One stop ancestry shop opens for business

Genealogy portal aims to make it easier to find out who you are - and where you came from

Video: Deenihan on Irishgenealogy.ie site launch

An Irish emigrant to the US waits next to an Italian and her children at Ellis Island in the early 20th century. A new website, irishgenealogy.ie, brings together census data, land records, military archives, wills and even Ellis Island records onto a single portal. Photograph: FPG/Getty Images

Wed, Mar 27, 2013, 08:37

“Why waste money looking up your family tree? Just go into politics and your opponents will do it for you,” Sean Quinn of Failte Ireland told Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht Jimmy Deenihan at the launch of a major genealogy portal at the Royal Irish Academy in Dublin last night.

He dropped the quote from Mark Twain into a speech in which he repeatedly emphasised the importance of a diaspora with a keen interest in their roots to growth in the Irish tourism sector.

He also expressed the hope the new website, irishgenealogy.ie, would lead to more people coming “home” to Ireland.

Mr Deenihan also referred to the ease with which the diaspora could now trace their Irish lineage, also stressing how interesting the new website, which brings together census data, land records, military archives, wills and Ellis Island records onto a single website would be for a home audience also.

“There is a great hunger among the diaspora to find out who they are and where they came from,” Mr Deenihan told The Irish Times . “But it is not just that cohort who this site is aimed at. I have noticed, in particular, a huge interest among young people in tracing their roots.”

In a past life the Minister was a history teacher and used to routinely give his students the task of drawing up their family tree - and he has already done the homework for his own family.

“I recently found out the my grandmother Doyle had some very strong connections with some Doyles in Pennsylvania, and I have been in touch with them. It is extraordinary what it means to people when they discover a real connection with the country of their ancestors.”

Professional genealogist

One woman who knows a lot about tracing roots is Eileen O’Byrne. She has been a professional genealogist for over 50 years and developed an interest in it after her youngest child started school in the early 1960s. “I’ve been roped in as the token woman,” she said with a laugh.

She has witnessed enormous changes in her profession in recent years. “There is now a huge amount of interest in genealogy and I think making the census information from 1901 and 1911 freely available has been an enormous step forward.”

While the information that is now available online, finding out relevant information does take enormous patience and skill, said Ms O’Byrne. “There has to be a passion for it there,” she said. “There certainly isn’t much money there and there are no rich genealogists, at least I don’t know any.”

She has spent countless hours sifting through records for information that is now readily available on the website, but said even in a digital age there is still space for the painstaking sifting through of documents. She has frequently uncovered facts that would otherwise have been lost in the mists of time.

“I remember once discovering that a person I was researching for had a great grandfather who was hanged for murder. They were absolutely thrilled with the discovery and with the full account of the murder we found in a newspaper.”

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