More Genealogy Adventures

It has been a very busy and hectic few weeks. It feels like I have barely been home since I got back from my recent visit to the US.

First up was Back To Our Past in the RDS, Dublin. Back To Our Past is the annual genealogical expo and runs alongside the Over 50’s Show. There is also a dedicated strand of DNA lectures organised by Genetic Genealogy Ireland. This year the event took place over two days, on the 18th and 19th of October. I spent most of my time sitting in on the DNA lectures because I felt this was an area where I really need to improve my knowledge. Plus they had some fascinating speakers. It was particularly great to catch up with Mags Gaulden of Grandma’s Genes and listen to the work she has done with the Canadian Casualty Identification Program. I first met Mags at the 2019 Genealogy Show in Birmingham.

Mags Gaulden presenting on the Canadian Casualty Identification Program

One of the best reasons for attending Back To Our Past is having an opportunity to connect with fellow professionals. It seems to be one of the few times we’re able to get most of Ireland’s professional genealogists in one place. I was barely in the door before I bumped into two genealogist friends in the canteen. It certainly seemed like a busy event. I was introduced to a young up and coming genealogist from North Cork who along with some other young genealogists has started a new website, The Hidden Branch, which aims to interest more children and teenagers in genealogy.

 

 

One shout out I must give is to Christine Deakin of Irish Genealogy Solutions. Christine offers a fantastic and much needed service selling materials to help you preserve your paper records and also has some really nice genealogy stationary.

Christine Deakin of Irish Genealogy Solutions

A few days after Back To Our Past I was off to London in order to attend the inaugural RootsTech London. For those unfamiliar with it, RootsTech is the premier genealogy event. It’s been running for a decade in Salt Lake City and this is the first time they have held the event outside the United States. Since a few of my friends were speaking I was very keen to attend. It took place in the Excel Arena, in the London Docklands area. I only wish there had been flights from Cork to City of London Airport nearby. Instead I had to fly into Stanstead and take a taxi out to my hotel, which at least was convenient to the venue. I was very impressed when I arrived. Finding my way around was definitely made easier by the RootsTech app. This is a great idea for such a big event and helps keep track of what’s going on, especially if there are last minute changes to the schedule. You can also download the lecture handouts through the app. I was fortunate enough while I was there to hear some great talks from Joe Buggy, David E Rencher, Dr Penny Walters and Jim Ryan.The keynote on the first day was from historian Dan Snow on his own family history.

With Dr Penny Walters

Dan Snow with a very attentive audience just after his keynote

I also spent a lot of time walking the exhibition hall. While there I met Kirsty Gray of Family Wise LTD. Kirsty is the showrunner for The Genealogy Show. There was a nice chat with Helen Tovey, editor of Family Tree Magazine. I briefly got to meet with some fellow #Ancestryhour participants from Twitter. Nice to put faces to some familiar Twitter handles. Even though I didn’t hear them speak I also got to catch up with Dutch genealogist John Boener of Antecedentia and Nathan Dylan Goodwin, author of the Morton Ferrier genealogy mysteries. It was an amazing event and kudos to the organisers for putting together something on this scale.

I would have loved to stay longer but unfortunately I had something else planned for the weekend back in Cork. This involved a trip down to the scenic island of Cape Clear in West Cork for their annual storytelling workshop. I had learned about the workshop after I volunteered for the Cape Clear International Storytelling Festival. We were fortunate to have professional storyteller Claire Muireann Murphy leading us for the two and a half days. It might not have been explicitly linked to genealogy but anyone who does genealogical research will understand the need to be able to tell a good story with what you find. It’s also impossible to escape family history when on a relatively small island. A visit to the old graveyard near the pier displays a multitude of O’Driscoll and Cadigan burials. Chances are that if you have O’Driscoll ancestry you are connected to Cape Clear.

This weekend was the 2019 Virtual Genealogical Association conference. The beauty of a virtual conference is being able to watch it from almost anywhere. There was a great lineup over the three days and I learned a lot, even from the lectures that normally wouldn’t be of much use to me, such as German or Scottish records. I may never have a need to use these records but it never hurts to learn something outside of your own speciality.

The Genealogy Show 2019

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I’m just back from attending and speaking at the first ever The Genealogy Show, which was held at the NEC, Birmingham, UK on June 7th and 8th. This was my first time speaking at a UK genealogy event. I’m very appreciative to have had this opportunity. It was also great to get a chance to fly into somewhere that wasn’t London. The short flight time between Cork and Birmingham was a major advantage, plus being able to just walk into the NEC from the airport. I didn’t get to explore Birmingham itself but maybe next time.

I was speaking on the Saturday about using oral history for genealogy. I didn’t get a massive turnout for my talk and ran into some technical hiccups when the interview clips I had hoped to play didn’t work. But those who were there seemed to enjoy the talk. Given that this was my first time delivering this particular talk, it gave me the chance to figure out what worked and what didn’t. The next time I give this talk I might go for a title which is a bit more obvious and gives an audience a better idea of what to expect. But I had several interesting conversations with people on the topic of oral history afterwards.

Aside from speaking I also participated in the Personal Wizard consultations. I was most impressed with the fact that the show had laptops at each of the tables, saving the hassle of bringing our own. I don’t know if I was able to help anyone break down their Irish brick walls during the consultations but I would hope I at least pointed them in the right direction. What was of particular interest to me were the amount of Irish who seem to have been in the UK even before the Famine. This shouldn’t be a surprise but due to the increasing numbers who emigrated from the 1840s onwards, we of course tend to associate this period with Irish settlement abroad.

Everyone I talked to was very friendly, from the exhibitors, fellow speakers, to all the show volunteers. Everyone there seemed to be enjoying themselves. There was a wonderful international feel to the show, with exhibitors, speakers and volunteers from the UK, France, Spain, the Netherlands, Germany, Canada, Australia, the United States and of course Ireland.

One major highlight for me was getting to meet the author Nathan Dylan Goodwin and pick up a signed copy of his book. His genealogical mystery novels are always something I look forward to. I also was fortunate enough to receive a copy of the new book ‘Ethical Dilemmas in Genealogy‘ by my friend Dr Penny Walters.

My only complaint (if you can even call it that) is that I didn’t get a chance to attend more of the talks. I was too busy chatting to people outside.

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The Genealogy Show will return next year Friday 26 and Saturday 27 June 2020. Thank you to all involved. I’m already looking forward to next year and putting together ideas for potential talks.

 

Remembering The Fallen

One the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month 1918, the First World War came to an end. Right up until the last minute the guns stayed firing.

You can listen to the final seconds of the conflict and the moment the guns fell silent in this recording

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The commemoration of the conflict in Ireland has always been a touchy subject. There was certainly a perception that the memory of the Great War had been overshadowed by the events such as the 1916 Rising and the Irish War of Independence. In recent decades, the inevitable distance of time has allowed for more recognition of the role played by Irish men and women in the conflict. We will likely never know exactly how many from Ireland lost their lives in the war. As well as the Irish regiments, there were Irish serving in British, American, Canadian, Australian and New Zealand armed forces, along with any number of civilian organisations involved in the war.

This weekend I was fortunate to attend a number of commemorative events in Cork to remember those who died 1914-1918. On Friday night there was an Evening of Remembrance in St Fin Barre’s Cathedral. This has become an annual event, organised by members of the Cork Branch, Western Front Association. This is always an especially poignant ceremony, featuring music, poetry and songs to commemorate not just those from Cork, or the Allied forces, but all of those who died in the war. The Lord Mayor of Cork, Cllr. Mick Flynn and the Bishop of Cork, Cloyne and Ross, Dr Paul Colton, delivered particularly moving speeches, reflecting on the impact of the war on their own families. They recognised also that even those who survived the war, often came back with physical and psychological wounds. Bishop Colton made an especially valid point about the impossibility of grasping the magnitude of those who died during the war and it’s immediate aftermath. Instead he advocated for focussing on the personal, of remembering those who died as individuals.

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St Fin Barre’s Cathedral

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Crowd gathering for the Evening of Remembrance

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WW1 memorial in the Cathedral

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WW1 Memorial in the Cathedral

Bishop Colton and the Dean of St Fin Barre’s Cathedral, Very Reverend Nigel Dunne, have also been engaged in a project the last four years in gathering together pictures of those from the diocese who died in the war.

Today there were a number of events held at the Cenotaph in Cork, to mark Armistice Day. There was a civic ceremony organised by the Lord Mayor and members of Cork City Council. This was followed by a mass in St Francis Church and a wreath laying ceremony at the Cenotaph by members of the Royal British Legion and relatives of those who died. The ceremony also includes members of the current Irish Defence Forces, veterans of the United Nations and even the British Armed Forces. Bishop Colton also delivered another address and there was a later Ecumenical service in St Fin Barre’s Cathedral.

The act of commemoration itself cannot help but be political and likely there will always be those who feel that by commemorating a conflict we are signalling approval. However, I would disagree with this. We may not agree with why WW1 or any other conflict is fought but that doesn’t mean we should simply forget it and those who fought. Commemoration doesn’t have to be about approval or condemnation. As the events in France today have shown, where the French President and German Chancellor stood side by side at Compiègne as they marked the centenary of the armistice signing, commemorating the end of the war can also be about present unity and learning from the mistakes of the past.

Regardless of how we feel about conflicts past and present, we should never forget those who have lost their lives, no matter how complicated their motives. If you are looking to trace your own relatives who served during WW1, most of the major genealogical websites such as Ancestry, Findmypast and MyHeritage have made their military collections available for free this weekend.

When You Assume

It is natural when conducting research to rely, in part at least, on assumptions. Sometimes when the paper trail becomes patchy they are all we have to go on. But these assumptions can sometimes lead us down the wrong path. We are often told that people in Ireland didn’t move around much before the mid 20th century. That if we could trace them to a particular region then there was a good chance they had been there with several generations. However, recent research for clients and into my own family has made me rethink this.

For instance when we receive information from elderly family members we tend to trust it. That information might state the family had been present in that particular area since records began. Of course we’re going to assume this information is correct, especially if we don’t have a reliable paper trail. It makes for a good starting point in our research and can help us get further. Unfortunately putting too much faith in this information can lead to mistakes. Recently I’ve been doing research into a particular branch of my family in Tipperary, prompted by contact with DNA matches on Ancestry. I had information from my grandfather, written down several years ago, giving a year of birth and location for his maternal grandfather. It was within the same parish and seemed plausible so I didn’t see a need to question it. It was only as I went back further and started digging into the parish registers and other records that I began to realise there could be a mistake. A marriage record suggest this individual married into that particular townland. It still places him in the same parish so not a huge deal. However, looking for baptismal records for the year he was born raises questions. The only individual with that name born in that year within the county is listed as being born several parishes over. Not impossible and goes back to assuming people always stayed within the same area. However, when I searched for his death record the age was off. For those born before civil registration was introduced in 1864 sometimes they simply guessed at their age. So that’s not completely reliable either. However, looking at the census records also throws up questions. This individual is listed on the 1911 census as being born in Co. Limerick originally. All of this evidence taken together is too much to ignore and it suggests the information from my grandmother was incorrect. I can understand where the mistake came from. In the days before online research I assume my grandfather or someone else before him simply asked the local parish priest to look into it for them. He found an individual with that name in a nearby parish and assumed it must be them. This is a mistake that any of us can make and frequently do, even professional researchers.

Talking of parish records, another area that can cause confusion when searching on certain websites are the diocesan boundaries. It’s sometimes easy to forget that the boundaries for a diocese don’t always correspond to the county boundaries. So parts of Cork are in Kerry diocese and some parts of Kerry fall within Cork and Ross. Most of North and East Cork is under the jurisdiction of the diocese of Cloyne and a lot of South Tipperary is part of Waterford and Lismore. This also holds true for parishes. Some parishes sit in more than one county, such as Kilbehenny which straddles Tipperary and Limerick. This is especially important if you are searching for records on Roots Ireland. I was puzzled recently as to why my search for baptismal records in South Tipperary wasn’t producing results, until it was suggested I try searching under Waterford. Suddenly I was getting a lot more information. You can check out a map of the various Irish diocese below.

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When searching for ancestors we should also keep in mind the upheaval caused by the Famine. When we think of migration, we tend to imagine outward migration, of people saying their goodbyes on the quayside before embarking for a new life in America, Australia or the UK. But we shouldn’t ignore internal migration. The Famine led to depopulation and an availability of land. Should we be surprised that some took the opportunity to take land elsewhere, even if it was just a neighbouring parish?

So the lesson is to never put too much faith in our assumptions. Don’t be afraid to question received information and to independently verify. It might mean disproving long cherished family myths (which isn’t always appreciated) but the whole point research is to know for certain.

Rebuilding The Public Record Office

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Public Record Office of Ireland

On the 30 June 1922, the Public Records Office of Ireland was destroyed by fire. This was a part of the occupation of the adjacent Four Courts by members of the anti-Treaty IRA which sparked off the Irish Civil War. The loss of centuries of records destroyed in the fire is still keenly felt by those researching their Irish family history. Details of what was lost are summarised by Claire Santry. The records lost included the pre-1901 census records, Irish wills before 1922 and a large percentage of Church of Ireland registers. Since then Irish genealogists have learned to make the best of what records that do survive.

Fortunately, technology offers us the possibility of rebuilding the destroyed Public Records Office in digital form. Beyond 2022 is a new collaboration between Trinity College Dublin, the National Archives (Ireland), the National Archives (UK), the Public Record Office Northern Ireland and the Irish Manuscripts Commission. The project aims to create a digital reconstruction of the Public Record Office and it’s holdings. According to the project website:

“Ireland’s Virtual Record Treasury​ will serve both as essential platform for academic research and a public resource with global reach and impact”

Over the years, plenty of surviving sources have been digitised and made publicly available on various websites. But this project will go beyond simply making more sources available. It will also create a new augmented-reality interface. Those using the site will be able to explore a virtual reconstruction of the original building. There will also be a complete inventory of lost and surviving records from the 1922 fire. While it will never be possible to completely replace all that was lost, the project will look to other repositories for substitutions.

This is an ambitious project and I will be waiting with bated breath to experience the finished result

Crowdsourcing

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A dog living it up. Courtesy of the Poole Collection from the National Library of Ireland Photographic Archive

I originally had a different topic in mind for the latest blog but reading this article about the National Library of Ireland Photographic Archive got me thinking about crowdsourcing and some of the projects out there which take advantage of it.

What exactly is crowdsourcing? According to the Miriam Webster dictionary it can be defined as “the practice of obtaining needed services, ideas, or content by soliciting contributions from a large group of people and especially from the online community rather than from traditional employees or suppliers.” Wikipedia might be the most well known example, although there is disagreement as to whether it truly counts as crowdsourcing.

Not surprisingly many genealogy and family history related projects have been keen to tap into crowdsourcing. Sometimes we do it without even realising what we are doing. One of the best examples is on social media. Many of us will have at one time or another posted an image of a difficult to read record in a Facebook group or on another platform in order to solicit help from others.

However there are a number of more formal projects based around the crowdsourcing method. Many of those who engage in researching family history, either at an amateur or professional level, will be familiar with the free website FamilySearch, which is run by the Church of Latter Day Saints. While the website is a treasure trove of genealogical information, not everything on it is indexed. As a free website there is a limited amount of resources they can devote to indexing all these records, particularly when new records are constantly being added. The solution is to allow members of the public to participate in this indexing. If you are frustrated at the difficulty in trying to locate a record on FamilySearch then one solution is to lend a hand with the indexing. That way other researchers won’t have the same problem. You can find out more here.

In Ireland, our institutions have been quick to embrace crowdsourcing. In 2011, the National Library of Ireland uploaded it’s photographic archive to Flickr, making them freely available to browse from anywhere in the world. Alongside that, the library began soliciting help from users to identify the places and people featured in the photos. I wrote a post on this collection a few years ago when discussing sporting ancestors. I would highly recommend browsing through the collection. Who knows what family secrets you might help uncover or mysteries you might be able to resolve.

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The National University of Ireland Maynooth also saw an opportunity with crowdsourcing when they created the Letters of 1916 project. Launched in 2013, this was the first public humanities project in Ireland. The original goal of the project was to collect letters from 1916 and make them available online. The letters weren’t just those belonging to libraries, archives and universities. Members of the public were also encouraged to contribute their own letters from the period to the project and collection roadshows were held around the country. Once a letter has been contributed, volunteers can register to assist with transcribing. The letters cover a wide range of topics, from official government correspondence to letters of a more personal nature. The project has been such a success that it’s remit has been expanded to cover the entire revolutionary period in Ireland, from 1916 to the end of the Irish Civil War in 1923. Anyone can volunteer and it’s a great way to learn more about the period.

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If you have an interest in Irish folklore, then my recommendation would be to explore the Schools Collection of the National Folklore Collection. These stories were collected by primary school children throughout the country in the 1930s and came from interviews they conducted with relatives and neighbours. The stories range from the origins of local placenames, to tales of the supernatural. Volunteers are needed to assist in transcribing the collection. It’s always worth doing because you never know what you might find. Searching through the collection revealed that some of my own relatives had been collectors.

There are many more examples of crowdsourcing projects out there and most don’t require more than an hour or two of your time every so often. Be warned though that once you start volunteering you might find yourself addicted.

Of course, crowdsourcing won’t work for every family history project and it requires effective management in order to succeed. But when it works it can be a great way for professionals and members of the public to learn more about the past.

 

A Sense Of Place

There is an often expressed sentimentality among the Irish diaspora for the ‘ould sod’ or the original homestead that their ancestors came from. It is something that those of us  living in Ireland too often dismiss or mock. We like to believe that modern Ireland has evolved beyond such concepts, that we are citizens of the world who aren’t tied down to anything as simple as a piece of land or particular homestead. But yet that isn’t quite true. While those of my generation have experienced unparalleled freedom and the ability (at least in theory) to pack our bags and move elsewhere, it is impossible to completely forego all attachments. For myself, I have spent the majority of my life living just outside Cork City. But there is still a part of me that thrills at the sight of the Galtee Mountains and feels to some extent like I’ve come home. Perhaps this is simply due to so much time spent visiting family in Tipperary and walking the region during my childhood.

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Galtee Mountains

Equally I know friends born in Ireland and who have lived out their entire lives here who feel that home is London, Edinburgh or Paris. Our sense of home isn’t always tied to where we lived our entire lives. The next time an enthusiastic descendant of Irish emigrants comes seeking the ancestral homestead, instead of dismissing them or laughing at them, perhaps we should try our best to help them. We might even learn something ourselves in the process.

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Grace Kelly visiting Drimurla, Co. Mayo where her grandfather originated

But how does someone go about this process? Too often many of those researching their Irish ancestry don’t have a lot to go on. Maybe they only have a surname and a vague recollection of a certain county being mentioned by elderly relatives. Sometimes they will get lucky and might have documentation such as a death certificate or passenger listing which lists the place of origin. However, even then the name can sometimes get mangled in the period between boarding the ship and arriving at the destination. This was typically down to a lack of standardised spelling of placenames and also a lack of literacy among those emigrating.

There is help at hand though. One of the best resources for tracing Irish placenames is the Placename Database of Ireland, which can be conveniently found on the Logainm.ie website. The site is very user friendly and is invaluable in trying to locate a specific Irish placename. It provides a listing of baronies, civil parishes and townlands along with streets in Irish towns. For some of these placenames it also has a helpful breakdown of how the name has evolved over the centuries. Many have kept much the same name with some spelling variations, while others have undergone more drastic transformations with the original name being lost completely.

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Another great resource for Irish placenames is Irish Ancestors, John Grenham’s website. Over the years John has amassed a large database of Irish surnames and placenames. His website includes maps of the various different parish types and Poor Law Unions. An invaluable resource when trying to figure out the relationship between the old Civil Parishes and modern Roman Catholic Parishes.

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However, one thing to keep in mind when trying to figure out where your Irish ancestors came from is the unreliable nature of mapping in the age of Google. When planning a trip to Ireland it is easy to look at a map and assume that because it’s a small country that everything must be close together. This isn’t accounting for geography, which Ireland has no shortage of. Neighbouring parishes might be separated by an inconvenient mountain range or a lake, perhaps even both. The road system was often poorly maintained or almost non-existent. The vast majority of people had to travel by foot and as such rarely ventured beyond their own own immediate surroundings. Someone born in Macroom, West Cork is unlikely to have ever set foot in Cork city. Journeys that we can now complete in hours would have taken our ancestors several days.

A very useful means of making sense of the landscape are the Ordnance Survey Ireland Maps. The first maps were produced in 1847 at a scale of at a scale of 6 inches to 1 mile. Ireland was the first country to be mapped to such a scale. In times gone by it was necessary to use the physical copies of the maps held in local libraries or purchase them from the OSI. Thanks to modern technology however it is possible to use the online map viewer to overlay the modern and historical maps. This can provide some invaluable perspective on the landscape our ancestors inhabited.

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Historic 6 inch Ordnance Survey map of Ireland 1837-1842

Just remember when researching your family history to underestimate geography at your peril. Also keep in mind there are no shortage of excellent publications on Ireland and it’s landscape. Before making your journey it might not be any harm to pack an old fashioned atlas of Ireland rather than relying on Google Maps and GPS to help you find your way around.