Irish Roots

October 5th

John Grenham


I've had my knuckles severely rapped over a comment in last week's column. Trying to make the point that genealogy is not as disinterested as history, I wrote: "Nobody pursues other people's ancestors for the sheer joy of discovering who they were. Nobody you’d want to live close to, at any rate." This is just plain untrue, not to mention being snide. Lots of people pursue other people's ancestors for the sheer joy of it. You don't have to be obsessed with aristocratic breeding or racial purity, you just have to be interested in others.

Especially in Ireland, thorough family histories are often the best way to reconstruct the detail of a locality or a group of people. Take Bruce Elliott's Irish Migrants in the Canadas, A New Approach, (2nd ed. McGill-Queen's University Press 2002). In it, Professor Elliott traces the movements, genealogies, landholdings, and economic lives of 775 families who migrated to Canada between 1815 and 1855. Apart from the light he sheds on the particulars of chain migration, his research virtually resurrects a now-vanished group, the Protestant smallholders of North Tipperary, and does so by meticulously and painstakingly reconstructing their stories, family by family, from Irish parish and property records, Canadian land grants and censuses, and family traditions. The result is a masterpiece.

At the end of the book, in his 'Note on Sources', Elliott lists almost 200 descendants of the Tipperary migrants who corresponded with him and shared their family information, an illustration of another quality common among family historians, their generosity. The first thing that strikes anyone who becomes involved in genealogy is how willing others are to share their information and experience.

So I wasn't just wrong, I was spectacularly wrong. Sorry.


Comments and suggestions are welcome, to irishrootsatirishtimes.com.

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