Dedicated genealogist whose efforts raised standards in the field
IN 1958, when she was 23 years of age, Rosemary ffolliott, who has died aged 73, compiled The Pooles of Mayfield, a history of settler families in the Cork area.
The publication of this study of Munster gentry, which some who appeared in it described as “the Dead Sea scrolls”, initiated a career in the difficult field of Irish genealogy, made the more arduous by the destruction of records at the Four Courts.
From the 1950s she was on the panel of freelance researchers engaged by the Genealogical office, becoming a prominent member of the Irish Genealogical Research Society whose journal she edited for a time. She revised A Simple Guide to Irish Genealogyby Fr Wallace Clare, the founder of the society, the first guide book published in Irish family history, writing what was virtually a new book.
Her dedication to a discipline that had been considered vague, imprecise and colourful, had an acknowledged effect in raising the standards of genealogy in Ireland. Her research methods were meticulous and she is remembered as a genius in the use of the Registry of Deeds in Henrietta Street.
In 1966 she became a Fellow of the Irish Genealogical Research Society, the first woman to be recognised in this way.
Three years later she began the editorship of The Irish Ancestor, which continued publication until 1986. The journal was an idiosyncratic assembly of genealogical matters, family trees, inventories and histories, passenger lists, tombstones, journals, and abstracts of wills combined with articles on the very many subjects on which Rosemary was an authority such as architecture, furniture, gate lodges or gardens.
Costume, particularly that of the 18th century was an abiding interest and often she could tell the date of a portrait by a glance at the subject’s clothes. She planned a book on Irish costume which she never completed. But in 1975 she co-wrote, with Brian de Breffny, The Houses of Irelandwhich demonstrated her belief that “the history of a house shall not be separated from that of the people who built and lived in it, and thus domestic architecture cannot be divorced from family history social history and political events”.
Time and again, the journal demonstrated her attitude to the past. “What use are a few names, a few dates of birth and death, if we have no idea of the people who went before us, and through whom and because of whom we ourselves now live? I am not deriding names and dates – they are the bones of the skeleton, but the skeleton must be clothed with flesh if we are to profit from it and to enrich ourselves by some knowledge of what we are heir to. And that is what genealogy is about.”
In due course her enthusiasm for genealogy lessened, as she was bombarded for information from those more romantic and less exact than she was.
She wrote: “The letters . . . come from America and Australia and they all tell the same basic story . . . involving a noble (or at worst a gentry) mother. The lady’s sexual peccadilloes vary; she may have had an affaire with an Earl or eloped with a groom (and been recaptured, pregnant by an irate father) or perhaps even married a local cottager . . . To judge by the letters I’ve received down the past 20 years (terminating in two this week) one could conclude that half the well born girls in Ireland have been producing bastards for export . . . They weren’t.”
She retired to an 18th century rectory in Fethard, Co Tipperary, where she kept, peacocks, geese, dogs, cats, hens and goats.
Her garden was splendid. Inside, at the top of the barrel staircase were her carefully furnished dolls houses; her children’s book, De Beever Hall – The Story of a Stately Dolls House, was published in 1976. She seldom missed a sale in Mealys where she looked for Staffordshire figures to add to her collection.
In recent years she moved to England where she found another beautiful house and set about giving another garden her own particular stamp. She died suddenly while gardening.
Rosemary ffolliott: Born 1935; died March 12th 2009