Saturday, September 4, 2010

A book review of 'Tracing your Mayo Ancestors'

Brian Smith, Tracing Your Mayo Ancestors, 2nd edition, 160 pages, Flyleaf Press, Dublin 2010, ISBN 978-0-9563624-3-8, retail price €13

A book review by John Hamrock, Ancestor Network Limited, 4 September 2010

As an avid family historian whose paternal grandfather hailed from County Mayo, and as a professional genealogist helping clients trace their Mayo roots, I highly recommend Brian Smith’s Tracing Your Mayo Ancestors. This compact and well organised guide serves as an indispensible tool for both new and experienced Mayo family history researchers.

The cover illustration appropriately depicts the poignant scene of an emigrant ship leaving the shores of Mayo for North America or Australia watched by silent onlookers. Mayo was a Connacht county badly impacted by the Great Famine of 1845-1847, its population devastated by starvation, disease and emigration. A new table introduced in this second edition shows the population decline of each barony by decade from 1841 through to 1891. In 1841 the total population of County Mayo stood at 388,887. By 1891 the population had fallen to 219,034.

Each chapter is dedicated to a particular area of research such as civil registrations, church records, census returns, wills and administrations, and land records. The introduction provides a concise, but excellent history of the county describing that Mayo families were a mixture of native peoples who arrived in the Neolithic period, Gaelic families, Cambro-Norman, English, and Scottish settlers. There is also a chapter devoted to the 1798 Rebellion in County Mayo.

The chapter on church records shows that in the 1861 Census of Ireland, 96.8% of the Mayo population was reported to be Roman Catholic and 2.6% belonging to the Church of Ireland. It provides detailed information on each parish’s extant baptism, marriage and burial records. There is also a chapter devoted to Mayo surnames, family names and histories. One useful map shows by barony the 20 most numerous surnames which occur in the Primary Valuation of Ireland, also known as Griffith’s Valuation (1855/1857).

Of particular help to less experienced researchers, this book contains numerous extracted reproductions from works such as Lewis’s Topographical Dictionary of Ireland, the ‘Ordnance Survey Field Name books’, the 1851 ‘Townland Index of Ireland’, maps showing the individual Baronies and Civil Parishes, birth and marriage registers, extracts from estate tenant rental ledgers, an extract from the Tithe Applotment Composition Book, evicted tenants notices, census returns, and other historical documents.

The author also provides detailed information about the available primary and secondary source material and where these source documents are located, whether online or in archives or libraries. The font size and line spacing layout makes it easy on the eyes and like the original edition, it contains a comprehensive index.

I highly recommend Tracing Your Mayo Ancestors for both amateur and professional genealogists. It is a meticulously researched and attractively presented book. The extracted document and manuscript illustrations presented throughout the book help the reader to envisage what they can expect to find through their own research. It is a reliable companion whether one is researching from home via the internet or in a library or archive. It is a must have for serious genealogists on the quest for Mayo ancestors.

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