17 March 2011

Rosie O'Donnell Tracks Down Her Irish Roots

In honor of St. Patrick's Day, today's post refers to the NBC series "Who Do You Think You Are?" about researching family history - with an emphasis on Irish heritage.

You may remember Rosie O'Donnell from A League of Their Own, her talk-show, or perhaps even from her high-profile activism on Lesbian and family issues. She came from a family that didn't share much concrete information about their ancestors. She had a suspicion, based solely on the surnames of her parents and her mother's parents, that she had Irish roots. (Well, who wouldn't with "O'Donnell, McKenna, and Murtagh?" but alas, there was no proof.)

The episode follows O'Donnell as she goes in search of her roots. In contrast to other "Who Do You Think You Are?" episodes, O'Donnell does a good bit of her own research.

To view the episode, click here.

Notice the variety of sources she uses and places she goes: Ancestry Library Edition (available through all the branches of the Beaufort County Library); newspaper microfilm, printed city directories, and census records in the United States and Canada; and consultations with genealogists, archivists and librarians in three countries. It took time, it took attention to detail, it took being open to where the sources led her. (In some ways, I think a genealogist is the bravest person on the planet to go where pain, secrets, and silence have kept details and explanations to an absolute minimum).

Please note: Most of the records she reviews with the archivists are unindexed. The archivists had advance notice that O'Donnell was on her way. They've obviously done some of the basic review of records in anticipation of her arrival (with the film crew in tow, of course).

To read Dick Eastman's interview with O'Donnell a few weeks after the airing about her family history journey, click here. You can listen to the Eastman/O'Donnell interview by clicking the "Listen here" button at the start of the article.

To read why Nancy Cottrill, a professional genealogist associated with Ancestry.com, believes that O'Donnell's insight about her family history journey is so life altering, click here. (My husband is from Birr, County Offaly, Ireland. Although we have walked by the Birr Work House many times, we've never been inside.)

The image is from the Biography in Context subscription database available through DISCUS.

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