Irish Roots »

  • The Genealogist’s Internet

    July 29, 2012 @ 12:40 pm | by John Grenham

    I was first bowled over by Peter Christian’s The Genealogist’s Internet eight years ago, when the second edition came out. At the time, genealogy was sprouting websites like a thousand-headed hydra, provoking the strong temptation to just give up, lie down and weep. But Peter girded his loins and set about creating deeply rational categories and subcategories in which every single site could make sense. And then he listed them all. The book brought light where there was darkness.

    The only pity was that its focus was so strongly on England, Scotland and Wales, with anything relating to Ireland a bit of an afterthought. But at that point there was so little of Irish interest online that such brevity was natural. The fifth edition of the book came out in May this year and the treatment of Ireland is vastly expanded, although (thank God) still not perfect: it misses the FamilySearch transcripts of Irish civil birth records to 1881, and the National Archives advanced census search and online will calendars, among others.

    But every time I open it, I still find something I should have known but didn’t: the number of local electoral records in the National Library, the Irish county maps on londonancestor.com, the version of the 1851 Townlands Index at irish-place-names.com … The list grows every day. An added pleasure is the quality of the observations on the various sites and topics. The tone ranges from crisp to trenchant. It can safely be said that suffering fools gladly does not figure among Peter’s pastimes.

    Especially in the light of our growing understanding of the overlap between Irish and British records, the book is absolutely essential for anyone interested in genealogy or local history in Ireland. Full publication and purchasing details are at spub.co.uk, where there is also a selection of links to most of the resources covered.

    ['Irish Roots archive from 2009 at www.irishtimes.com/ancestor/magazine/column]

  • A high chiefs-to-Indians ratio

    July 23, 2012 @ 9:12 am | by John Grenham

    The lure of blue blood is a perennial hazard in genealogy, and by no means confined to Ireland. Witness the “Order of the Crown of Charlemagne in the United States Of America” (charlemagne.org) or indeed the Confucius Genealogy, claiming to go back more than 2,500 years and supposedly listing more than two million of his living descendants (tinyurl.ie/a4w).

    The basic mechanism is simple: someone looks into their heart and sees innate nobility, then looks around at their daily life and sees very little nobility indeed. The mismatch can only be accounted for by a mistake, a forgotten blood link to the truly noble. For most people, this is a grown-up version of an eight-year-old girl’s Princess fantasy, but it can still be powerful enough to warp all logic and common sense.

    In Ireland, the affliction usually involves a half-remembered family tradition – “my granduncle’s brother-in-law’s neighbour told me …” – or simple geographical proximity. Your ancestors were called Kelly, and came from South Roscommon, so they must be descended from the O’Kellys of Uí Máine. If you can just stretch your own family history back five generations and stretch the O’Kellys forward another five … Dealing with stuff like this sets any experienced researcher’s hair on end: you just can’t know the answer before you start the research.

    A classic jibe of Victorian Ireland against the Gael was that every dirt-poor Irish tenant claimed to be a descendant of the old Gaelic aristocracy. The irony is that there was probably more truth to the claim than Victorian superciliousness could allow. Medieval Ireland had an extremely high chiefs-to-Indians ratio, so there were enough nobles to guarantee that pretty much everyone had (and has) kings and princes in their family tree. It’s just impossible to prove. That warm glow of innate nobility will have to suffice. And don’t forget that the tree still has a lot more Indians than chiefs.

    ['Irish Roots archive from 2009 at www.irishtimes.com/ancestor/magazine/column]

  • Ancestry.com in Dublin

    July 16, 2012 @ 12:15 pm | by John Grenham

    The news that Ancestry.com is to create a permanent HQ for its international business in Dublin with the creation of up to fifty jobs is obviously very welcome (my CV is very easy to track down, I should point out). But it is unlikely to make much difference to researchers whose focus is Irish records, at least in the short term. Any immediate effect will, I think, be indirect. The sheer clout and business credibility of a multinational family history corporation might just bump genealogy back onto the government agenda, whence it has recently seemed to disappear.

    In the medium term, though, the presence of a significant part of its operations in Ireland, supported by Enterprise Ireland, could open doors to digitisation projects that are currently completely unaffordable, indeed unthinkable, for the Irish state. The shopping list is mouth-watering: General Register Office, Registry of Deeds, Valuation Office, estate papers … Outside Ireland, Ancestry is well-practised in doing deals with state agencies for the digital rights to records. The real question is whether they’ll be bothered here.

    Let me explain. Any Irish records currently carried by the company appear as part of the “UK and Ireland collection” on ancestry.co.uk, the UK ancestry site. This is run by Ancestry.com Europe S.à rl, a limited company based in Luxembourg that also manages six other non-US Ancestry websites, for Germany, France, Italy, Sweden, Australia and, strangely, Canada. These are the businesses that will now be supervised from Dublin. So Irish records are only a sub-division of a sub-section of the international wing of the business to be managed from here. In other words, a very small part of a very big operation.

    Of course, Irish records have a disproportionate value for US researchers, but the HQ of the US company remains Provo, Utah. We can only hope that joined-up thinking prevails over corporate demarcations.

    ['Irish Roots archive from 2009 at www.irishtimes.com/ancestor/magazine/column]

  • The neighbours are better at this than us

    July 8, 2012 @ 1:25 pm | by John Grenham

    Some good news. The General Register Office of Northern Ireland has begun the process of making its historic records searchable online, with a launch date some time before the end of 2013. (You can see the full tender document at tinyurl.ie/a16).

    It’s worth spelling out what exactly GRONI intends, if only to embarrass our own General Register Office. The site will have fully searchable transcripts linked to images of:

    • all birth records older than 100 years, covering 1864-1913;
    • all marriage records older than 75 years, covering 1845 to 1937;
    • and all deaths older than 50 years, covering 1864 to 1962.

    Not coincidentally, these are the precise cut-off points already used by the Scottish General Register Office’s online service at scotlandspeople.gov.uk. It means that, like the Scots, GRONI is committed to adding an additional year’s records to the online service every year. More recent records will be searchable just as transparently, but only onsite at GRONI’s search room in Belfast.

    The website will be pay-per-view, almost certainly also on the model of scotlandspeople, and there has to be some trepidation about potential prices, given the stiff fees currently charged for research and certificates at GRONI. But if the searches are as precise as the prototype currently on offer in the search room, they will have many, many customers. The biggest loser is likely to be the most profitable Irish genealogy website, rootsireland.ie. Three of its four Northern Irish centres offer some pay-per-view transcripts of registration records, albeit without images.

    Before 1922, registration districts simply ignored county boundaries. So GRONI’s pre-1922 records cover parts of what later became the Republic . If your ancestors lived in the right part of Donegal, Cavan, Monaghan or Louth, the new site will remove the Victorian shackles our own GRO imposes on researchers.

    Put to shame by the neighbours, yet again.

    ['Irish Roots archive from 2009 at www.irishtimes.com/ancestor/magazine/column]

  • Why can’t we all just get along?

    July 2, 2012 @ 9:40 am | by John Grenham

    I recently had a long conversation with a veteran member of the Irish Family History Foundation, the umbrella group for the heritage centres behind the biggest Irish genealogy website, rootsireland.ie. The sense of outrage and persecution felt by IFHF members is extraordinary. It is largely directed at the Irish public service –civil servants, National Archives, National Library and others. And I had to tell him that, as far as I knew, the feelings were reciprocated, and just as intensely.

    The situation reminds me of nothing so much as a very bad marriage breakup, with each side blaming the other and pouring out tales of monstrous injustice to long-suffering friends. And like a marriage breakup, two simple facts have to be accepted by each side for the situation to change. First, what’s done is done. Nobody has a monopoly on truth or grievance. Or, indeed, genealogical records. And second, without some cooperation, however arms-length, everyone suffers, particularly the innocent. Which is to say, ordinary researchers.

    There is no shortage of areas where some collaboration could sow the seeds of tolerance. For example, the IFHF could use some of its surplus to help digitise the records of National schools, or the Valuation Office, or the Registry of Deeds. But one area stands out. The IFHF centres have no images of the church records they have transcribed. And they are currently lobbying hard to stop the National Library making digital images of Catholic parish register microfilms available online. So the centres have transcripts but no images, the Library has images but no transcripts, and researchers are stuck with the dilemma of putting blind faith in the accuracy of the transcripts or manually combing through years of images. A compromise is hardly rocket science.

    In the immortal words of Helen Lovejoy, “Won’t somebody please think of the children?”

    ['Irish Roots archive from 2009 at www.irishtimes.com/ancestor/magazine/column]


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