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Irish Genealogy

by Christine Hayes - 1 Comment(s)

Trinity Library Dublin

Library at Trinity College Dublin

I recently finished a course through the National Institute of Genealogical Studies on the basics of Irish research. Anyone who has tried to find family in Ireland knows of the obstacles that are the realities of Ireland. What I didn’t know, was that there are so many resources still around.

I love Ireland – my husband’s family is still there and I cherish the time I spend there. But it is a different country. One cannot approach Ireland believing that because it is an English speaking country, for many years under British rule, that it is anything like Britain. It is not. In many countries where the British ruled, the people absorbed much of the British culture and adopted some of the ways of Britain, with regards to government and record keeping, things that genealogists rely on to find info about their ancestors. The Irish sort of did, but not entirely. Irish culture was strongly matrilineal. Irish women often retained their birth names. Any time during a child’s minority, the mother could “name a father” for the child. In this way family relationships became very wide reaching and sometimes had little to do with actual blood relationships. The culture was bardic and much of the early record keeping was done in the form of poems and recitations about families or tuaths. To this day, I can get more information about family relationships from my husband’s cousins than I can from the records that exist. In some ways, the family relationships in Ireland remind me of the family structures in the First Nations communities around Calgary. Children are “fostered” but are in no way less members of the family that the natural born children. This way is changing in Ireland, but within my generation, there are still family members who are “like brothers”. All this is, of course, preamble to the actual methodology I use to find my ancestors but, it’s my blog and I’ll ramble if I want to.

Anyhow, the best advice I can give to any researcher looking for their family in Ireland is get yourself a really good how-to manual and make yourself familiar with what records are available. We have a number of books that are invaluable to the Irish genealogy researcher. How to trace your Irish ancestors by Brian Mitchell and Tracing your Irish Ancestors by John Grenham.

Another invaluable resource for Irish researchers is a reference book specifically to assist researchers in locating records: Irish records: sources for family and local history by James G. Ryan. The book tells you what records there are and where they’re held. This is a very good starting point because I can’t tell you the number of times I have had to assist genealogists looking for records that simply don’t exist (or haven’t been found yet – we can always hope)

We also have a good selection of manuals on how to find and access the different records available such as civil registration, monumental inscriptions, and testamentary records, as well as guides for researching in specific areas of Ireland. You can find these in the catalogue by searching the terms Ireland Genealogy.

Although challenging, researching your Irish forebears can also be very rewarding. Ireland has a rich and colourful history, both at home and here in Canada. In a visit to a Wexford graveyard, I discovered the burial site of Thomas D’Arcy McGee and met an wonderful local historian who filled me in on the families in the area and a Calgary ex-pat who, coincidentally, had worked with my father and my brother (these things always happen in Ireland – I believe it is magic) So, hard work though it may be, there is that pot of gold at the end of the rainbow – left by leprechauns or fleeing rum-runners, I’m not sure, but it is there and it is worth the work.

Keep in mind that our genealogy Saturdays kick off again in September (the 24th to be exact). If you're really stumped or would just like to discuss your project, come on down.

Library Interior Ireland

The Times (and our Website) They are a' Changin'

by Christine Hayes - 0 Comment(s)

PC 947

Cecil Hotel, 1912

Postcards from the Past PC 947

You’ve probably noticed by now that we have changed our website. Moving to a new website is very similar to moving to a new house. Stuff gets moved around. If you’re here, you have already found where the blogs are living. The new website puts the newest blog entries, no matter which blog they are from, at the top of the list. For the others you can click on the “Blogs” heading and you will see a list of all of them.

Another thing that has changed is the location of our digital library link. It used to be on the Calgary Public Library front page and was available from the Community Heritage and FamilyHistory blog as well. Now to find it you need to click on the link Books and More, where we’re listed in the main menu and in the menu along the left side of the page. As well, if you’re checking out some databases in the E-Library, there is a link to Community Heritage and Family History on the left hand side. The link will take you to the digital library and the blog.

AJ 83 14

Burns Block, 1964

Alison Jackson Photograph Collection, AJ 83-14

Once you go the Community Heritage and Family History Digital Library you will see that we have changed that a bit, too. You can still find all the great pictures from the Alison Jackson and Judith Umbach collections and Postcards from the Past, but the interface is a little easier to use and offers some options that we didn’t have before. You will see that you can browse thumbnails of each set of pictures without having to leave the landing page. Click on the arrows to advance the images and get an idea of what is in each collection. You can view larger images by clicking on the name of the collection you want to view and using the arrows to roll the pictures back and forth. You will also see a list of new additions to the collection, on the right side of the page. (You can also subscribe to the RSS feeds and be notified of any updates. )

When you’re in the home page for each collection, you can perform a search which will limit your results to that set of pictures only. Also notice that if you want to narrow your search, there is the capacity to search within your results. If at this point, you want to change your search, though, you will have to change the drop-down menu beside the search box to “New Search.” (I found that one out by accidentJ)

The advanced search has also been upgraded to allow a lot more search parameters to be entered such as date, format or photographer just to name a few. This is a vast improvement and allows you to home in on the image you are looking for. This makes our wonderful pictures much more accessible and now you have no excuse not to look at the great stuff we have in our digital collection. Give it a whirl!

JU Photo

York Hotel, before the removal of the facade, 2006

Judith Umbach Photograph Collection

Update on St. Patrick’s Church

by Christine Hayes - 0 Comment(s)

St. Patrick

St. Patrick's Church, 1956

Alison Jackson Photograph Collection, AJ 08-16

I was thrilled to receive an email from a colleague who is involved with the St. John Chrysostom Russian Orthodox Church. This is a relatively new parish, which was founded in 2008. The partner church of St. Patrick’s, the Anglican St. Paul’s, offered the parish a home in their restored little church but the St. John’s parish kept growing and has outgrown the little church. The very good news is that the Catholic diocese has given the members of St. John’s permission to rehabilitate the church and use it for an extended period. This is very good news. They have been in contact with the Historic Places Research and Designation Program and are very keen to get to work on restoring the church.

St. Patrick’s was the cause of much despair in the heritage community. It has been neglected for many years and was at very high risk of falling into “demolition by neglect” or of being burned down by vandals. The little church had the dubious distinction of being on Canada’s 10 most endangered buildings list in 2008 in spite of the fact that it had been designated a provincial historic resource. There were many heroic efforts made to do something to save the building, which had been the parish of Father Lacombe from 1909 (or 1906 in some accounts) until his death in 1916. As recently as March, concerns were being raised about the future of the building (see our previous posting at

With the news from the Russian Orthodox community we can all breathe a little easier. If you are interested in finding our more about this project, you can contact the parish at (403) 257-4899 with your questions or to offer your support. There is also a Facebook page ( and a YouTube video ( with more pictures and information.

Grafitti on the interior walls of St. Patrick

Cleaning St. Patrick

Parish members removing grafitti from the interior of St. Patrick's Church

Courtesy the Parish of St. John Chrysostom

More Good News for East Village (and a tangent on the brutalist style)

by Christine Hayes - 0 Comment(s)

JU 030518-4

East Village from Bow Valley College

Judith Umbach Photograph Collection, JU 030518-4

By now you know I am passionate about my adopted neighbourhood. I love the East Village and I am so excited about the developments that are taking place down here. You have all probably heard that our new Central Library will be down here in the Village and I saw on the news today that Bow Valley College had purchased the old Calgary Catholic Board of Education building which is just across 6th Avenue from us. This is yet another expression of the optimism that many Calgarians feel for the future of this area.

The Calgary Catholic School District building is relatively new, in heritage terms, but it does carry a great deal of sentiment. It was built in 1967 to commemorate the country’s centennial. A few years later, to celebrate the city’s centennial 10,000 students were asked to make terra cotta tiles. These were mounted on an obelisk that stands on the grounds of the building. The CSSD has indicated that they will be preserving and moving the obelisk. The CSSD building has been at the centre of some debate as it is one of the few surviving examples of brutalist architecture in Calgary. Other examples include the building’s neighbor, the Calgary Board of Education building, and the former planetarium (Telus World of Science). The Catholic School District building was a part of an earlier attempt to revitalize the east end of Calgary, a process called “urban renewal” (which is nearly a swear word in the heritage community.) Many buildings of historical interest went down to build these brutalist beauties and now they, themselves face the wrecking ball. But it is ever thus. What is seen now, as an eyesore – as were many of the old houses in the east end (as the area was known) may be viewed differently in the future.

The talk now of brutalist architecture raises some of these same questions. Brutalism lives up to its name because it is quite brutal on the eyes – no one could argue that these concrete structures are traditionally beautiful. In fact, it was the brutalist style that Prince Charles was referring to when he said, “You have to give this much to the Luftwaffe: when it knocked down our buildings it did not replace them with anything more offensive than rubble. We did that.” It is hard to generate love for something that is unattractive – think pandas versus gila monsters – but it is something we must consider when we are looking at buildings. If you are interested in brutalism you can find good books on architectural styles in the library catalogue by searching “architectural styles” in the general search. If you’re particularly interested in Calgary’s buildings, you can search “Calgary architecture”. And if you’d like to see some of Calgary’s brutalist architecture up close and personal, the Calgary Heritage Initiative is going to be holding another “Brutal Bus Tour” in November. Check out their website for more information.

Who ARE These People?

by Christine Hayes - 1 Comment(s)

PC 957Some Lovely Ladies

Postcards from the Past, PC 957

Do you have family photographs? Photos can be very a helpful tool in piecing together the story of your family. They are MORE helpful if you know who is shown in the image.

The fashions in Victorian photographs can be extremely useful in narrowing down the time frame for when a photo was taken. Younger women, especially those of the middle or upper class, were more likely to keep up with changing fashion trends, so their fashions can pinpoint a very specific time frame. Older women tended to hang on to the fashions of their youth and were slow to adopt new styles, if at all, so their clothing styles may indicate an earlier time frame than the photo was taken. Note that babies or toddlers with curls and frilly dresses are very often boys! We have a reference book in our collection called Dressed for the Photographer: Ordinary Americans and Fashion, 1840-1900 by Joan L. Severa, and it is a wonderful resource for identifying when the details on period fashions were stylish. Another book, Family Photographs, 1860-1945 by Robert Pols can also aid in identifying your photos. We also have several books and reproduction catalogues for retail stores, such as Eaton’s and Sears, which can help identify more recent fashions. (These tend to be a better representation of the clothing worn by everyday people than contemporary fashion magazines would be.)

Sometimes the photographer (often referred to as “Dad”) included a car in the photographs to keep track of the year that the photo was taken. (Now you know why all of your family photographs were taken in front of the family car.) There may be a date visible on the license plate, or you can ask a "car guy" (or girl!) to identify the vehicle. This can help you narrow down a time frame for an image. (My dad and uncles can usually tell you the year and make of the car, who owned it, when he or she sold it, who they sold it to, and what the owner bought next.)

There are books available that list photographers, their studios, and include where and when they were active. Photographers and their studios sometimes moved often, so a book may tell you exactly when a photographer's studio was at a specific address. (The address is sometimes printed on the photograph or cardboard backing.) An example from our collection is the Western Canada Photographer's List (1860-1925) by Glen C. Phillips, available in our Community Heritage and Family History room at the Central Library. Trying an internet search of the photographer's name and location may also be helpful in finding further information.

Are you a scrapbooker? When using old photographs in your scrapbook, it is a good idea to use copies. Cropping photos to fit your scrapbook page may remove details from clothing styles or from the background that can provide information on the location and time frame that the photo was taken. The name of the photographer printed on many photographs can also aid in identification, and this often appears on the back or around the edge of the photograph. Cropping the edges or covering up the back of the photo can obliterate this helpful piece of information.

Protect your photos! Sunlight is very harsh on old photographs, and photos need to be stored in a dry location. Those popular old photo albums with the sticky pages can be very hard on your images, and things can fall out and be damaged or lost, so it’s a good idea to transfer your photos to a new album. You can also scan your images onto your computer to preserve them. This allows you to share them easily with family, print copies, or digitally edit them. Some types of photographs, such as instant Polaroids, may fade over time, so scanning will save your images from being lost or damaged. We have a book called Preserving Your Family Photographs: How To Organize, Present, and Restore Your Precious Family Images by Maureen A. Taylor if you would like tips on caring for your photographs.

Most importantly, label your photographs!!! I have several in my collection that I know are extended family members of my ancestors, but it saddens me that there is now likely no way to identify who they are. We all have photographs that we can identify because we know the people in them, but our photos aren't labeled. (Even if you aren’t exactly sure who is in the picture, an “I think this is Mary’s daughter” or “This girl is a Barnes” note on the back is a good idea.) Don't let your family photos end up in a box at an antique sale because they are anonymous. Labeling your photographs allows them to be cherished by future generations, and gives you a good excuse to sit down and talk with senior and extended family members. (I’ve done this, and it’s a lot of fun!) I once located a distant relative in Ontario who was kind enough to share with me her collection of photographs related to our common ancestors. One of her unidentified photographs was of a small girl in a white dress. I already had a different photograph of this girl with her parents in my collection, taken at the same time, so I was able to tell the relative the name of the girl in her photo.

Don't discard old photographs! Even if your images are not identified, the information they contain may be useful to a museum, a family member, a historical or genealogical society, or a costumer. Ask around! And remember, just because you can't identify the people now doesn't mean that they will always be a mystery. Someone in your extended family may be able to solve the puzzle in the future. (I recently purchased identified photographs of a young brother and sister at an antique sale, and have located their descendants online. I have since contacted the family to try to get the images back to where they belong.) You can also try posting unidentified photographs online at, a website to reunite found photos with their families. It’s a long shot, but you never know!

Street Scene, Calgary

Postcards from the Past, PC 1589

PC 1589