Irish Roots »

  • Why you couldn’t be reading this

    May 25, 2016 @ 10:13 am | by John Grenham

    I’ve always had a liking for the paradox of Eubulides, now nearly three millennia old. He simply said: “What I am saying now is a lie.” If he was telling the truth, then he was lying, in which case he was telling the truth. And so on, round and round.

    You can’t help the sneaking suspicion Eubulides’ granny was a Murphy.

    More …

  • The Real Irish Genealogical Housewives of Orange County

    May 18, 2016 @ 9:45 am | by John Grenham

    Another breathless dispatch from the front line of the high-fashionista world of Irish genealogy.

    Last week I got a call from the producers of ‘The Real Housewives of Orange County’. Really. They were in Ireland filming, and needed an emergency genealogist. One of their housewives had Irish ancestry, could I whip up her family tree and get back to them in 10 minutes?

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  • Epic Ireland: not the paddywhackiest of paddywhackery

    May 2, 2016 @ 12:43 pm | by John Grenham

    On Saturday I loaded up on all the scepticism I could muster and headed down for a sneak preview of the Epic Ireland visitor attraction in the CHQ building on Dublin’s Custom House Quay. (Full disclosure: the reason for the invite is that the Family History Centre attached to Epic has licensed some of the software from my site)

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  • 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.

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    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).

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    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.

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