Recent Genealogical Journeys

A few weeks ago I had the pleasure of presenting at the Association of Professional Genealogists Professional Management Conference in Salt Lake City. This year was extra special because it marked 40 years of APG. This was also a unique opportunity to visit Salt Lake City itself. Regardless of your religious persuasion it’s impossible to ignore how central Salt Lake City and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints has been to genealogy and the availability of various records. A visit to the Family History Library in Salt Lake City is likely on every genealogists wishlist.

The impressive Temple in Salt Lake City

Great views of the mountains wherever you are in Salt Lake City

At the PMC I was presenting a talk on using social media for genealogy businesses and also presenting a poster on oral history resources for genealogy.

The title slide of my talk at the APG PMC

My poster on oral history and genealogy at the PMC

My session on social media was among the 12 recorded as part of the ‘virtual PMC’. The recordings can be purchased here: https://www.apgen.org/catalog/pmc_recording_package.html

For the other talks you can purchase a copy of the digital syllabus here: https://www.apgen.org/catalog/syllabus.html

There were plenty of standout moments during the PMC. Getting to meet with other professionals is always a bonus, particularly some of the leading figures in the field. These included Judy G Russell, Kenyatta D Berry, Elizabeth Shown Mills, Michael J Leclerc, Kory L. Meyerink, Katherine R. Willson, Sheila Benedict, Janice Lovelace, Leslie Brinkley Lawson, Judy Nimer Muhn, Australian genealogist Ben Hollister and fellow Irish genealogist Fiona Fitzsimons to name but a few of the wonderful people I met. Unfortunately we missed the always entertaining J. Mark Lowe, who was unable to attend in person. Fortunately he recorded his three presentations and we were still able to get the benefit of his expertise.

There was also a welcome reception at the head offices of Ancestry and tours of the Family History Library, the Church History Library and the 28 storey Church Office Building, which provided some stunning views of Salt Lake City.

View of the State Capitol from the 28th floor of the Church Office Building

Checking out the main research floor of the Family History Library

One particular standout moment from the PMC was encountering so many young professional genealogists and seeing a growing international turnout. One of the things I appreciate most about APG is the fact that it is an international organisation. Most of it’s membership is American but it’s good to have an organisation that helps to connect genealogists worldwide. We had Irish, Australians, Canadians, Hawaiians, Alaskans and Mexicans.

On the final day of my visit to Salt Lake City I attended mass in the Madeleine Cathedral, a stunning Catholic cathedral and met up with Kyle Betit and Quentin Burrows of Ancestry ProGenealogists

Exterior of the Madeleine Cathedral

I was also lucky enough to meet up with Andrea DuClos and Mindy Taylor, both fellow alumni of the ProGen Study Group I spent the last year participating in.

The second half of my trip was spent in New York City. During this time I got the opportunity to sit down with Yukie Ohta of the Soho Memory Project and learn about what she does. I was particularly interested in the oral history aspect of the project but any time spent discussing local history is worthwhile. I also got to take a tour of the graveyard and catacombs of the Basilica of St Patrick’s Old Cathedral. I admit that before this I hadn’t known there were two St Patrick’s Cathedrals in NY. The familiar cathedral in midtown is the second cathedral with the name. The first St Patrick’s is located on Mott Street near Little Italy. The catacombs underneath the basilica have only recently become accessible to the public through guided tours. It’s no surprise that many of the names on the vaults are of Irish origin.

The Basilica of St Patrick’s Old Cathedral in New York

Grave of John Curry, the youngest witness to the apparition in Knock, Co. Mayo in 1879. He emigrated to New York and was originally buried in Long Island. In 2017 his remains were reinterred in the graveyard of Old St Patrick’s

One of the burial vaults in the catacomb underneath Old St Patrick’s

No visit to NYC is complete without a few hours spent in the 42nd Street branch of the NYPL. I would particularly recommend browsing through the Irma and Paul Milstein Division of United States History, Local History and Genealogy in the library. While I was there I was able to sit in on a talk by one of the librarians, Andy McCarthy, on using the libraries resources for family history research.

The iconic main entrance to the 42nd Street branch of the New York Public Library

In heaven in the Irma and Paul Milstein Division of United States History, Local History and Genealogy section of the NYPL

I hope to be back in Salt Lake City someday, even just to spend a week in the Family History Library. For now I can look forward to more genealogy at Back To Our Past in Dublin next weekend and RootsTech London the following weekend.

 

The Genealogy Show 2019

edh

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.

edh

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

https://metro.co.uk/video/imperial-war-museum-approximate-end-wwi-1798600/?ito=vjs-link

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.

btr

St Fin Barre’s Cathedral

btr

Crowd gathering for the Evening of Remembrance

btr

WW1 memorial in the Cathedral

btr

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.

https://ryangenealogicalresearch.files.wordpress.com/2018/04/58739-ireland-provinces-dioceses.png

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

https://assets.rbl.ms/2363411/980x.jpg

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

6199778183_63f627fe1d_b

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.

2017-11-03

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.

2017-09-26 (4)

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.

 

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.

https://www.apgen.org/members/MemberLogo/color/jpg/apgmemberlogocolorlarge.jpg

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.

WP_20170929_15_41_16_Pro

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.

WP_20170930_20_01_56_ProWP_20170930_19_17_32_Pro

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.

WP_20170930_13_52_52_Pro

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.