22 April 2010


      I sat down to write about using ghost stories in your Irish research, but I decided to leave that topic for another day (don't forget to check back in a few weeks--preferable at night with a campfire and some marshmallows--I hope to have some spine-tingling tales for those of you with banshees and changelings in your tree!). What changed my topic was an email I received from a reader this morning, while I was packing for my trip to Salt Lake City for the National Genealogy Society conference. The email began like so many others I receive,
     "My dream is to go to Ireland, but first, I need to find..."
     So many of us postpone taking that trip, thinking we need to find that one elusive ancestor or townland before we go. Each expert we consult imparts the same advice: "Uncover every piece of information about your ancestors in your home country before you go to Ireland to research." Yes, that is sound advice, and I give it myself at every presentation. But, my next sentence is
      "Ignore what I just said and GO anyway!"
     At the very least, you will have visited the land of your ancestors. You will gain an appreciation of their lives and your own cultural roots. Isn't that just as thrilling as filling one more box on your chart? And, you just might have a little bit of that Irish luck and discover ancestors--or even living relatives--while you are there.
     Part of the secret of discovering information while in Ireland is to take the time to PLAN AHEAD. With careful planning--which means leaving ample free time for SERENDIPITY and fun--you can maximize your genealogy research during your trip.Take these steps:
1. Determine your research goals (list which family lines, places, and time periods are relevant to your research).
2. Weigh the possibilities and adjust your goals (determine which locales or repositories fit within your budget and time frame).
3. Structure your trip, but loosely. Plan your routes and learn what is at each destination. Don't pack your schedule too tightly--you will want to allow yourself time to follow up on any discoveries you might make. On the other hand, be aware of cultural and fun activities at each destination point in case your research opportunities fall short.
4. Research the locales you will visit. Is there a library? Cemetery? Genealogy or history center?
5. Research the repositories or points of interest you plan to visit. What are the hours, fees, identification requirements, reservation or appointment requirements?
     During your trip, remember that research is more than looking at films at the National Library. You can make genealogical discoveries in many places in Ireland (I know researchers who found relatives or ancestors in each of these ways!) :
1. Visit local libraries and bookshops.
2. Find the local historian--ask at the library or post office or pub.
3. Attend a local church service--and stay for tea after if invited (you will be).
4. Attend a local sporting event, farmer's market, or fair.
5. Ask questions. Of course, mind manners and be polite. Show an interest in the people and the area you are visiting. Bring some small token gifts from home (candy, small book, souvenir) to present to new friends or helpful librarians. The thought will be appreciated, and you will be remembered.
6. Sign any and all visitor logs. Years after a visit to Co. Tyrone, I was contacted by a distant cousin who visited the same heritage centre.
     Most of all, enjoy yourself and leave your expectations at home. Expectations have ruined many a trip! Take success and failure and weather in stride. A "failure" on this trip could lead to success one day. I came home from my first trip to Co.Kilkenny to discover that I had been in the right town, but was researching in the wrong church! But what if I had never gone--I might still be searching the wrong religious records!
Go get those plane tickets! (If the volcanoes in Iceland will only cooperate...) And send me a postcard!