Searching for a Sweeney link from Leitrim back to Donegal

My brother, Ted, and I made a trip to Ireland in May.  We had fantastic visits with our McPherson and Brennan cousins, as well as our friends, the Clarkes.  Gerry Clarke has been a great help in our family research over the years.  We saw the old Sweeney (Leitrim), Horan (Sligo), and Brennan (Roscommon) cottages.  We found out more about our great uncle, Thomas Sweeney, through stories over tea at neighbors.  We also had a nice visit with Michael Mohan, whose family bought the Sweeney property adjacent to theirs.   It was another amazing visit.

We spent a couple of days in Dublin before departing and I couldn’t resist a little more genealogy research.  I found the death record of Thomas’ wife, Mary Agnes Foley, from 1963.  She was the last Sweeney to occupy the cottage in Gubnaveagh.   I was also able to trace back the first ancestors to live on the mountain in Gubnaveagh.  I got a copy of the original deed from 1807 when the Gannons acquired the property.  Terence Sweeny married Bridget Gannon in 1867.  Soon after the marriage, the Gannons divided the property in two and the Sweeneys were entered into the land records.

So, when did my Sweeneys arrive in Gubnaveagh?  John Sweeney is listed on Terence’s marriage record as his father.  John may have been born around 1810 and died in 1875.  However, I can’t find his birth record.  I have a possible marriage record.

It is documented in local history that a group of people came down from Donegal to Leitrim around 1795.  There is a monument to the Ultachs on the mountain. There were Sweeneys in the group, but I’m not sure if my Sweeneys were among them.  Did John’s father come from Donegal in 1795 or did John arrive later on his own?  I think I can only resolve this with the help of DNA testing.  I have found four distinct Sweeney lines in the area, but can’t push any of them back far enough to see how they might be related or where they came from.

I have a 111 marker Y-DNA test, an autosomal test, and the Big-Y.  I’m looking for ideas as to how I can find out if any Sweeneys in Donegal share my DNA?  Most of my Y-DNA matches are from much further back in Scotland.  I am in the Sweeney DNA and Ulster DNA projects.


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Go big or go home. Our trip to South Africa.

I am now approaching another trip to Ireland, so it’s about time I posted a summary of our last trip. In July, 2015, we went on a family trip to Capetown, South Africa. It had nothing to do with my family history journey.  The primary goal was to go somewhere interesting and check off another continent. Just Antarctica left to visit!

It was a great trip. I would recommend it. We lucked out with fantastic weather in what normally would have been a cool, rainy period. We enjoyed the coast, the city, and ventured inland for some great sightseeing. The Cape of Good Hope, several wineries, an overnight at Inverdoorn Game Reserve, a cheetah sanctuary, and many more sights.

Robben Island, where Nelson Mandela was imprisoned, was quite a moving experience. Climbing Table Mountain was a real adventure.  We somehow picked a fairly challenging trail.  We made it, but it wasn’t pretty.  It was a steeper climb than I imagined.  Being overdressed didn’t help. Next time, we will take the cable car.

That’s the short version of a long trip.  Now it’s time to focus on my daughter’s upcoming wedding and a subsequent trip to Ireland with two of my brothers.

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Exploring my Gaetz roots in Nova Scotia

In July, we had another combination vacation and family history trip.  Is there any other kind of vacation?  This time, I was exploring my Gaetz roots in Nova Scotia.  My ancestor, Johann Martin Gaetz, arrived in 1751 as part of a group of “Foreign Protestants” from Germany who were invited by the British to create settlements.  My ancestors settled in Lunenburg, which is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site.  I had a family tree from my mother, her notes, and plenty of information from online sources, but I had never been to Nova Scotia.

My grandmother, Florence Elizabeth Gaetz, came down from Seaforth, Nova Scotia to Providence, Rhode Island in 1918.  My mother stayed in contact with a first cousin and his family.  They visited each other several times over the years, but I never met the family.  Prior to the trip, I was able to connect with a second cousin, Pat Gaetz.  Pat, and her husband, gave us a wonderful tour of the family roots in the Halifax area.

We were able to see the house where my grandmother lived, which solved the mystery of a framed photo on a wall at my parent’s house.  None of my siblings knew what it was, but you don’t frame a random photo and hang it on the wall.  What a great surprise when saw the house!  I’ve written that on the back of the photo for future generations.

Pat took us to eat at a very small, local restaurant called La Cuisine, in nearby Chezzetcook.  La Cuisine in ChezzetcookAs we were chatting with the owners, it turns out one was a Gaetz second cousin and the other married to a Gaetz!  Our second great surprise of the day.  To top it off, we saw the dessert menu highlighted gingerbread.  We  had wondered about the origin of my mother’s gingerbread.  Sure enough, the gingerbread was very much like hers.  Her love of molasses and gingerbread certainly came from the area.  Three mysteries solved in one day!

As for sightseeing around Nova Scotia, we thoroughly enjoyed our trip.  We arrived in Yarmouth via the new Nova Star ferry from Portland.  It was a “cruise” experience as opposed to just a ferry.  I would recommend it.  All the places we visited were great.  I’ve highlighted our main stops on the map below.  Nova Scotia was beautiful.  The weather was great, except for the last day with a visit from hurricane/tropical storm Arthur.  It made our ferry back to Maine a bit choppy the next day, but not too bad.
nova-scotia-map with trip

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A river cruise down the Danube

It’s been about 18 months, so it’s about time I mentioned our vacation last July.  We’ve never taken a vacation on a big cruise ship, so we decided to start with a river cruise.  It was a great trip, covering five countries.  The trip began in Prague and ended in Budapest.00_AvalonPreview_map_template  We added an extra day of sightseeing in Budapest.  All the cities were beautiful.

We had such a positive experience with Globus on our trip to Italy, we decided to go with Avalon Waterways, a Globus brand.  It was a middle tier priced trip, with nice hotels on each end of the cruise.  There were plenty of ways to spend less or more, but this seemed like the right balance of amenities and cost.

The food on the boat was fantastic.  The waters were calm, with land always in sight.  It was a good choice for us.  Each day there was a mix of organized excursions and free time.  We had a complication with a labor strike by the lock workers.  It cost us a couple of days on the river.  Avalon did some quick re-planning and arranged hotels, meals, and changes to the excursions.  It was a bit disappointing to lose time on the river, but the trip was still great.   It would seem a little silly to complain about touring Europe in nice hotels.  It was out of Avalon’s control and they made the best of it.

Here’s the itinerary:

Day 1 Arrive in Prague, Czech Republic
Day 2 and 3 Prague
Day 4 Prague–Nuremberg, Germany (Embarkation)
Day 5 Nuremberg
Day 6 Regensburg
Day 7 Passau–Linz, Austria
Day 8 Melk–Vienna
Day 9 Vienna
Day 10 Budapest, Hungary
Day 11 Budapest (Disembarkation)
Day 12 Budapest (an extra day)

I highly recommend a trip like this!

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Is that a curtain rod or modern art?

Tree in the houseIn late June, a 30 foot tree branch came crashing into our family room missing my wife by about 5 feet.  The branch fell from about 70-80 feet and managed to drop straight down like a spear puncturing the roof and then settling back with about 20 feet outside and 10 feet inside.   As it leaned back from the weight on the outside, it grabbed a curtain.  It looked like a crazy curtain rod.  Several people commented that it looked like modern art.

All things considered, we were lucky.  It happened on a weekday morning after the weather had cleared.  Our carpenter and tree guy responded the same day. Our insurance company, AMICA, was very responsive.  All parties did a great job from start to finish.  Ironically, we recently had a branch removed from the tree because we were worried about it.  It appears we removed the wrong branch!

All is well now, but we considered it a warning and had the tree taken down.  The stump is about 4 feet x 5 feet.  I counted the rings and there are more than 100.  Does that really represent the age of a tree?  I hated to see that beautiful old tree go, but we couldn’t let it happen again and risk someone being hurt.

Check out my flickr site for photos of the damage, repair and tree removal.

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A cornucopia of Irish cousins – my latest trip to Ireland

My grandmother's cottage in Ballaghboy, county Sligo

In March, I was lucky enough to take another trip to Ireland.  Scheduled to be in Dublin for work on a Monday, I decided to arrive on Saturday morning and head west for a weekend of visiting.

My first stop was Ballinamore, county Leitrim.  I had arranged to meet Gerry Clarke, a friend who has been a great source of local information over the past few years.  This trip was an opportunity to make one more attempt to identify the gravesite of my grandfather’s family.  His two brothers, parents and ancestors died in Gubnaveagh and were buried at St. Mary’s at Aughnasheelin.  I’ve been over the church cemetery multiple times and since the last burial was around 1960, I assume the headstone is unreadable, buried or non-existent.

We tried to talk to one of the neighbors adjacent to the old Sweeney property but we weren’t lucky enough to catch him unannounced – maybe next time.  We did meet with the parish priest and found out there is no map of the plots from 50 years ago.  Most people simply know where their families are buried.  There are no civil burial records for any of the Sweeneys, so either they were vampires or they are indeed buried somewhere in the church cemetery.

I drove to the Ballaghboy Lodge Farm  in county Sligo very close to where my grandmother (Horan) lived.  Gerry lives in the neighboring village of Ballinafad.  We headed over to Boyle, county Roscommon, which is just a few miles away.  I had met two 2nd cousins before in Boyle and was about to meet a third – John McPherson.  His grandfather and my grandmother were siblings.

John was a fantastic host, welcoming me as a family member albeit separated by distance and many years.  We spent time with his family.  Meeting his wife, daughter, two sons, a daughter-in-law and four grandchildren was a treat.  I had been corresponding with them on facebook and email since my last visit when John was out of the country.  It was nice to exchange stories about our families and hear about my grandmother’s family and the place she grew up.  We also visited with his sister, Maureen, as well as another 2nd cousin, Mary.

As we drove around Boyle, John showed me the sights including a plaque of Maureen O’Sullivan, a Boyle native.  Chris O’Dowd is another of Boyle’s most famous citizens.  By the time John dropped me back at the B&B, I was running on fumes.  However, the B&B had a guest performer playing that evening – Donal O’Connor.  I managed to stay awake long enough to enjoy his performance.

Sunday, it was on to Carrownamaddy, county Roscommon, for a short visit with the Brennans – Mick, Eamon and Vincent.  On my last visit, my sister, brother and I met our Brennan cousins for the first time.  I was treated to lunch, some nice conversation, and an introduction to their cows.  We also called on another Brennan cousin as well as Liam Byrne from the local historical society.  After signing the Brennan visitor book, it was back to Dublin to return my rental car and get ready for work on Monday morning.

It was a whirlwind 36 hours, but well worth it.  Thanks to my Irish cousins for welcoming me with open arms!  Until next time …

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Viva Italia! A wonderful trip to Italy!

Italy has been on my wife’s list of countries to visit for a few years now.  We went there this past summer with some friends.  The trip exceeded all our expectations.  Since we had never been to Italy before, we decided to keep the stress level down and avoid driving.  We took a Globus bus tour and I can’t say enough good things about the tour.  Our tour director, Remo Beretta, was extraordinary and the other people on the tour were great travel companions.

The tour covered far more ground in about 12 days then we could have on our own.  We took hundreds of photos.  I posted some of the highlights.  I’ll be back with some personal reflections on the trip, but it has gone on so long I thought I would post the itinerary now.  Maybe I can convince my wife to do a guest blog entry with some day by day impressions and highlights as she has been pouring through the photos to pick the best to capture our trip.

Not to be a Globus advertisement, but here is the itinerary directly from the brochure:

Day 1 Arrive in Rome, Italy

Time to rest or start exploring the “Eternal City.” At 6 pm, meet your Tour Director and traveling companions for a special welcome dinner with wine at one of Rome’s lively restaurants. (Dinner)

Day 2 Rome

Sightseeing with your Local Guide starts with a visit to the VATICAN MUSEUMS and SISTINE CHAPEL, world famous for Michelangelo’s ceiling paintings and The Last Judgement. Continue to monumental ST. PETER’S SQUARE and BASILICA. Cross the Tiber and visit the COLOSSEUM and the ROMAN FORUM, where Roman legions marched in triumph. Then, time for independent activities and exciting optional excursion possibilities. (Breakfast)

Day 3 Rome–Pisa–Florence

North to Pisa for pictures of its amazing Leaning Tower. Continue to Florence, the capital of Tuscany and home to Renaissance splendor. Why not join an optional dinner at a Tuscan restaurant? (Breakfast)

Day 4 Florence

Follow your Local Guide to the ACADEMY OF FINE ARTS with Michelangelo’s David. Admire the magnificent cathedral, Giotto’s Bell Tower, the Baptistry’s “Gate of Paradise,” and sculpture-studded SIGNORIA SQUARE. End your tour with a visit of SANTA CROCE BASILICA with the tomb of Michelangelo. Afternoon free to relax or to find out more about Florence’s artistic wealth. (Breakfast)

Day 5 Florence–Milan–Lugano, Switzerland–Lake Maggiore, Italy

Drive through the Apennine hills past Bologna, home of Europe’s oldest university, to dynamic Milan. An orientation features its gothic DUOMO, glass-domed GALLERIA, and famed La Scala Opera House. Then, continue to Lugano in the Italian-speaking part of Switzerland. A leisurely break to stroll along the lake, window-shop on the refined Via Nassa, or sip an espresso on the Piazza Riforma. Next, a scenic drive along Lake Maggiore, one of Italy’s most beautiful areas. Spend two nights at your elegant resort. (Breakfast, Dinner)

Day 6 At Leisure by Lake Maggiore

A restful day to sleep in or maybe join an optional excursion to the baroque palace and peacock gardens of enchanting Isola Bella (open Mar. 26-Oct. 23, subject to change). (Breakfast, Dinner)

Day 7 Lake Maggiore–Verona–Venice

East to Verona, medieval setting for Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, to see Juliet’s Balcony and the well-preserved Arena. Join the locals for lunch before continuing to Venice, deemed by some the most romantic city in the world. Enter in style by PRIVATE BOAT. (Breakfast)

Day 8 Venice

Highlights of your guided walking tour are ST. MARK’S SQUARE and the byzantine BASILICA, lavish DOGES’ PALACE and the BRIDGE OF SIGHS. Then, watch skilled GLASSBLOWERS fashion their delicate objects in the age-old manner. Later, discover Venice at your own pace or take an optional gondola ride. (Breakfast)

Day 9 Venice–Ravenna–Assisi

Follow the sparkling Adriatic coast to Ravenna to see the mosaics in the 6th-century BASILICA OF ST. APOLLINARIS IN CLASSE. Afternoon arrival in Assisi. Visit ST. CLARE’S CHURCH and ST. FRANCIS’ BASILICA with a Local Guide. (Breakfast, Dinner)

Day 10 Assisi–Pompeii–Sorrento

Today, visit POMPEII, the Roman city both destroyed and preserved by an eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 AD. Overnight in the charming, bayside resort of Sorrento. (Breakfast)

Day 11 Sorrento

Excursion to Capri. Speed across the bay by JETFOIL to the Isle of Capri. Ride the FUNICULAR to Capri village for a guided visit of this pretty town. Free time to explore the little shops on the Piazzetta before returning to Sorrento. The remainder of the day is at leisure. (Breakfast)

Day 12 Sorrento–Rome

A short drive back to Rome. This evening, enjoy a farewell dinner with wine in a local restaurant to celebrate the success of your vacation. (Breakfast, Dinner)

Day 13 Rome

Your vacation ends with breakfast this morning. (Breakfast)

… So much for the facts.  I’ll follow this up with a personal summary soon – if you can use the word soon when 6 months have already passed.

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My Gaetz family research

I have spent a lot of time tracing my Irish roots (Sweeney, Horan and Brennan).  This culminated in a trip to Ireland where we met cousins and saw the old family cottages.  Recently, I returned to researching my Gaetz line (my mother’s mother).  Wow, there is so much information and so many people sharing their Gaetz family research.  If you believe the records, the Gotz family was from Zurich in the 1500s and went to Palatinate, Germany by 1600. The name became Gaetz. Then in 1751 they came to Lunenburg, Nova Scotia along with  2000 “foreign protestants” who left Germany and other parts of Europe.  In 1918, my grandmother Florence Gaetz came to the USA with her sister.

When I visited Zurich last summer, I had no idea I was going home 🙂

On there are lots of people sharing their Gaetz family tree.   Also, has an extensive number of Gaetz’s.  All sources seem consistent which sounds like a good thing.  However, I suppose there is also a risk that people are just reinforcing inaccurate data by passing it around.  I’ll have to look more carefully at the real sources.

So many questions, so little time.

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I finally updated my Plaxo profile

I finally updated my Plaxo profile.  I’m not sure why, because I don’t use it.  I use Facebook and LinkedIn.  It was hanging out there for years with a sparsely populated profile.  I thought I should either delete it or update it.  I find it a little confusing when I get messages posted from people that automatically go to multiple social networking sites.  I realize it gives them maximum coverage, but I think it also distracts from which sites are really the places they spend their time.  However, I feel having a stale site is worse than no presence at all.  So, I had to do something.

I wonder if I should add Plaxo to my persona on the top right of my blog page?  At this point, I won’t.  I don’t think it adds any unique content or perspective – by or about me.

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Dual citizenship podcast interview at the Irish Roots Cafe

A few weeks ago, I was interviewed for the second time by Mike O’Laughlin of the Irish Roots Cafe for his Irish Families Worldwide podcast.   The first interview was in July about my Irish family history tour. This time, the topic was about how a US citizen can obtain Irish citizenship.  Here’s a link to the podcast posted on January 11, 2011.

Dual citizenship is by far the most read posting I’ve had in my blog.  Here is a updated  summary of my experience:

The United States allows dual citizenship with numerous countries, including Ireland.  A few years ago I found out Ireland offers citizenship by descent.  It is called “Citizenship through Foreign Births Registration (FBR)”.  The background work took me a couple of months and the whole process cost a few hundred dollars.  The FBR application took about 16-18 months to process.  I received my dual citizenship in May 2007.  I then applied for an Irish passport which I received in August 2007.

The rules:

One can become an Irish citizen by descent even if your parents were not Irish citizens.  If one of your grandparents was an Irish citizen you can apply for entry in the Foreign Births Register.  There is no requirement that you have ever stepped on Irish soil.  Since 1986, citizenship only takes effect as of the date of registration so any children born prior to your becoming a citizen are not automatically also citizens.

You need three forms of identification for your grandparent.  I sent in information for both my grandfather and grandmother since as you will see below I was afraid someone might question the link to my grandfather.  I used their Irish birth certificates, marriage certificate, and death certificates.  All these records can be obtained through contact information on the Internet.


I was interested in genealogy and had created a fairly extensive record of my family history in the Family Tree Maker tool based on the research my parents had done.  My father made copies of my grandparents’ birth records on a visit to Ireland but I never paid much attention to the details.  I decided to pursue Irish citizenship for the following reasons:

  • After my father died, I rekindled my interest in my family history.  I realized I could no longer get first hand answers to my questions and my children would have little hope of finding information if I did not document it.
  • It would be easier to travel in Europe with an EU passport.
  • It would be an advantage if I ever wanted to work in Europe.
  • I thought it would be fun – a nice novelty/conversation piece.
  • I thought my wife would prioritize Ireland higher on the list for future travel. (I have since been to Ireland three times with my children, my wife and my siblings.)

What I learned along the way:

You think you know what your name is?

When I looked at my grandfather’s birth entry, I found it entered as “Sweeny”, not “Sweeney”.  This made me question the validity of my father’s research.  I subsequently did enough research to convince myself that my father was correct.  The place of birth, the rough time period, the names of siblings and their birth records, and census information leaves little doubt that Sweeny and Sweeney referred to the same family.  I also checked with other relatives to link various uncles together.  I have since become more comfortable with the common practice of finding multiple spellings of your name.  I have it with my mother’s family as well – Brennan in Ireland and Brennen sometimes in the US.  I have since found it on the Horan side with McPherson and MacPherson.  It still bothers me because I am very detail oriented, but it doesn’t seem to bother people in Ireland at all.  I have been told that “everybody can spell their name two ways”.

You think you know when your grandfather was born?

In my research I found no less than 5 documented birth dates for my grandfather that differed from his birth certificate.  These dates spanned 12 years and two seasons!  I obtained copies of his birth certificate, the passenger manifest on the ship from Ireland to the US, census information in Ireland, multiple census records in the US, his immigration and naturalization papers, and his World War I draft registration card.  As the years progressed he failed to age at the proper rate.  That leads me to guess as a laborer he wanted to appear younger to keep his employment.  There are still two living siblings of my father.  However, neither has the slightest idea of their father’s birth date or even the season.  Hard to imagine they never celebrated his birthday.

Thank goodness my grandmother told the truth about her birthday.  It was a treat to see everything match when I obtained similar records for her.

What kind of information can you obtain?

I made one trip to the National Archives in Waltham, MA.  Everything else was researched on the Internet or through and requested by postal mail or fax.  I must credit an extremely helpful person at the National Archives with unlocking the key to many records of my grandfather as he found the immigration and naturalization records.  I assumed my grandfather came into Boston as my grandmother did since they both moved to Providence, RI.  As it turns out he arrived at Ellis Island in New York.  Once I discovered this, the process became easier.

Here are some of the records I obtained:

  • Irish birth certificate
  • Passenger manifest entry for the ship coming to the US
  • Irish and US census information
  • Immigration and naturalization papers
  • World War I draft registration
  • Marriage certificate
  • Death certificate
  • Social Security record

In case you are curious:

  • My grandfather, Sweeney, was born in Gubnaveagh (near Ballinamore), county Leitrim.
  • My grandmother, Horan, was born in Ballaghboy, county Sligo.
  • My mother’s grandfather, Brennan, was born in Carrownamaddy, county Roscommon.

Related links:

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