10 January 2010

Finding a County or Townland

Many Irish family history researchers become frustrated when they cannot find the county and/or townland of origin of their ancestors. I begin my Irish Basics lecture by telling the audience that Irish research can be very frustrating--you should see the wave of nodding heads! Many people approach me afterwards and recite a long list of records and archives they have checked to no avail. I ask them one question:  "With whom have you spoken lately?" Did they contact every conceivable relative? Have they tried to find living relatives who might know something that their own branch does not? Don't forget that the Irish have a ancient ORAL tradition, not a written one. Celtic history, even Celtic Brehon law--was passed down through the ages by bards who sang their memorized information. I think this reliance on the spoken word throughout the ages accounts for why so much information about Irish families tends to be "family lore" as opposed to family records. So my message to frustrated researchers today: Get over to your great uncle's house, get on that phone to gramma, email those third cousins. Find those living relatives: use networking sites, bug relatives for addresses and contacts, conduct internet searches.
Here are the ways some of the people who attend my Irish Research classes have found their county and/or townland of origin:
1. family stories
2. obituaries
3. old letters
4. a scrap of paper kept by a distant cousin who was discovered via the internet
5. hints in a poem written by an ancestor
6. tombstone
7. an apprentice's Indenture found among a relative's papers
8. by going into a pub and attending a festival in Ireland and announcing they were looking for their ancestors
These people were not lucky--they were diligent in contacting people. Maybe there is a place for Irish luck in genealogy research....BUT, to play the lottery you must first buy that ticket! You cannot win at slots unless you drop a coin first! So, don't complain until you have exhausted your "people contacts." You will find it is more fun to research by talk anyway--you can't share a Guinness with a census page!