By Wendy O'Dea

How I discovered my ancestry with DNA and a trip to Ireland

I’ve been to Ireland many times before and know the names of my relatives that immigrated to the U.S. But I hadn't identified the town where they lived. I was longing to set my feet to that ground.

A DNA test confirming my Irish roots shed some light, verifying that my family came from County Clare in western Ireland, but it didn’t indicate a specific city, town or village.

Enter the genealogy experts. Kyle Betit, a professional genealogist at AncestryProGenealogists and manager of Ancestry’s travel program, recommended additional resources to check out before traveling.

"One of my missions is to prevent people from going on an ancestry-focused trip unprepared. A little homework goes a long way."

Kyle Betit

Betit directed me to many resources, including IrishGenealogy.ie, an Ireland-based website that features or links to databases of important documents such as baptism, marriage and death records.

He also noted that an important piece of the Irish puzzle is to identify the townland (a specific plot of land) where my ancestors lived and paid taxes by researching Griffith’s Valuation.

Luckily, once I found baptism and marriage records, along with tax records, I was able to identify the Catholic parish to which the family belonged, and the townland where they likely lived.

With a townland identified and a map in hand, we traveled to County Clare in Ireland. It was here that we met up with local genealogist Lorna Moloney.

She encouraged us to continue our research via myheritage.com, noting that it provides insight as to which area a family may be from.

"Every layer of knowledge gives you a little bit, and it’s a lot of fun."

Lorna Moloney

We piled into Moloney’s tiny car and went in search of the land where my two-times great grandfather lived before immigrating to America in the early 1850s.

We made our way along narrow dirt roads near the townlands connected to my family roots – Muckanagh and Rathlaheen.

We find much of the land near Muckanagh overgrown and unwieldy. There are two small lakes nearby, gleaming in the afternoon sun under a brilliant blue sky speckled with voluminous clouds.

While we haven’t yet been able to connect with direct descendants, we found plenty of amiable Irish folk named O’Dea who were thrilled to welcome us as family and no doubt believed us to be connected.

Not unlike previous trips to Ireland, we left eager to return and find cousins. Thanks to the many genealogists and local experts who shed light on the process, we have the tools to make it happen.

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