Meet my ancestors, says family historian

Kevin Terry tells Gráinne McGuinness how genetic genealogy and increased access to records online have helped research for his latest book on the Terry family name in Cork
Meet my ancestors, says family historian

PEEK INTO THE PAST: A William Tyrry Deed from 1440

CORK family historian and author Kevin Terry likens genealogy research over the centuries to following a trail of bread-crumbs, and says his research on his own family name has also given him a wider insight into the overall history of Cork and its families.

Mr Terry has just published Ancestral Journeys, which follows on from and is a companion to two previous books he has written on the Terry family and name in Cork over the centuries.

He believes it will appeal not only to family historians bearing the surname Terry but also to those interested in aspects of Irish and Cork local history for the period covered..

“Ancestral Journeys is of Cork historical interest,” he explains. “The book’s focus is the migratory paths of people from Europe who settled in Cork and bear the surname Terry. The period covered is from 800 AD to 1800.

Ancestral Journeys by Kevin Terry.
Ancestral Journeys by Kevin Terry.

“It looks at the history and historical geography of where they settled at periods along their migratory paths. The book sets down some of the political, social and economic reasons for their rise to prominence as merchant gentry in Cork city from the 15th century, their maintenance of this position for 250 years, through to their expulsion with other Catholic families in 1644.”

Mr Terry, who lives with his family near Cloyne, is a retired public servant and formerly City Engineer with Cork and Limerick. I asked what prompted him to write this book, and his previous books on the topic.

“I suppose I was aware that Terry families played an important civic role in the affairs of Cork city in former times,” he says. “Then there was Terry brandy from Spain!

“I was curious about the linkage and this in turn led to enquiring about who the bearers of this surname were, where they originated, their prominence as merchants and traders, their expulsion from Cork city and how those who emigrated fared.

“This book then had to be written to take account of new insights from genetic genealogy and more accessible archival material.”

Mr Terry’s research has given him an enriched understanding of the overall historical periods he has researched and his published works makes his research available to others with similar interests.

“My primary interest would be as a researcher in genealogy in a local historical context,” he says. “When you trace back a number of centuries, it’s a bit akin to finding the trail of bread-crumbs left by Hansel before the birds have eaten them.

“But what you find and publish is there for posterity. In tracing the fortunes of a particular family an insight can be gleaned into the overall local historical situation.”

I asked if others with an interest in genealogy and tracing their family tree could learn from this book?

“Yes, in terms of the methodology used and the source references provided,” he says. “Also, how data gathered from genetic genealogy can be applied.

“How it is applied in this book on the ancestral journeys of Terrys is a useful example.

That said, ancestors of each surname will have their own unique history. The other merchant families of Cork in former times such as Lombards, Goolds, Sarsfields, etc. will have had similar experiences to the Terrys.”

So how does the story of the Terry clan compare with other Cork families

“Well, it depends,” Mr Terry says. “Members of families from the lordship class, such as the Butlers, Fitzgeralds, McCarthys, etc, would have left a more indelible mark both in Ireland and by those who emigrated to continental Europe in the 17th century.

“At the other end of the social strata, if you were an emigrant to the United States from a famine-torn nation in the 18th century, the outcome was initially bleak, but many rose to prominence in subsequent generations. The Terry families in Cork city in the 16th and early 17th century were urban merchant gentry.

“Descendants of some of the Terry families who emigrated in the 17th century rose to prominent positions in Europe and Latin America.”

Genetic genealogy has shed new light on his research and played a large role in his newest work.

“To date, genetic genealogy has established two distinct Cork Terry lineages,” he explains. “There are probably one or two other lineages that more use of DNA testing will identify in the future.

“One of the Cork lineages has connections with several Waterford Terry families from about 1400 AD. A separate Waterford Terry lineage is connected to McNeills from Ulster and Scotland.”

The internet and increased digitisation of records has also helped genealogical research. “It has made documents more accessible, particularly where they are word search-able,” Mr Terry says. “Covid has caused various institutions to make more documents freely available.

“For example, The British Library gave free access to several of its series of Calendars State Papers during Covid.”

The historian has also found material in unexpected places.

“Two years ago, while on holiday in Croatia, I went in one morning to the State Archives in Zadar,” he says. “To my surprise I found lots of original manuscripts relating to Terrys from Cork in 18th century Dalmatia!”

Ancestral Journeys by Kevin Terry is available in soft-cover and hardcover at €25 and €40. It is available from Amazon(US and UK) and Waterstones (UK) and directly from www.facebook.com/terrysurnamecorkireland (Ireland).

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