With so many resources online or about to go online, why should you hire a local genealogist? What does an intimate knowledge of
As befits a country with a long history, its administrative organisation is also complex. Again, like most European countries at that time, the organisation was tribal. This tribal structure was the basis of some of our most important surnames which came at a later date. The O’Neills, for example, have always been associated with
Superimposed on the tribal organisation, was the monastic structure of the early Irish church. However, the ecclesiastical organisation of the country as we know it today goes back to the 12th century with its basic division of parish, diocese and archdiocese. Knowledge of the church structure of the country is of vital importance to visitors who come to seek their ancestors in the Church records. When people of Irish origin from overseas come to the National Library, they are disheartened to find that the Roman Catholic Parish Registers have not been transcribed and must be searched using microfilm copies of the originals (often unaware of www.rootsireland.ie or www.irishgenealogy.ie discussed in more detail later). Despair sometimes sets in.
One form of civil organisation of
Then came the division of
And finally, for the most consulted civil records like the Births, Marriages and Deaths at the General Register Office and the Census returns, there was yet another division of the country into Poor Law Unions. These were administrative areas introduced into
Therefore, when our records are examined, these layers of history and administrative organisation can, to say the least, be daunting.
Compared to those countries where Irish people migrated, like the
The first reason to retain a professional Irish genealogist is his or her familiarity with place names, a particular obstacle to visitors from abroad. Place names have been in existence for a very long time and many of them have been anglicised and changed their spelling over the years. When one compares modern townland names with, for example, the names of townlands and parishes from Sir William Petty’s maps of the 1650s, or the townlands in the 1838 Ordnance Survey, there can often be significant discrepancies. In addition, place names have evolved throughout centuries and the ones remembered by immigrants may well have been reproduced phonetically or names of towns, baronies and parishes may be confused with one another. Place names are of fundamental importance in searching for ancestors as all available records are based on place. Identifying the exact place opens the door not only to civil and church records but to land records as well.
This leads to another reason for retaining a professional Irish genealogist, namely, knowledge of the Irish language. This is a key to the understanding of place names where the original Irish lies just behind the anglicised version. The place name, “Owenbeg” is a short step away from a feature of the landscape of the area, namely, “Abhainn beg” (small river). There are over 50,000 such place names in
Knowledge of the language also helps when surnames have been distorted by immigration officials; for example, Feehily became Feely and the modern O’Rourke can be written Rorke, O’Rorke and Rourke. In addition, it is often difficult for people seeking their roots to grasp the concept that dates were unimportant to most of their ancestors; that accuracy of spelling was not crucial in a pre-literacy age before social security numbers, PIN numbers, bank accounts and tax returns. Added to this is the contribution to our surname pool of the various peoples who have settled here, Normans, English, Scots, Welsh, Huguenots, Palatines, Jews and other smaller groups. An awareness of these nuances can turn out to be crucial when tracing families beyond the nineteenth century.
Spelling of both place names and surnames can cause great concern among immigrants seeking their roots. Irish people are quite used to seeing different spellings of the same name; it is no surprise for most of us to see
Because the Internet offers so much, many people looking for Birth, Marriage or Death records of their ancestors are unaware that what is available on websites like Family Search or in the research room of the General Register Office are only indices. All civil certificates, even copy certificates, have to be obtained through the General Register Office on the payment of a fee. These, of course, can be ordered online but with common surnames and without knowledge of the Registration Districts, people spend a lot of money ordering certificates which do not pertain to their ancestors. This is the scattergun approach. The professional Irish genealogist can generally narrow down the certificates ordered because of his/her knowledge of the territory. This could be called a targeted approach.
Many visitors to the National Library of Ireland in
In addition, the records are located at disparate places. This is true about
For visitors whose ancestors came from
Access to lesser known records or indeed records that have not yet been microfilmed requires the services of a professional on the spot. Wills, schedules of assets and court records, maritime records are some of the areas where traces of ancestors can be found. If traces are found, copies of the documents can be obtained more easily by the genealogist on the spot.
So, it is easier, and in the long run cheaper, to employ a local professional genealogist rather than make the long journey and go back home with very little to show for such an expense of time and money.
The value of an initial assessment of a client’s needs cannot be underestimated. A professional Irish genealogist will be able to say almost immediately whether a search is feasible. If the client says that all they know about their ancestor was that he or she immigrated from Co Clare in the 1840s and was called Mc Namara, an honest assessment would be that without more precise knowledge it would be impossible to find relatives in Co Clare. Of course, there is a lot to be said about the Mc Namaras in Clare in general without indicating any particular place or family. Coupled with the generic nature of the information is the fact that so much time has elapsed and that the memory of the families who had been there has probably faded.
The reduction in the cost of air travel has made it possible for the sons and daughters of emigrants to visit the places where their ancestors once lived and, if they are lucky, find their relatives still living in the same place and maybe farming the same land. This development has brought the local professional genealogists out of the archives and libraries and into the countryside to search locally.
As an example, we were recently engaged to search for living relatives of the Horan family from
It took a significant amount of preliminary on-the-ground research to identify the living relative in Drumlish because she had been married and had adopted her husband’s surname. Once identified, a visit was arranged and the 85 year old woman was both surprised and delighted to find out that she had relatives in the States and that they were coming to see her. She confirmed that the farm was exactly the same as indicated in both the 1901 Census and in Griffith’s Valuation. She also clarified which headstone in the graveyard belonged to her family as there were several families of that name in the parish.
When the day of meeting came, she welcomed her American cousins to the house, introduced them to her son, daughter-in-law and grandchildren and offered the traditional whiskey, tea and cakes. Her relatives really wanted to go out and walk the fields their ancestors had tilled. Then the whole troupe went to visit her daughter who was the keeper of the family history and photographs were taken. Promises were made to keep in touch using Skype and Facebook.
What happened on that day could not have been accomplished at a distance. The genealogist became a facilitator of a family re-union in the real sense. It was a moving and emotional experience for all.
Over the last ten or fifteen years the Internet has revolutionised genealogy in that it has made family research accessible to all. It is, as it were, the democratisation of genealogy. Family history research is no longer the preserve of trained scholars who know their way around the repositories. Traditionally, genealogy has been a science that searched the past and tried to construct family trees which led up to the present constitution of that family.
Today the social networks like Facebook are reaching forward searching around in the vast archive of the present. And success stories abound. The local professional genealogist has perhaps a new role; not only must the past be researched but clients are anxious to know whether or not they have any living relatives. And this is precisely how the local professional can be of great assistance in bringing families together.
From what has been said, it is clear that the professional Irish genealogist has an edge both in the traditional searching of the libraries and archives and in the modern developments where he or she can be a facilitator of family reunions. The local professional is a unique resource which should not be overlooked.
Member of the Association of Professional Genealogists in
Ancestor Network Ltd