as the 1790s.

"They're old parish records going back to 1799," said Canon Stephen Neill, rector for the parish of Moneygall, Co.Offaly.

"They're in remarkably good condition and we have constant applications from Americans chasing their ancestors."

Genealogy Web site asked Neill, whose father is Anglican archbishop of Dublin, to check parish records after discovering documents indicating Obama's great-great-great grandfather on his Mother's side, arrived in New York in 1850 before settling in Ohio.

"Like most of us he has an interesting mix of ancestry, including some impressively early all-American roots," said Megan Smolenyak, a spokeswoman for the Web site.

Records uncovered in 2007 found the President-elect’s fourth great grandfather Joseph Kearney was a shoemaker whose son, Fulmuth Kearney left for the US in 1850. Between 1845 and 1851 over a million people left Ireland on 'famine ships' to escape mass-starvation caused by potato blight and says passenger lists show Obama's great-great-great grandfather was among them.

Subsequent research into the parish records provided by Neill revealed not only that the Kearneys hailed from Moneygall in County Offaly but also that other family members may have crossed the Atlantic before him in the 1790s, the Web site said.

Nothing remains of the Kearney homestead and surrounding land in Moneygall, which ironically once belonged to the family of Obama’s distant cousin, Henry Healy. They were forced to give it up 30 years ago after the local authority compulsorily purchased it for new housing, but just four properties were built on the field and plans are afoot to turn it into a museum or heritage centre.

Born in Hawaii to a white American mother and Kenyan father, Obama's European connection means he can also join more than 30 million of his countrymen in claiming Irish descent.

You can view the Irish line of Obama's family tree HERE.

The Irish band the Corrigan Brothers have released their song 'There's No One As Irish As Barack O'Bama'.

The song features the chorus: "O'Leary, O'Reilly, O'Hare and O'Hara...there's no one as Irish as Barack O'Bama."

The band will perform the song, which is already an internet phenomenon, at the day parade on the Irish American float, and also at Mr Obama's official inauguration party on becoming President.

You can view the video below and find the words to the song at

Emigration: Australia & New Zealand 1

Settlement in Australia didn't begin until the late eighteenth century. The British government decided to use Australia as the new penal colony (after losing America) and the first fleet arrived on 26 January 1788 (the date now celebrated as Australia Day). The fleet contained 1,500 new settlers, half being convicts. They landed in Sydney Cove and on 7 February 1788 the British colony of New South Wales was formally declared. Large scale migration to Australia began at this time and the numbers arriving increased rapidly after 1815, when government policy actively encouraged settlement by ensuring free settlers could arrive and purchase land at minimal costs.

The discovery of gold in the 1850's was another important factor behind the decision to move to Australia. Convicts continued to be sent to Australia until the system was abolished in 1868, by which time over 150,000 had been sent to Australia and Tasmania (around 30 percent of whom were Irish). The numbers of free settlers leaving Britain and Ireland were much larger, however, and continued into the 20th century.

British emigration to New Zealand also began in the nineteenth century, after the Treaty of Waitangi was signed in 1840. Initially, emigration to New Zealand was less popular than to other parts of the world and the New Zealand Company had to actively encourage migrants to the Islands in rural England and Scotland by promoting New Zealand and offering free passage to some skilled workers. Economic assistance to encourage mibration was also provided by the teritorial governments of New Zealnd from the 1850's onwards, resulting in a large increase in settlers arriving from this period onwards, although the numbers arriving were in the tens of thousnands not hundreds of thousands. The numbers dropped dramatically towards the end of the nineteenth century due to an economic depression in New Zealand, but they recovered at the beginning of the twentieth century when further groups of British and Irish immigrants arrived with the assistance of the British government.

It may be possible to trace a migrant, depending on where they left and where they chose to go, through many British archives and the archives of the destination countries and this is something I will be covering in the next few posts of this series on emigration.


Emigration: An Introduction

When researching your family tree you may come across an ancestor who migrated from Britain or Ireland to settle in another country. People elected to migrate abroad for a variety of reasons. Many went in search of a better life to escape poverty, others to flee religious persecution, such as the Puritans who fled to the New World. Some went unwillingly, convicted of a crime and transported to one of Britains colonies. Although the Industrial Revolution increased employment in urban areas throughout the nineteenth century, many people in rural areas found their livelihood threatened as the mass production of textiles replaced many rural cottage industries. One way to escape was to emigrate. Indeed many poor emigrants may have beeen given state assistance when seeking a new life abroad.

The most popular locations where Britons chose to start a new life were North America,Australia, New Zealand and Southern Africa. After the end of the First World War, the British Government began officially to support migration. In 1919 a scheme was introduced to aid the the migration of ex-servicemen and in 1922 the Empire Settlement Act was introduced, providing support for families to migrate to the dominions. Another less well known policy of migration adopted by the British government was the child migration scheme to Australia, South Africa and Canada, popular from the late nineteenth century onwards. This will be covered in a later post in this series and I will link to it from here when completed.