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

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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.

European Connections

When most of us research migration from Ireland we tend to focus on places such as the UK, Australia, New Zealand, the United States and Canada. Countries that are considered part of the English speaking world. This is probably not surprising. After all it is much easier to decipher these records when they are in a language you understand. However, a recent trip abroad got me thinking about a lesser known aspect of Irish migration to mainland Europe.

I had been selected to speak at the Society for the Study of Nineteenth Century Ireland 2017 conference. The conference was hosted by the Leuven Institute for Ireland in Europe at KU Leuven, Belgium. Leuven is a stunning medieval city located 25 kilometres (16 miles) from Brussels. I was there to speak on responses to landlord authority in South Tipperary after the Famine but being there also got me thinking about the Irish connections to Europe.

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The Irish College in Leuven

It might seem strange to have a conference on 19th century Ireland hosted in an Irish college located in Belgium. But it is easy to overlook the historic connections between Belgium and Ireland. During WW1, the German invasion of Belgium was used as a recruiting tool by the British army to convince Irish men to enlist. Comparisons were drawn with Belgium as another small, predominantly Catholic country. Countless Irish soldiers lost their lives and remain buried in the battlefields of Flanders.

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The connections with Belgium and with Leuven go back much further though. After the Reformation in Britain and the expanding Tudor conquests in Ireland, many Irish priests and nobles fled persecution and sought sanctuary with sympathetic regimes in places such as France, Spain and Belgium. The Irish College was founded in 1607 by the Irish Franciscan, Florence Conry, who was himself the product of an Irish College, having studied in Salmanca. The role of the Irish College as a focal point of Irish and European affairs was already demonstrated in the winter of 1607 when Florence Conry brought Hugh O’Neill and his retinue to Leuven following their departure from Ireland in what became known as the Flight of the Earls.

Mícheál Ó Cléirigh was the most distinguished historian of the Franciscan project in Leuven. He was born Tadgh a’ tsléibhe Ó Cléirigh in Kilbarron, Co Donegal into the learned family of Uí Cléirigh who had practised bardic poetry and history in the Gaelic tradition throughout the late middle ages. From 1626 to 1637 Ó Cléirigh travelled the length and breadth of Ireland methodically collecting and copying manuscripts. To assist him in this work he brought together three other scholars Cú Choigríche Ó Cléirigh (Donegal), Cú Choigríche Ó Duibhgeannáin (Leitrim), and Fear Feasa Ó Maoil Chonaire (Roscommon). The result was the Annals of the Four Masters, the most celebrated work of the Irish College in Leuven.

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Leuven was just one of many Irish colleges founded throughout Europe and many still exist to this day. The first Irish College was founded in 1592 at Salamanca, by 1611 there were twelve Irish colleges in Spain, France and the Low Countries. At its height, the network of colleges included more than 30 institutions and stretched from the Atlantic to the Baltic. This growing educational movement mirrored the increasing integration and influence of Irish migrants throughout the kingdoms and principalities of Europe. Many modern European universities have a dedicated Irish department, dedicated to the study of Irish literature and history. Some of the speakers at the conference were students of these universities and offered intriguing perspectives on aspects of Irish culture as seen from Europe.

To this day there are many descendants of those Irish who created a new life for themselves on the continent. Some became soldiers in European armies, creating dedicated Irish brigades. Others became merchants (such as the so called Wine Geese), helping to create and enhance trade routes between Ireland and Europe.

So we shouldn’t forget that the Irish connection extends far beyond the English speaking world.

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The Oude Markt, Leuven

Searching For Connections

I attended yet another excellent workshop at the Royal Irish Academy in Dublin on Wednesday, organised by the fine folks in the Irish Family History Centre. The speaker was Jennifer Doyle, a PHD student in Kings College London, on the topic of using newspapers to trace female ancestors. Instead of the usual newspaper sources, obituaries and marriage notices, she concentrated on the competitions in newspapers for what they can tell us about peoples lives. It was a fantastic paper and really got to the heart of what genealogy is ultimately about, finding those connections and giving context to the lives of our ancestors.

One of my favourite sources for this is the Schools’ Collection in the National Folklore Collection of Ireland. It can provide some very valuable insight into how our ancestors lived and some of the customs they believed in. The material in the Schools’ Collection was compiled by school children in the 1930s. Under the supervision and guidance of their teachers, they went out and interviewed relatives and neighbours about local folklore. Sometimes you might get lucky and come across a familiar name among the collectors or interviewees. Even if you don’t find someone you know, the folklore itself is fascinating. Some of it might seem far fetched, especially stories about fairies and leprechauns and other supernatural creatures. But we should remember how different the world was for our ancestors, especially those in rural areas before the advent of widespread electrification. Just because they were superstitious doesn’t make them ignorant or stupid.

One of the more interesting pieces of folklore I have come across are the customs centred around various festivals. You can read the transcription here.

Many of these customs were connected to specific parts of the country and might give you insight into how people of the time lived their lives. Too often we only focus on the hardships they must have endured, forgetting that there was more to their lives than just toil and hard work. They had games, gatherings and storytelling.

What is most enjoyable about this collection though is the opportunity to lend a hand in transcribing some of the records. It’s very straightforward and doesn’t take that long to transcribe a few pages at a time. It is especially gratifying when you can transcribe a piece of folklore collected by a relative.

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.

Ancestral Connections

Tomorrow sees the start of the ACE Genealogy Summer School: Ancestral Connections: Names, Places & Spaces in University College Cork. This is an annual summer school organised by genealogy Lorna Moloney and has been running since 2013

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I have been acting as a volunteer since the summer school began and it’s gratifying to see it grow each year. Last year there were roughly 50 delegates in attendance for the entire week, with others attending for one or two days. The delegates come from all over the world and is a testament to the spread of the Irish diaspora.

The range of speakers covers a huge variety of topics concerning Irish genealogy, from land records, workhouses, adoptions, military and graveyards to list only a few. There are also a number of field trips to allow the delegates a chance for some fresh air and to explore the Irish scenery.

This will also be my first time speaking at the summer school. I have been selected to deliver the final presentation of the week ‘Using genealogy to interpret memorials & monuments’. It’s a great honour to have such an opportunity.

Although the lectures come to an end on Friday July 3rd, for those who decide to stay around for the Saturday there is an opportunity for a field trip to West Waterford.

More information on Ancestral Connections is available here http://www.ucc.ie/en/ace-genealogy/