Rosie O’Donnell appeared on NBC’s Who Do You Think You Are? series last night. Sharing the journey with her brother Ed, the show followed O’Donnell as she traced her maternal line from Jersey City, New Jersey all the way to County Kildare, Ireland.
What prompted the actress and media personality to pursue this course? At age ten, O’Donnell lost her mother to cancer.
Starting with the names of her mother’s parents, Kathryn McKenna and Daniel Murtha, along with a photo of a woman she was told was her grandfather’s stepmother, O’Donnell went on a heart-felt journey filled with discovery.
Along the way she discovered that her grandfather’s supposed stepmother was actually his first wife and eventually ended up meeting new relatives she never knew she had, for the first time. Then, after tracking down additional records at the Archives Nationales du Québec (Quebec Libraries and Archives) and local church records, O’Donnell eventually traced her family’s heritage to Ireland where they suffered through the Irish potato famine while working under the auspices of Ireland’s Poor Law at the local “workhouse”.
These were certainly grueling living conditions that O’Donnell referred to as “like concentration camps”. Fortunately, due to two benefactors, her ancestors were able to escape and emigrate from Ireland to Canada.
Programs such as Who Do You Think You Are? and other family history shows on TV have grown in popularity over the years. Sharing Family History with Who Do You Think You Are? contains a number of suggestions for those interested in getting started.