Irish Roots

July 12th, 2010

John Grenham

The Minister of Tourism, Mary Hanafin, was in New York and London recently launching the “This is the Year to Come Home” campaign, a drive to increase tourism by capitalising on the digitisation of the 1901 and 1911 censuses. The idea is straightforward and laudable. Britons and North Americans are directed to the on-line sources, find their forebears and are given an easy way to book a trip back to the area they came from.

There are a number of potential problems, however. The greater part of those with Irish roots in North America are descended from 19th-century migrants, who left well before 1901 and 1911. It is certainly possible to uncover a place of origin by tracking the relatives of those who stayed, the second cousins, nieces and nephews. But the lateral thinking required in such a process can be quite a difficult message to get across, especially to those who have no experience of doing research. The 19th-century sources that would allow direct access to migrants’ places of origin are church registers and the General Register Office records of births, marriages and deaths. Despite the progress with www.irishgenealogy.ie, the majority of transcribed church records remain behind the pay-wall of www.brsgenealogy.com, with tightly restricted search possibilities making the identification of a place of origin extremely difficult. As for the General Register Office, while the Mormons have digitised the indexes (at pilot.familysearch.org), the actual records containing detailed family and location information are only available at the GRO research office in Dublin.

The campaign is certainly right to try to attract the descendants of the diaspora back home. But there is still some way to go before it is as easy as it should be to find out exactly where home was.

Comments and suggestions are welcome, to irishrootsatirishtimes.com.


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