The fourth edition of my Tracing Your Irish Ancestors is published this week, providing a chance to stand back and take stock.
The book was first published twenty years ago, at a time when genealogy in Ireland was barely respectable, and the world was a much bigger place. The changes have been extraordinary. Family history now figures on the agendas of Government departments in a way that was scarcely imaginable then. All Irish record-holding institutions—local and national archives, libraries and private institutions—have now recognised that genealogists are one of their largest constituencies, and they are providing dedicated research rooms, personalised consultations, expanded finding aids and, above all, digitised records. Such websites as the National Archives census site, the Library Council’s Griffith’s Valuation site, the church records sites rootsireland and irishgenealogy, and the newspaper archives at irishnewsarchive.com, irishtimes.com and britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk are slowly but surely broadening the everyday relationship that people in Ireland, and people of Irish heritage outside the island, have with their family’s past, and with their country’s past. This can only be a good thing.
The first edition reflected the Ireland of its time. It was painfully parochial, heavily focused on Dublin libraries and archives, and blithely ignored records of the Irish held in overseas locations. Even Belfast was seriously under-represented. The extent of the opening of Ireland to the world since then is breathtaking, and the transformation includes genealogy. It is now simply unthinkable to research an Irish family without taking into account its inevitable connections with Britain, Europe, and North America.
The reason for the transformation is clear. Even in the last four years, profound changes have taken place in the link between Irish research and the internet. Before then, any online transcripts of records were piecemeal and amateur—very welcome, but afterthoughts to the main business of hands-on research in Irish repositories. Now the internet is at the heart of any Irish family history.