Irish Roots

John Grenham


February 23rd

Are we living through a golden age for anyone interested in Irish roots? Conventional wisdom would have it that we're drowning in a torrent of information, with the attention spans of hyperactive gnats. However, if you've ever done any family research in Irish records, you know that there's no such thing as too much information. The disastrous destruction of the Irish Public Record Office in 1922 simplified Irish research, in the way that death simplifies things. Nothing can bring back the wealth of knowledge lost in 1922, but patience, ingenuity and a little computer science can allow us to wring the last ounce from what survived.

Take the 1901 and 1911 censuses, the earliest now extant. In the first decades of the twentieth century it was common for families in urban areas to move six or seven times in as many years, making it virtually impossible to track a household without already knowing an accurate address. The recent start of the online digitisation of 1901 and 1911, at www.census.nationalarchives.ie, is releasing those needles from the haystack in the simplest way possible. As you become more familiar with the records, however, you realise that the sheer ease of access makes it possible to extract previously inconceivable kinds of information: How many Scottish-born distillers were living in Dublin in 1901? How many mothers-in-law were living with their son's as opposed to their daughter's family? How many nuns were there in Galway in 1911? Computers and census records are a marriage made in heaven.

Over the next while, I'll be exploring as many aspects of Irish heritage and genealogy as I can think of: what has already changed, what will change in the near future and what will never change. Comments and suggestions are welcome, to irishrootsatirishtimes.com. No requests for individual research assistance, please.

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2012

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