Irish Roots


August 5th 2013

The Genealogical Society of Ireland

John Grenham

An entire career involved in genealogy can certainly affect your view of the world, but not always in a bad way. Years chasing ancestors up and down the social spectrum and back and forth across ethnic boundaries produces a very vivid sense of how flimsy tribal identities can be, and how quickly the wheel of fortune can turn.

In my own case, one result is a deep distrust of inherited status of any description - wealth, social standing, racism, snobbery and more. I have an especially hard time with titles. For a long time, a genealogy website whose registration offered a drop-down list with too wide a range of titles had to address me as "The Rt. Hon." A small pleasure, but mine own.

The distrust has contaminated even non-heritable titles. In late 2010, the Genealogical Society of Ireland conferred a fellowship on me, entitling me to put FGSI after my name and, as a result, I haven't written a word about the GSI in three years. It's time to stop sulking.

The first thing that has to be said about the Society is that it is extraordinarily active. It runs An Daonchartlann at the Carlisle Pier in Dún Laoghaire, an archive and research Centre open to the public. It produces an impressively wide range of publications, including an annual Journal, a monthly newsletter, and a series of books and CDs transcribing original sources. It hosts a year-round series of lectures at the Dún Laoghaire College of Further Education. It provides support and advice to the Irish DNA Atlas Project. And it campaigns vigorously on issues to do with access to genealogical and heraldic records.

What's really remarkable is that this is all done with volunteers. As usual, a few Individuals-Whom-It-Would-Be-Invidious-To-Name drive it all, and more power to them. You can find out more at the Society's website, familyhistory.ie.

You may address me as "Your Eminence".


Comments and suggestions are welcome, to irishroots(at)irishtimes.com.

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