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.