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On the Road with Reid 'Round Ireland: Digging for Your Irish Roots

No, not potatoes—though those are yummy. Today we'll share the best resources for tracing your Irish heritage
By Reid Bramblett 

With the aid of the Internet, and a handy-dandy postcard rack filled with family crests, you can start tracing your Irish heritage

(Originally published June 2, 2003 on Reprinted with permission. All photographs by Reid Bramblett, save the ones of Reid Bramblett, which are by Frances C. Sayers. This article won a Lowell Thomas award for travel journalism.)

Toward the close of the nineteenth century, Patrick Reid moved from Scotland to Ireland's central plains, where he set up as a hide tanner and cattleman in Mullingar. He emigrated once more to the United States and had a son named Matthew. Later, a young Irish schoolteacher from Roscommon named Katherine Marie Burke also decided to follow many of her countrymen to America, where she met young Matthew, married, and had a son. His name, too, was Matthew Reid, and he was my grandfather.

That's the sort of story that could be recited by more than 44 million Americans today, because that's how many have at least some of their roots in Ireland. In fact, there are roughly eight times as many Americans of Irish descent than there are people in Ireland today. I say "some roots" because if I were writing about Poland I would tell you instead about great-grandma Apollonia; about the Ukraine and it would be her husband Alexander; about England and I'd be writing about, well, pretty much my whole father's side of the family.

That's what's great about America; it truly is a mixing and mingling of bloodlines and cultures. It also gives many of us, whether our families have been in the US for one generation or ten, an odd yearning to rediscover those ancestral lands and, if possible, track down some long-lost cousins or at the very least find the gravestone of great-great grandpa amidst the Celtic crosses of a small town Irish cemetery.

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