Irish Roots

February 15th, 2010

John Grenham


People in this country are regularly hypnotised by the number of Americans claiming Irish ancestry. ďMy God! You must be sitting on a goldmine!Ē goes the refrain. So I thought Iíd share some calculations on the actual size of the goldmine. (Thanks to Brian Donovan of Eneclann Ė www.eneclann.ie Ė for some of these thoughts)

There are roughly 40 million US citizens who claimed Irish roots in the last US census, about 13% of the total 300 million. How many are actually interested in researching those roots? We can get some idea by looking at two institutions used by virtually every American genealogical researcher, www.ancestry.com and the Mormon Family History Centres. Ancestry claims around a million subscribers, while the FHC system between deals with between 1 and 2 million. Letís take the higher figure, 2 million. 13% of 2 million is 260,000, so 260,000 individuals are interested in researching Irish ancestors.

But how many of those 260,000 have only Irish ancestors? The answer must be close to zero. What proportion of their ancestors were Irish, then? The vast majority are descended from 19th-century emigrants, so there are between 4 and 6 generations between them and their Irish ancestors. Even if the first two migrant generations intermarried only with other Irish, highly unlikely, that means there are between 2 and four generations of non-Irish ancestors. In other words, it is virtually certain that a large majority of the ancestors of those claiming Irish descent were not in fact Irish.

Letís be generous and say that 40% of the ancestors of those 260,000 were actually Irish. Thatís about 100,000 Irish lines of descent being researched. And then thereís the question of how many of that 100,000 are willing to pay for research rather than simply do it themselves.

So thatís why Iím not rich.

Comments and suggestions are welcome, to irishrootsatirishtimes.com.

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