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Spoiler Alert: If you don’t already know what happened during Rosie O’Donnell’s
episode of “Who Do You Think You Are?” you are about to find out.
Rosie O’Donnell often asked her grandmother about a specific photo hanging in her
house, but her grandmother was tight lipped about the woman. O’Donnell knew she was
somehow related to her, but didn’t know much beyond that. So she began her “Who Do
You Think You Are?” journey by researching the mystery woman.
She starts looking in the 1900 census, finding her great-grandparents Michael and
Ellen Murtha. The census indicates Michael was born in French Canada and his parents
were born in Ireland. O’Donnell steps back father to the 1880, but shows Michael living
in Brooklyn with a different woman — his first wife Anna.
This leads O’Donnell to Manhattan, where she finds the death certificate for Anna
Murtaugh, a variation of the Murtha surname. The cause of death is listed as an explosion
of an oil lamp. O’Donnell searches neighborhood newspapers for write-ups about the
incident, discovering Anna was holding her infant daughter during the explosion.
Catholic church baptismal records revealed Anna’s daughter to be Elizabeth Murtha,
who lived through the accident and eventually had many children and grandchildren.
Tracing the line forward, O’Donnell is reunited with Elizabeth’s grandchildren, her
second cousins. They confirm that the mysterious photo is Elizabeth’s mother Anna.
After solving that mystery, she travels to Quebec to search parish records for Anna’s
husband and O’Donnell’s great-grandfather Michael Murtha, listed as Michael Murtaugh
in baptismal records. Michael’s parents are listed as Andrew Murtaugh and Anne Doyle.
O’Donnell searches a local newspaper to find the obituary for Anne, which lists her
birthplace as Kildare, Ireland. For more on searching newspapers, see our Finding
You Family in Old Newspapers on-demand webinar.
O’Donnell then heads to Ireland to find out more about the Murtaughs. Many people
emigrated from Ireland at the height of the potato feminine, and Andrew and Anne were
Searching Poor Law Union minute books for a mention of the family, O’Donnell discovers
two men sponsored the Murtaughs passage to Canada. The Poor Law Union only provided
assisted immigration for severely impoverished families during the feminine. To qualify
for assisted immigration, a family would have to live in a work house for at least
a year. For more on tracing your Irish roots, see our Irish
heritage research guide.
“WDYTYA” airs Fridays at 8pm EST on NBC. Check the Genealogy Insider blog for a brief
recap of each episode, and post a comment to be entered to win in our Discover
Who You Are sweepstakes!