APG Professional Management Conference

I have been a member of the Association of Professional Genealogists for two years today, so it seemed fitting to mark the occasion by talking about my recent experience as a speaker and attendee at the APG Professional Management Conference in Washington DC and also go into a bit of detail about what the association is.

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The Association of Professional Genealogists is an independent organization whose principal purpose is to support professional genealogists in all phases of their work. This includes the amateur genealogist wishing to turn their knowledge and skill into a vocation, to the experienced professional seeking to exchange ideas with colleagues and to upgrade the profession as a whole. The association also seeks to protect the interest of those engaging in the services of the professional.

The APG represents over 2,700 genealogists, librarians, writers, editors, historians, instructors, booksellers, publishers and others involved in genealogy-related businesses. APG encourages genealogical excellence, ethical practice, mentoring and education. The organization also supports the preservation and accessibility of records useful to the fields of genealogy and history. It’s members represent all fifty states, Canada, and thirty other countries (including Ireland).

As someone still in the relatively early days of his career as a professional genealogist I have benefited greatly from membership of the APG. It’s not only through their public directory, which has sent numerous clients my way, but also through the resources they make available to members. This includes regular webinars, a quarterly newsletter, report writing samples and guidelines. The APG also has a code of ethics which it’s members are bound by.

One of the great resources made available by the APG is it’s annual Professional Management Conference. This year the PMC was held in Washington DC from September 29th to October 1st. I had submitted a proposal for a paper earlier in the year and to my surprise it was accepted. This is was my first time presenting a paper at such an esteemed gathering. I arrived into DC on the day before the gathering and made it to the hotel just in time for the introductory social gathering that evening. Despite only knowing most of those there through their reputations I was warmly welcomed. The ‘Speed Dating for Professional Genealogists’ event helped to break the ice. Everyone I met there was very friendly and hospitable.

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The conference was officially opened the next morning by the current APG President, Billie Stone Fogarty. Over the course of the three days we were treated to some fantastic speakers. Topics ranged from discussions on particular record sets to the use of DNA in genealogical research to more business focused areas, such as liability, marketing, podcasting, certification and accounting. There were also some inspiring poster presentations on the Saturday evening.

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My own paper on digital preservation and Irish genealogy was well received and it prompted some fantastic discussions afterwards. I was also lucky enough to get to know many of the big names in genealogy. People such as Annette Burke Lyttle, Kate Eackman, Leslie Lawson, Marianne Pierre-Louis, Katherine R. Wilson, Judy Russell (aka the Legal Genealogist) and J. Mark Lowe to name but a few.

A special mention should also go out to Meryl Schumacker, who was presented with the APG Young Professional Scholarship. The purpose of the scholarship is to recognize a student and/or young professional with a significant interest in genealogy and with a strong interest in developing a professional career in genealogy. It’s great to see young genealogists getting this sort of encouragement, given that there seem to be so few working in the profession.

While in Washington DC, I also had an opportunity to visit the US National Archives, the US Capitol, a few of the Smithsonian museums (including the new National Museum of African American History and Culture) and the Library of Congress.

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The US National Archives

The APG PMC proved to be one of the most inspiring events in my career as a professional genealogist and has given me plenty to think about regarding the direction of my career. In the short term I would hope it encourages me to go even further in the service I offer my clients.

Next years PMC will take place in Kansas City, MO from October 4th to October 6th. If you would like a taste of what the 2017 PMC had to offer, members can purchase recordings of twelve of the presentations here.

The next genealogy event for me here in Ireland will be at Back To Our Past next weekend in the RDS. You will find me at the Clans and Surnames stand over the weekend with my colleague Lorna Moloney. Come over and say hi to us if you can.

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Maximising Your Family History Research

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View of Nenagh from the top of Nenagh Castle

I’m not long back from a great week of genealogy at the Clans and Surnames event held at the  Nenagh, Tipperary. The event was run by the esteemed Lorna Moloney of Merriman Research and involved a week of talks, outings to Portumna, Co. Galway and family history consultations from professional genealogists such as myself. I delivered a talk on the first day of the event titled “Maximizing Your Family History Research: Tracing Your Regional Ancestry”. This talk was delivered mostly off the cuff, without any detailed notes, and no PowerPoint presentation. However, I felt that it might be helpful to put together some of the main points from the talk for anyone who is interested. Some of what I’m about to say may seem obvious but all too often it is the obvious which can trip us up.

My first piece of advice for anyone researching their family history is to discover what they can from their own family before going online. How far back is the Irish connection? Which particular surnames connect you to Ireland? Write all this stuff down and keep it with you. That way if you get an opportunity to dive in your research you will know where to begin.

Don’t put all your trust in genealogy websites. This is not meant as an attack on these particular services, far from it. The various online databases have made a massive contribution to genealogical research and cut down on the amount of time it takes to do research. However, like Google or any other search engine, these websites exist to tell you what is there, not what isn’t. They won’t tell you that a particular record set has a specific gap for the area where your ancestors came from. Instead they will aim to provide you with the closest match. Any online transcription is also prone to errors. Some were transcribed by people who were unfamiliar with the idiosyncrasies of Irish spelling or came from a faded microfilm copy of the records, rather than from the original source. For these reasons it is important to double check and cross reference with other available sources. Hopefully no one database has exactly the same errors as every other. One mistake could have major consequences for your research and cost you years of work.

When searching for your Irish ancestors, familiarise yourself with the historical geography of Ireland. The different types of administrative division can seem confusing at first, especially trying to differentiate between civil and ecclesiastical parishes and wondering what a townland is. But it is impossible to avoid these terms and fortunately there are some excellent books and websites out there that help explain how these different divisions functioned.

Be mindful of distances. It’s easy to look at a modern map of Ireland and assume that your ancestors could have travelled throughout the county or traversed half the country in a single day. The reality is that most of our ancestors probably never travelled further than the neighbouring parish until the early 20th century. This is important to remember if you know your ancestors came from West Cork or Kerry, but you found someone with a similar name in Dublin a year later, and then have your ancestors back in the home parish immediately afterwards. It’s not impossible that this could be your family but ask yourself how would they have travelled such a distance in a time before paved roads, cars or public transport? The majority of Irish people at this time were farmers, who may have been lucky to own a horse and cart. The terrain in many parts of the country wasn’t easy to traverse and many rural roads were even worse than they are now.

There is no substitute for local knowledge. Not everything is online, or at least not with the big websites. Even when they add so many thousands of individual records regularly, they will never get everything. It is often assumed that anything that wasn’t lost in the 1922 Public Record Office fire, must be held in Dublin. That is far from the case. Ireland is fortunate to have an excellent network of county libraries and archives. While not all of them have an abundance of online resources, that doesn’t mean they should be discounted. Once you’ve narrowed the search for your ancestors to a particular area and feel you can’t go any further, why not check to see what is available locally. Perhaps land records, newspapers or street directories held by the local library or archive will provide you with the information you’ve been searching for. Local historical societies are also worth contacting. Perhaps someone transcribed a now lost record set. It can also be worth contacting the parish your ancestors came from directly. Perhaps some registers survive which weren’t included in the National Library microfilms or were simply missed when these records went online.

That being said, there is a lot of valuable information contained in the National Library of Ireland and the National Archives. Only a fraction of their collections are online and they contain a lot of other records which may not seem relevant to your family history at first glance. But they might provide you with some useful context for understanding how your ancestors lived.

DNA can be helpful for getting around brick walls, but it is best used in conjunction with the paper records. It can also create more confusion if all your research tells you that your ancestors came from one part of Ireland but your DNA is matching strongly to another area. This is why double checking your research is important.

The most important lesson is persistence. Genealogy is a marathon, not a sprint. Even professionals run into occasional brick walls. As frustrating as it is, don’t lose hope. There is always a possibility of a new record set appearing which provides you with that elusive clue or maybe just stepping back for a bit to recharge will bestow a sudden flash of inspiration. Perhaps fresh eyes might spot something you overlooked. Some ancestors may always be out of reach, but you can still try to understand the history of the period they lived in. No matter what obstacles you encounter, remain positive.

 

Get Your DNA On

Today is National DNA Day. April 25th commemorates the successful completion of the Human Genome Project in 2003 and the discovery of DNA’s double helix in 1953. It’s a day given over to learning more about genetics and genomics. For genealogy it’s also an opportunity to pick up some great deals on the various DNA kits available.

Basic RGB

 

You can find a list of the various sales available from the various genetic genealogy providers here

https://nationaldnaday.com/dna-day-sales/

But if you’re not already familiar with DNA testing for genealogy what do you need to know? What are the differences between the various tests?

The most common test (and the most affordable) available from most of the providers is the Autosomal test, otherwise known as the Family Finder test. It tests back along both the male and female line. It can also provide clues to the ethnic background of the tester. However, this should always be taken with a certain amount of caution. There are any number of variables which can skew the test and sometimes the different providers will provide a tester with very different results. Autosomal tests also have a limited range, only been accurate within seven generations.

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Ethnic breakdown from Family Tree DNA autosomal test

What makes autosomal testing so useful for genealogy however is that it can provide you with direct matches to potential cousins. This can be particularly helpful for getting beyond those pesky brick walls if you can connect to someone who might have been able to progress further in their own research. If you want to narrow your results to a particular branch of your family then a helpful strategy is to test a relative connected to you on that branch. For example if you wanted to find more connections on your paternal line, then ask a first cousin or uncle or aunt, to take the test also. You can then compare any matches in common. Similar can be done with second cousins for information on great grandparents and so on.

If you are curious about the origin of your surname or looking to go back further along the male line, then the test to take is the Y chromosome test. The Y chromosome is passed down along the paternal line from father to son. As such only men can take it because women don’t inherit that piece of DNA. This test can go back much further, roughly 1000 years, hence why it is so useful for tracing the origin of a surname. From my own experience though, it might not tell you a whole lot if you have a common surname like Ryan. Another limitation is that the test won’t necessarily help you find close cousins.

For those looking to trace the origin of their maternal line, they can take the mitochondrial DNA test. Mitochondrial DNA is inherited along the female line for both men and women. It also doesn’t mutate at the same rate as other types of DNA and can be traced back much further. However, because women often change their surname when they marry, it has limitations if you are trying to connect with a specific individual. However, one interesting use of mitochondrial testing in recent years was the identification of the remains of executed 1916 leader, Thomas Kent. By taking a sample of mitochondrial DNA from his surviving nieces, they were able to confirm his identity.

If you are looking for more information on DNA testing then the video below should be of help

There are also plenty of other great articles and blogs out there. You can also find some excellent videos on personal experiences with DNA testing for genealogy on YouTube, courtesy of Genetic Genealogy Ireland.

 

 

 

Upcoming Events

It’s going to be a busy week. As part of the annual Cork Lifelong Learning Festival I am fortunate enough to be delivering two free talks, both in the surrounds of the lovely St Peter’s on North Main Street.

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St Peter’s Cork

The first talk will be on Thursday April 6th at 4pm. I will be representing Cork Decorative and Fine Arts Society for a talk on church memorials and monuments in Cork. This will look at some notable monuments from the city and county and the families commemorated on them.

On Saturday from 2pm to 4pm I will be delivering my first solo genealogy workshop. The goal of this workshop will be to provide attendees with an introduction to Irish genealogy and the main sources. I will also be discussing the increasing use of DNA in genealogical research. At the end there will be an opportunity for people to ask questions about their own family history research.

I always enjoy doing these talks because while it is nice to help people with their own family history, it is also an opportunity for me to learn something from the audience. That joy of mutual discovery is one of the many reasons I enjoy genealogy.

Genealogical Appreciation

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Traveller Caravan in Cork Public Museum

Last Friday afternoon I attended a fantastic lecture on Irish Traveller genealogy and culture at the Royal Irish Academy on Dawson Street in Dublin. This was the first of the 2017 expert workshops organised by the Irish Family History Centre.

The lecture was prompted by recent DNA findings from a new study carried out by scientists in the Royal College of Surgeons Ireland and the University of Edinburgh. You can read a bit more about that here. However, instead of simply concentrating on the genetic side of things, the lecture allowed for a member of the Traveller community, Michael McDonagh, to talk about Traveller identity.

Those outside of Ireland might have only the vaguest sense of who Irish Travellers are. Coming up with a definition that doesn’t sound condescending or discrimination can be difficult. Sometimes they are referred to as Gypsies or Tinkers, along with many other derogatory terms. Perhaps the simplest definition is to say that Travellers are a minority group within Irish society  who maintain their own separate identity. There have been many rumours and misconceptions as to where they originated from. Some believed they were an entirely separate race from the Irish, more closely related to Roma Gypsies. Another widely held theory was that they were the descendants of those forced off their land during the Great Famine. This last belief was to be responsible for much of the prejudice faced by Travellers and a lot of the harm done to their culture through a misguided belief that they should be reintegrated into mainstream Irish society. While the motives for this may have been benign, the lack of proper understanding of their culture caused a lot of long term damage. The talk from Michael was a fascinating insight into this culture. I would have loved to stay on afterwords to talk with him and ask some questions but unfortunately I had to rush for a train back to Cork.

What the DNA evidence has shown is that Travellers are not related to the Roma and are indeed Irish. What it also suggests is that they split from mainstream Irish society roughly around the mid 1600s. The authors of the study are cautious in trying to identify any specific historical event which might have led to the split, which seems sensible. Further testing might alter those conclusions and push the split even further back. The full paper of the study is available to read for free here. Hopefully this will lead to a better appreciation of Irish Travellers and their place within Irish society as a distinct group.

The lecture and the study also got me thinking of two articles I had read in recent months concerning the Tenement Museum in New York. The first article reported on a rise of anti-immigrant comments from visitors to the museum and how staff were attempting to deal with this. Then a few weeks ago, Annie Pollard, their Senior Vice President for Progams and Education, wrote this article on the immigrant experience in the past compared to the present immigrant experience.

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One of the restored apartments inside the NY Tenement Museum (Image courtesy http://tenement.org/)

What all of this got me thinking about was the role that genealogy can play in conversations relating to discrimination and prejudice. It’s worth remembering that the waves of Irish and other immigrant groups arriving in the US in the 19th century weren’t always met with open arms. Some of the rhetoric directed against them is reminiscent of what has been heard in more recent times. Can genealogy help lessen some of this hostility?

Perhaps it is human nature that we will always be suspicious of those who speak a different language, have different cultural traditions or simply don’t look like us. Genealogy certainly isn’t a magic bullet for defeating prejudice but at the very least maybe it can help us appreciate some of the commonalities we share with other groups.