Irish Roots »

  • Genealogy in Time

    May 27, 2013 @ 9:42 am | by John Grenham

    Genealogy in Time (, the fifth largest free family history website in the world, is an online Canadian genealogy magazine that provides advice, news of new records and some clever custom Google searches that allow access to, it claims, 2.2 billion free online ancestral records and 3.8 billion records in online family trees.

    What really catches the attention are two lists the site publishes, showing the top 100 genealogy websites worldwide in 2012 and 2013. Now, ordered lists are a well-worn staple of journalism, politics, marketing, even religion, simply because they are instantly noticeable – “Ireland’s Top Ten Love Cheats”, “The Seven Deadly Sins”, and so on. So the idea of ranking top genealogy sites is not new. But trying to do it objectively and for the whole world, by basing the ranks on independently measured internet traffic, is indeed new.

    On a global scale, one trend is absolutely stark: a third of the top 100 are now owned by the three biggest commercial players, Ancestry, MyHeritage and brightsolid (owners of FindMyPast). They outnumber free record sites by four to one and their share is growing. The global future of genealogy is corporate.

    From Ireland, four sites are listed in 2012, at No. 64, at 72, at 79 and at 91. In 2013, only rootsireland is still in the top 100, dropping to 83. Why such a drop, especially at a time when the Gathering should be driving traffic to these sites? I suspect it is because measured traffic to non-Irish sites has mushroomed. Norwegians, in particular, seem to have suddenly gone mad for genealogy. But that’s no more than a guess.

    Perhaps, fascinating as the lists are, they merit a bit of researcher’s scepticism. After all, how do I know that Genealogy in Time is the fifth largest free family history website in the world? It’s there in black and white. On the Genealogy in Time list.

  • The other IGP

    May 19, 2013 @ 2:06 pm | by John Grenham

    Genealogists have long memories, it’s almost the job definition. So many Irish researchers of a certain age, myself included, will feel a frisson of horror at the acronym “IGP”. For them, it brings back the “Irish Genealogical Project”, an attempt under the Haughey regime to shoehorn everyone involved in genealogy into a single rickety organisation by flinging cute-hoor money at them. Money from the IDA, the Soldiers and Sailors Fund, FÁS, the Ireland fund, Bórd Fáilte … all with different (and competing) strings attached. It is no more, thanks be, though it has a kind of afterlife in

    But the acronym “IGP” had already existed, and continues to exist as something more benign entirely. “Ireland Genealogy Projects”, ( is the umbrella name for a series of Irish-American volunteer transcription sites, some dating from the 1990s, dedicated to providing gateways to genealogical information about each Irish county .

    The idea is that an individual takes responsibility for a county and then curates the county web-pages, providing a home for volunteer-transcribed records. And the range of these records is huge, including such things as gravestone transcripts, local RIC enlistments, mass cards, directories, school registers and church records.

    Like all volunteer sites, (indeed like most worthwhile things in any walk of life) the usefulness of the information depends on the individuals in charge. But for some counties – Cork, Longford and Fermanagh, for example – the material included is superb. Where it is less than superb, the main flaws are a narrowness of focus that results in sets of records that cover just one family in a parish or 10% of a graveyard, as well as a confusing overlap with a separate but similar group, IrelandGenWeb.

    But let us not be Cavan men saying of their dinner “I suppose it’s good. What there is of it.” Let us be Roscommon men, and say “What there is of it is very good indeed!”

  • Will Calendars

    May 13, 2013 @ 8:42 am | by John Grenham

    Irish wills are fiddly to research, all the fiddlier for not being there, since most of them were destroyed in 1922. Before the state took over the administration of probate in 1858, the Church of Ireland as the state church had responsibility for wills and intestacies and did a very mixed job, to say the least. Whatever records and wills they had gathered were eventually passed to the old, doomed Public Record Office of Ireland. So the chances of finding something useful before 1858 are generally slim.

    After 1858, things are very different. Wills are instruments for transmission of that most revered of Victorian sacred cows, private property, and to ensure the process was thoroughly free of hanky-panky the records had to be as public as possible. A system was developed of annual, alphabetical, printed finding aids, known as ‘calendars’, with each entry containing an outline of the will or intestacy. Which means that for every single will or intestacy after 1857 there is at least that detailed summary.

    These Calendars are large folio-sized volumes, cumbersome but easy to search physically, if you happen to be in the National Archives Reading Room. Otherwise, the options have been to yearn from afar or to struggle with the Mormon microfilms. Yearn and struggle no more. The National Archives have digitised the whole lot, free, at

    As is now NAI style, the search interface is plain vanilla, eschewing such fripperies as surname variants and previous/next buttons. A plain introduction gives the background, specifies precisely what’s present, what’s missing and why, and then links search results to pdf copies of the originals (except for 1919 and 1920, for some reason).

    Yet again, the Archives have brought another vital part of our past into sharper focus, and on a shoestring. Ten out of ten.

  • Follow the family farm

    May 6, 2013 @ 11:46 am | by John Grenham

    The Macra na Feirme publication “Land Mobility and Succession in Ireland” (a good bedtime read, available at reports that in 2011 a mere 0.3% of agricultural land in Ireland was put on the open market. It is an extraordinary figure. In effect, there is no buying or selling of farms in this country. Elsewhere in the developed world, most agricultural land is part of the normal workings of capitalism: invest capital to produce food to make a return on capital. Not in Ireland.

    The historic reason lies in the colossal transfer of ownership from landlords to tenants that happened over the century from 1870. The biggest single change came in 1903, with the Wyndham Land Act, which made land transfer very attractive for both sides. The government paid the difference between the landlord’s asking price and the tenant’s offer and then lent the purchase price to the tenant. The new loan repayments were so close to the old annual rent that, for little or no difference in outlay, you went from being a tenant to being an owner. It was an offer almost no-one could refuse.

    After generations of tenancy, the sweetness of that ownership created a ferocious attachment to the land, making it unthinkable that it could ever be simply sold off. Nearly all transfers had to take place within the extended family.

    Which makes it possible to trace extended families in rural Ireland by following their property.

    The Valuation Office records all changes to the holdings first surveyed by Griffith in the mid-nineteenth century and they remained the basis for local property taxes (“The Rates”) until abolition in 1977. Anyone in occupation then (and now) is overwhelmingly likely to be related to the original purchaser. Second or third cousins twice removed, perhaps, but related. The revision books and maps are open to the public at the Office premises in the Irish Life Centre in Dublin, with excellent guidance provided by the staff. See

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