IRELAND: Interesting Discoveries

After 40 years of researching Gillespies, a few interesting discoveries I made that might help you in your research:

  1. Certain first names are only found in specific countries in Ireland, or are more common in certain locations than others. First names often identify the origins of someone in Ireland: that is if the person was Celtic Irish, Scottish or having English roots. Only a few first names were used by all. Since first names were repeated each generation for several hundred years, this poses a problem for researchers until one discovers that some first names (especially beginning with the letter ‘D”),  died out abruptly in census of a country. (e.g. Scotland). Once you notice this, you pick up the trail elsewhere when these names just as suddenly reappear in records in other countries and no where else. Because some of these D first names are only found in specific locations (e.g. Isle of Islay), this gives a hint as to that origin when the name is found. It holds true most of the time, but there are exceptions.

Joseph – most common in Co Armagh

Samuel – most common in Co Antrim

Condy – only found in Co Donegal

2. The Irish naming pattern was commonly used by the Irish up to about 1850. It varied slightly in the same country than that of the Scots, who were most common in places such as Co Down. If you are able to line up all of a couple’s children in birth order, you can get a strong hint as to the names of previous two generations on both sides of the family. If a child died as an infant, a later baby was often given the same name to honour relatives.

3. There were several strong movements out of Ireland, some identified such as the Potato Famine of the mid 1840s to 1850s, and some reasons yet to be discovered.

  •  A big cold wind swept across Northern Ireland in 1830 and devastated the land. A flood of Northern Ireland immigrants arrived in Canadian ports later that same year.
  • There was a powerful departure from Co Donegal of young people in the early 1900s just before World War I. Almost all of them headed to New York.

4. Varient spellings of names were common in early times in North America because many people were illiterate and did not know how to spell their names. (they could not read or write). When an educated census taker or other official tried to identify the family in records for an unfamiliar name, the recorder depended on how he interpreted phonetically the sounds that he heard from people with a strong broque of another country. My own family name was spelled five different ways in records in Canada before the spelling “Gillespie”  became commonly used.


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