Irish Roots »

  • The cowboy taxonomist rides again

    April 27, 2016 @ 11:04 am | by John Grenham

    One of the perennial problems I face is responding to the question “What do you do?”

    “Genealogist” doesn’t quite cover it (and constitutes a dangerous open invitation to tell me about Granny Murphy). “Software developer” isn’t right either, because all the software I do is connected to Irish genealogy and heritage. Same for “writer”, same for “teacher”.

    That's me, in the red hat

    Twenty years ago, out of sheer badness I occasionally used to answer, “I’m a cowboy taxonomist”. Taxonomy is the science of pigeon-holing, and at the time I was deeply involved in developing the software that underlies almost all of this website. It entailed dozens of interrelated categories and sub-categories, all ready to store information about genealogical sources.

    To my surprise, I found I enjoyed it. [More ...

  • You and me and Kim Jong-Un

    April 11, 2016 @ 11:33 am | by John Grenham

    Most people have very limited horizons when they think about their ancestors. It’s hard to feel a direct personal connection with anyone more remote than a great-grandparent. Eyes glaze over when you try to tell people of earlier generations, and one good reason is that the numbers inflate so rapidly, to the point of disbelief. How can you possibly have almost 33,000 direct ancestors just five centuries back? (The answer, of course, is that you can’t: think cousin marriage. Then think of something else.)

    But when you lift your eyes to the geological timescale things start to get really peculiar. A simple, striking, scientific fact is that every single life-form so far examined shares the same ancestor. You, me, Kim Jong-Un, bacteria, jellyfish, dinosaurs, mushrooms and slime mould all descend from a single, original, living being.

    [More ...

    The very man

  • Why are there no genealogical records in the Irish language?

    April 6, 2016 @ 9:48 am | by John Grenham

    There are two sure-fire ways to make someone brought up in Ireland squirm. The first – especially effective if you’re North American and wearing tartan trousers – is to ask about “the leprechauns”. Watch them furtively check out the nearest exits.

    The second is to ask if they speak Irish. Almost everyone in the country has undergone fourteen or fifteen years of daily lessons in the language and almost everyone can just about come out with a few fragments of token pidgin (the cúpla focail).

    The result is a profound, squirming ambivalence about the language. o ask if they speak Irish. Almost everyone in the country has undergone fourteen or fifteen years of daily lessons in the language and almost everyone can just about come out with a few fragments of token pidgin (the cúpla focail).

    [More ...

     

    Note the discreet non-verbal lumpeen to the left

  • How good are the new Ancestry/FindMyPast Catholic transcripts?

    March 21, 2016 @ 1:45 pm | by John Grenham

    That hybrid “Ancestry/FindMyPast” might be unfamiliar to some. After all, these are the Coke and Pepsi of online commercial genealogy, fierce capitalists supposedly competing for every advantage. But the 10 million or so transcripts separately released on March 1st last  on ancestry.com and FindMyPast.ie are indeed two copies of the same recordset.

    [More ...

  • Irish Heraldic Bling

    March 14, 2016 @ 1:48 pm | by John Grenham

    It’s not just me, or Paddy’s Day getting close. There really are many, many more shops selling heraldic key-rings in Ireland than anywhere else. Why should this be?

    [ More ...

    The arms of Henry Ussher, Archbishop of Armagh

    The key-ring borne in perpetuity by someone called McDonnell who coughed up €2.99

  • Cats and Genealogy

    March 10, 2016 @ 9:49 am | by John Grenham

    My cat has no need of genealogy.

    Joni

    She has a sense of the past, for sure. Every time she sits on my lap, purrs and kneads my thigh I’m reminded of the explanation for her behaviour that I read a few years ago (and which now, despite trying, I can’t forget). Apparently, the kneading derives from her memories of massaging her mother’s teats to express milk when she was a kitten. However queasy the thought, it points to some dim connection between past security and present comfort hard-wired into her tiny brain.

    I think a similar hard-wired sense of the past is widespread in nature, or at least in mammals – it’s hard to imagine a shark feeling homesick. That instinctive use of memory to shape the present is the impulse that lies at the root of our own need for history. In pre-literate societies, the intricate stories that were passed on and elaborated from generation to generation provided explanations of ancestry, making the present more intelligible by colouring it with the glow of the past. The durability and sophistication of these stories already took us a long way from instinct.

    Language is the medium that made possible that accretion of social memory spanning multiple generations. And written language is what allows social memory to become truly accumulative, with each new generation standing on the shoulders of its predecessor, learning from its failures, expanding its discoveries.

    Yet another reason to know our ancestors better, and yet another reason to ensure that their records are well-preserved and widely available. And one more reason why the cat is on my lap and not vice versa.

    She seems perfectly content to do without accumulating social memories. Her memory of her past may be dim and purely instinctual, but she seems to get a lot of comfort from it.

    Or perhaps she’s just tenderising a large prospective dinner.

    New blog location

  • Cats and Genealogy

    March 7, 2016 @ 9:40 am | by John Grenham

    My cat has no need of genealogy.

    Joni

    She has a sense of the past, for sure. Every time she sits on my lap, purrs and kneads my thigh I’m reminded of the explanation for her behaviour that I read a few years ago (and which now, despite trying, I can’t forget). Apparently, the kneading derives from her memories of massaging her mother’s teats to express milk when she was a kitten. However queasy the thought, it points to some dim connection between past security and present comfort hard-wired into her tiny brain.

    I think a similar hard-wired sense of the past is widespread in nature, or at least in mammals – it’s hard to imagine a shark feeling homesick. That instinctive use of memory to shape the present is the impulse that lies at the root of our own need for history. In pre-literate societies, the intricate stories that were passed on and elaborated from generation to generation provided explanations of ancestry, making the present more intelligible by colouring it with the glow of the past. The durability and sophistication of these stories already took us a long way from instinct.

    Language is the medium that made possible that accretion of social memory spanning multiple generations. And written language is what allows social memory to become truly accumulative, with each new generation standing on the shoulders of its predecessor, learning from its failures, expanding its discoveries.

    Yet another reason to know our ancestors better, and yet another reason to ensure that their records are well-preserved and widely available. And one more reason why the cat is on my lap and not vice versa.

    She seems perfectly content to do without accumulating social memories. Her memory of her past may be dim and purely instinctual, but she seems to get a lot of comfort from it.

    Or perhaps she’s just tenderising a large prospective dinner.

  • The strange afterlife of the census microfilms

    March 2, 2016 @ 10:20 am | by John Grenham

    The method used by the National Archives of Ireland to digitise its genealogical records was sensible and straightforward. It took the existing microfilms (all created by the LDS Church) as the starting point and used digital images created from the microfilms as the basis of transcription and to provide an online copy of the original.

    So far so good.

    The first result is that the online collections include any flaws in the microfilms. For instance, the 1901 microfilms omitted the reverse of all Form As, which contain useful place-name identifiers, and so these are missing from the online image collection.

    The second result is that it is possible to use the online image collections as if they were microfilm, scrolling forward and back through them in sequence.

    How do you do this? In your browser address-bar, you’ll see something like “census.nationalarchives.ie/reels/nai002500860/”. Just add 1 to that number to go forward a frame and subtract 1 to go back.

    But the real question is why in the name of all that’s holy would anyone want to treat these image collections as if they were microfilm? Haven’t we spent half our lives praying for an escape from microfilm?

    We don’t get away that easy. Just one example: the 1911 finding aid used to oversee the transcriptions included a category “Townland”. Many enumerators’ returns for small, single-street villages left the townland name blank and entered the name under “City, Urban District, Town or Village”. But where the finding aid left the townland blank, the transcribers presumed there were no returns and left it untranscribed. So around forty smallish villages are imaged online, but not findable by searching the 1911 database of transcripts.

    The only way to research them is by going to the initial image and scrolling through them by hand. Precisely as if you were at one of those blasted microfilm machines.

    So now you know why you couldn’t find Ballaghdereen and Moate and Kinvara in 1911.

    Below is a table of the omissions I know of, with a link to the initial file. Let me know if you come across more.

    Street-villages untranscribed in 1911, but imaged online

    County Start file    DED Name Comment
    CORK nai002025430    Myross
    CORK nai002026380    Crookhaven
    DONEGAL nai002096139    Moville
    DOWN nai002248323    Rosstrevor
    GALWAY nai002405276    Kinvarra Kinvara town
    GALWAY nai002456942    Headford Headford town
    GALWAY nai002441621    Portumna Portumna town
    GALWAY nai002370022    Sillerna
    GALWAY nai002423570    Killeroran Ballygar town
    GALWAY nai002423611    Killeroran Ballygar town
    GALWAY nai002426479    Mount Bellew Mount Bellew Demesne
    KERRY nai002499945    Tarbert
    KILDARE nai002561153    Graney Castledermot town
    KILDARE nai002562371    Donaghcumper Clonoghlis
    KILDARE nai002560339    Ballitore Ballitore Town
    KILDARE nai002570290    Rathangan Rathangan village
    KILDARE nai002561729    Celbridge Celbridge town, Tea Lane
    QUEEN’S CO. nai003161018    Vicarstown
    ROSCOMMON nai003185940    Ballaghadereen Ballaghadereen town
    ROSCOMMON nai003226133    Cloontuskert Lanesboro town
    ROSCOMMON nai003218186    Croghan Croghan village
    TIPPERARY nai003368519 Mullinahone Mullinahone town
    TIPPERARY nai003360703    Kilbarron Ballinderry town
    TIPPERARY nai003365169    Terryglass Terryglass town
    TIPPERARY nai003316315    Ballina
    TIPPERARY nai003381603    Killenaule Killenaule town
    TYRONE    nai003434634 Stewartstown Stewartstown village, West Street
    TYRONE nai003436854    Moy Moy village
    WATERFORD nai003957523    Kilwatermoy, West Janeville
    WATERFORD nai003479421    Courmaraglin
    WATERFORD nai003510696    Faithlegg Cheekpoint village
    WATERFORD nai003481043    Dromana Villierstown
    WATERFORD nai003511636    Killea Dunmore village
    WATERFORD nai003475372    Dungarvan No. 1 Urban Part of Mitchel Street
    WESTMEATH nai003525104    Moate Moate town
    WESTMEATH nai003525164    Moate Moate town
    WESTMEATH nai003525203    Moate Moate town
    WESTMEATH nai003525665    Moate Moate town
    WESTMEATH nai003554911    Kilbeggan Kilbeggan town
    WEXFORD nai003574228    Castle Talbot
    WICKLOW nai003641691    Glendalough All of Glendalough DED missing
  • Strong smart Irishwomen

    February 17, 2016 @ 10:00 am | by John Grenham

    Ireland in the 1950s had little use for strong, smart, independent-minded women. The cult of the Irish mammy may have elevated women to quasi-divine status, but it also ensured they were kept out of public life, pure but in purdah, heavily surveilled, intensely controlled. For those who wanted to retain their independence and use their minds, there were few options. An obscure niche, well out of sight of political, social and religious hierarchies, was one possibility. And the Genealogical Office (aka The Office of the Chief Herald) provided just such a niche.

    As the successor to the deeply Anglo-Irish Ulster Office of Arms, the GO remained a stubbornly square peg in a round republican hole. Although nominally a part of the National Library, it existed as a semi-detached limbo; piece-work employment, unheard of elsewhere in the Irish civil service, was the norm, and provided opportunities to intelligent, well-educated women available nowhere else. As a result, an extraordinary group coalesced around the GO between the 1950s and the 1980s.

    Myra Maguire (1928-2015) was a brilliant young watercolourist who became the GO’s first in-house heraldic artist. Her 240 paintings of arms in Edward MacLysaght’s seminal Irish Families: Their Names, Arms, and Origins (Irish Academic Press, 4th ed. 1991) have metastasised world-wide across tea-towels, maps, mugs, key-rings, golf-tees, plaques, place-mats … In later life professor of Calligraphy at NCAD, Myra was amused at her little paintings’ longevity and remained remarkably equable about the lack of any acknowledgment, or payment.

    Rosemary ffolliott (1935-2009) revolutionised professional genealogical research in Ireland from the very start of her work as a GO freelance. Her meticulous attention to evidence and passion for accuracy could be intimidating, but we all live in her shadow.

    Elish Ellis, née Clune, (1919-2009) was primarily a consummate historian, but never lost her passion for the individual family stories that make up genealogy. She was instrumental in founding the Association of Professional Genealogists in Ireland (now AGI) in 1987, and served as its president for a decade.

    Frances-Jane Ffrench (1929-2002) frightened many people, including me. A more unlikely Republican Socialist has never existed. But there was never any doubt about her zeal for correcting the inaccuracies of Anglo-Irish genealogy.

    And the last survivor of these women, Eileen O’Byrne died last month at the age of 93. Her keen mind, enduring curiosity and gentle spirit made her a delight to all who knew her. Her death was the spur for this post.

    The work they did will live on. So too should their memory, and the memory of their times.

    John Grenham’s blog

  • The last ‘Irish Roots’

    February 8, 2016 @ 9:53 am | by John Grenham

    The “Irish Roots” column began on February 28th, 2009, almost exactly seven years ago. This is the last one.

    Looking back over that period, the blink of a gnat’s eye in genealogical terms, there is no doubt that a revolution in access to records has taken place, one that in Ireland is quite peculiar.

    Back then, genealogy in other English-speaking countries – Australia, the US, the UK – was already becoming web-centric, researchers having long realised what a marriage made in heaven existed between family history data and computers. In those places, genealogy was already commercial and quickly underwent the same process of globalising merger and acquisition that the internet seems to force on all businesses. Giant global oligopolies are the result: MyHeritage, FindMyPast, Ancestry.

    Here in Ireland we did things differently. The first attempt to harness genealogy for tourism was a complete organisational dog’s dinner, with heritage centres, county libraries, local community groups and many others yoked together in a project that was part-genealogy, part-community employment, part parish-pump political stroke. But it produced a result: rootsireland.ie, still the only essential Irish genealogy website.

    Ad-haughery [sic] like this became the main feature of most Irish online record projects. One individual or institution would take on a project and carry it over the finish line: the National Archives census site; the Library Council’s Griffith’s site; the National Library’s parish registers site; Arts, Tourism and the Gaeltacht’s church and civil records site.

    All (including rootsireland) were motivated by a straightforward desire to serve the Irish public, which in later years also came to mean all those worldwide who claimed Irish roots. The result is that Irish research is now less commercial, more open, a bit messier but, above all, much easier than in any of those places that started before us.

    It’s a very unIrish thing to say, but we’ve been lucky. And we’ll meet again down the road, with a little more luck.

Next Page »