Irish Roots

December 28th, 2009

John Grenham


The last decade has been a remarkable time for Irish genealogy. For years, those of us involved in doing research ourselves, or in guiding the efforts of others, complained about the lack of attention given to family history in this country. In most record repositories we were nuisances, getting in the way of the real work. For the Irish public, where they noticed us at all, we were on a par with the leprechaun and shillelagh brigade, panderers to the Yanks.

The first signs of change came a few years ago, when the National Library of Ireland’s advisory service began to offer free walk-in genealogical guidance to the public. Its success was immediate, removing pressure from Reading Room staff and rescuing many a floundering researcher. The National Archives followed suit, with similar success. (Both services are still running, by the way, and are still excellent ways to find out how to start research.) You could almost taste the change in atmosphere in the record repositories.

For the public, changes in attitude took a bit longer. During the Celtic Tiger, there was a phase where every second week someone seemed to come up with a genealogical business plan built around the twin phrases “50 million Irish-Americans” and “we’re sitting on a gold-mine”. But the real transformation in the public view of family history only came once Irish people themselves began to research their own ancestors in greater numbers. There are many possible reasons for this: increasing urbanisation and the shrinking of the traditional extended family; better education; raised awareness of how genealogy is seen outside Ireland; better availability of records, especially on-line; even the TV programme “Who Do You Think You Are?”.

Whatever the reason we can only be grateful. Respectable at last.


Comments and suggestions are welcome, to irishrootsatirishtimes.com.

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