IF YOU’VE BEEN bitten by the genealogy bug and are eager to find out more about your family history, you can access expert advice at the National Archives of Ireland this winter – free of charge.
Some of Ireland’s foremost experts on genealogy will be on-call in the National Archives to answer family history queries, from 10am to 1.30pm, Monday to Friday on a first-come fist-served basis.
The genealogy service is the result of a successful collaboration between private genealogy companies Eneclann and Ancestor Network in partnership with the National Archives of Ireland.
Aideen Ireland, Senior Archivist at the National Archives of Ireland, explains that in order to enter the Reading Room and talk to genealogist for free, visitors first need to obtain a reader’s ticket – which just involves filling out an application form – and after that, all you need is a questioning mind.
“You have to come with questions – things you are just dying to know – then a genealogist can point you towards the right resources”, she said. “The resources you are pointed to will depend on nature of your enquiry – you could do anything from examining wills, birth, deaths and marriages records, or graveyard records”.
Ireland said many of those using the service are people with Irish roots, travelling from countries like Australia, the United States or the United Kingdom.
Books at the National Archives of Ireland. Sasko Lazarov/Photocall Ireland
Fiona Fitzsimons, Research Director at Eneclann, says her company and Ancestor Network came together last May with the aim of creating the widest possible team of genealogists possible. “All genealogists have different professional backgrounds,” she said, explaining that some specialise in researching businesses records, while others focus on specialities such as probate or adoption.
Fitzsimons says many genealogical services cater for ‘roots tourism’, involving descendants of Irish emigrants searching for facts about their Irish ancestry, but noted that the appetite for genealogical services has grown among those born in Ireland as well.
“It’s certainly being encouraged by television – shows like Blood of the Irish or Who Do You Think You Are – as that makes it seems more accessible,” she says, “but it’s also because records are now accessible online, which democratises the process.”
To put the impact of accessible digitised records in context, Fitzsimons explains that the only complete form of Griffith’s Valuation, a survey of Ireland completed in 1868, is available since just 2003 and only found online. It is the result of a collaborative effort of the range of genealogists in Ireland, including Fitzsimons, who gathered records from libraries in Ireland, the UK, the US, and those of private collectors.
Research rooms in the National Archives in Dublin. (Graham Hughes/Photocall Ireland)
In order to get the best results from a meeting with a genealogist, Fitzsimons advised visitors to bring whatever research they have gathered about their family history. “Each family history is unique and every search is unique. Some people start from scratch, while others inherit research from their father or uncle or other relative,” she says.
“We always ask people to focus on one branch of their family tree, because it’s possible to focus on one branch and then see how far we can take it back.
“We like to sit down with people and draw up a family profile” (much like you see psychologists drawing up criminal profiles in TV crime dramas, she says). “We look at factors like family occupations, as they might have a trade or occupation that the family has pursued for generations,” she says.
Similarly, a particular name can spark a line of inquiry. When researching the family history of Bram Stoker earlier this year ahead of his 165th birthday celebrations, the name ‘Manus’ caught the attention of Fitzsimons’ team. “Manus O’Donnell was a gigantic name in 16th century,” says Fitzsimons. “We then discovered that the Stoker family are direct lineal descendants from the Lord of Tyrconnell. We traced them all the way back to 561 AD – which is almost unheard of.”
Fitzsimons explains that, in general, any Irish family can be traced back to the 1830s – when records of the population began to be more widespread as a result of Catholic emancipation.
However, she warns, it’s a “very addictive” habit: “People dip their toe in water and then become drawn in – because they start finding stories. Relatives start to become fully-fleshed out human beings rather than figures in dusty old photographs.”
She also nots that people often start to develop an interest in genealogy when children and grandchildren are born. “They start seeing themselves as links in the chain rather than the ‘alpha generation’, and they want to pass on their own experience to their descendants”.