30 July 2010


     In honor of the lazy, hazy days of summer, this week's post will be an Irish stew--a bit of this and that, news and links, buzz and gossip.
     Buzz and gossip first! The Irish Family History Foundation introduced its new Advanced Search pilot (and a new pricing system to go with it). According to the IFHF, "The Advanced Search adds a number of fields to the search criteria for Birth/Baptism and Marriage records and changes the way you pay to view the full details of these records."
     For Births/Baptisms, it is now possible to add a mother's first name and surname to the standard search fields. The Marriage database has added search fields for the first name and surnames of the spouse, father, and mother. This Advanced Search is available on a pilot basis for the following counties only: Antrim, Cavan, Derry, Down, Dublin, Fermanagh, Galway West, Kildare, Kilkenny, Leitrim, North amd South Tipperary, Tyrone, and Westmeath.
      Be aware that a separate pricing system is in effect  for buying a record that you find through using the Advanced Search. If more than one record is returned using the search, you must buy the WHOLE lot. A reduced rate, yes, but the new bulk pricing system did disappoint me a bit. I was so excited to begin to narrow down my results and, thereby, to stop spending on records that proved to be irrelevant to my family--only to find that I will still be forced to purchase records that do not pertain to my family. Still, the new features should help many an Irish family historican. The link to the IFHF is below.
     The other news that has been buzzing around the Irish genealogical community is the anticipated Irish "certificate of heritage." The Irish government has announced that this certificate should be available by the end of 2010 and will provide the bearer with travel and tourist discounts.  The certificate will be given to those who can prove some Irish ancestry, but the standard will not be as stringent as that required for Irish citizenship. Currently, Irish citizenship is available to those with an Irish-born grandparent. Some lawmakers have proposed extending citizenship to those claiming ancestry through great-grandparents. See link below.
    The genealogical significance of my last link might not be readily apparent, but, to me, it epitomizes the "out of the box" approach we must take as Irish family historians when conducting our research. It is an article by Kathryn M. Rudy on "Measuring Medieval Dirt." Ms. Rudy describes how the wear and tear on medieval manuscripts and on museum floor tiles can reveal clues about the people who used the manuscripts and the museums. Like Ms. Rudy, we must often look up from the records and notice the other clues our ancestors have left for us in their stories, their photos, their possessions, and their lives. I would like to thank "Ray" from the Fermanagh Gold Rootsweb mailing list for recommending this interesting article.
     Now, go enjoy that dip in the pool or the cool seashore breezes!

22 July 2010


    Have you given a thought to your own legacy? Have you thought about how future generations might remember you?
      Almost every genealogy lecturer imparts this advice: "Start with yourself and work backwards." For most of us, that mean filling in our own names and pertinent dates on the chart or computer program.  Some of the "collectors" among us might even be lucky enough to have saved mementos over the years, or perhaps kept photo albums and teen diaries or scrapbooks. But many of us have more information in our files and our binders about our great grandmother than we do about ourselves.
     We are all ancestors, whether in a direct line to our grandchildren, or in a lateral line to our grandnieces, or as a twig on a future third cousin's tree.
    Want some ideas to get you started on documenting your own life? Try some of these!

1. Write your memoirs. You can write your memoirs in any way that you feel comfortable. You can keep a diary or you can write letters to yourself. Your accounts can be factual and to-the-point, or they can be poetic narratives.
      I attend  a monthly class on memoir writing. The instructor and the other students in the class have opened my eyes to the many ways we can write about our lives. One man began with his earliest memories and progressed in order through the eight plus decades of his life. He recorded every detail he can remember--names, dates, even the rules of stickball as played in the streets of Philadelphia. His creation deserves to be published and stored in a historical museum. His memoirs would be as valuable to a Philadelphia historian as they will be to his descendants.    
     Some of the students write very personal essays revealing their deepest feelings and thoughts,  as well as recounting the major events in their lives. We keep a box of tissues handy--and those tissues are usually needed by the end of the reading period--just as often for tears of joy as well as for those brought on by bittersweet experiences. I often think about essays the others have shared. Sometimes one of the tales will pop into my mind at the oddest times. So many of the essays  have changed the way I look at my own life experiences. Others have helped me through difficult times.
    But if attending a class or sharing your writing is not your cup of tea, then write alone. There are many books available that can help motivate your writing. The important point is that you DO write. The topics are yours to choose. The style? Whatever works best for you. No grades here, no literary criticism.
2.  Make a binder or scrapbook about yourself.  Remember scribbling away in those "about me" books when you were young? Just because we are all grown up doesn't mean that we can't buy one of them and have fun filling in the blanks with our favorite vegetables or television shows.
     Buy a nice scrapbook and have fun decorating it. The finished product will reveal as much about your personality as will the photos and clippings within.
     If you feel that these suggestions are not "you," then simply collect your clippings, document copies, show tickets, postcards, whatever, in a binder. If you haven't collected these type of things in th past, begin now. A simple binder full of movie ticket stubs will provide a glimpse into your life to future generations.
3. Make an effort to spend time or communicate with younger generations in your family. You might be pleasantly surprised to discover a bridge between generations. I know so many people who have bonded with younger cousins or with their grandchildren (and  nieces and nephews) by finding ways in which the young ones can share their interests and expertise. Maybe a nephew can help you learn how to format a spreadsheet, or a niece might be willing to teach you how to download songs? Most younger people would love to turn the tables and teach the older generation a thing or two. Eventually, you might even get them to listen to some of your tales of back-in-the-day. Even if they are not interested in your stories or the family history, they just might pass on to their children memories of going to Aunt Mary's and helping fix the computer.
     You are not simply a family historian--you are your own historian. Wouldn't you want to hand down your own version of your life?


16 July 2010


     My more skeptical readers will call today's topic "coincidence." Others might admit to occasions of  "serendipity" or "intuition" during their research. But, judging by the fascinating stories I often hear, there are many, many family historians who believe they have had psychic experiences while searching for their ancestors. I often hear people say that they believe that their ancestors are "guiding" their research.
     Makes me wonder if that lady sitting at the microfilm reader in the corner is muttering to herself or to her great grandma?
     I'll admit that I often talk to my ancestors. When I hit a brick wall, I'll say to Grandmom Large, "You started me on this hunt for all your ancestors, now where are they?" Or, if I can't find Emily Magee's plot in the cemetery, I will admonish her, "It's hot out here, and I am tired. Now quit hiding and lead me to you!" Believe me or not, but I have a 90 % success rate with my cemetery requests!
     Scoff if you will, but if I eliminated all the discoveries I have made by way of coincidence, hunches, intuition, and serendipity--and relied only on my research skills--I would have a mighty scrawny family tree.
     My personal  favorite psychic story involves a letter dated 1889, sent from the Narragansett Hotel in Providence, Rhode Island, from my great grandfather John Magee to his wife. No one in the family knows why John was in Providence, and I have yet to find a family connection to that city. In the 1990's, I had done a little bit of research on the hotel and had found that it no longer existed.
     In 2002, my husband, daughter, and I visited Johnson and Wales University. I was busy with the lives of my teenage daughters at the time, and, frankly, had forgotten about my search for the hotel. As we drove into the city, I was angry at myself for being in Providence without knowing where the hotel had stood.
      We found a great parking spot on the street right smack in front of a commercial garage and congratulated ourselves on saving parking garage costs. We took the campus tour and ate dinner. Walking back to our car in the evening, my husband stopped and pointed, "LOOK UP THERE!"
      Right above our car, on the top of the facade of the garage,  we saw

                                   Yes!  THE "Narrangansett Hotel Garage!"
     That is NOT a coincidence--in my opinion, that is John Magee speaking loud and clear.
     I love hearing the kind of research tales that give me chills.  My favorites are those of people who have gone to Ireland with few clues about their ancestry, only to meet a relative or find a townland by chance. I like to think that this bit of Irish research luck is our ancestors' way repenting for burning all those records and giving all the wrong ages on the censuses.
     People often tell me family stories about ancestors with psychic powers. Quite a few have told me about grandparents born with a caul over their faces and who were reputed later in life to have extra sensory perception. Quite a few cultures, including the Irish, attach significance to being born with a caul over the face. Besides being a sign of psychic abilities, the caul has been said to be a mark of future greatness or of a talisman against drowning. My Irish American grandmom was born with a caul, and her children complained that they could not hide any wrongdoings because "that the woman had eyes in the back of her head." We have family tales of grandmom's visions and premonitions. Grandmom was prescient in one way--she is the one who, when I was but a girl, gave me her great-grandmother's letters from Ireland. Grandmom chose the correct granddaughter. Maybe she knew that those letters would lead me on a lifelong search for those ancestors--the ones the faery folk are hiding.
     If you can't quite believe in genealogical faeries or psychics, at least have a little belief in genealogical miracles. Might help your research!

10 July 2010


     Since I have been discussing such serious and lengthy topics recently, I thought I should insert a more lighthearted note this week. We Irish American family historians have a difficult task--ancestors who burned records, never put their true ages on the census, and named all their children Bridget, Mary, Patrick, and John. Give yourself a pat on the back for tackling such a difficult task and enjoy this snippet of my talk at the Gloucester County Historical Society in Woodbury, NJ (great group there--and a wonderful genealogy library that covers way more than Gloucester County).
LINK  Gloucester County NJ Historical Society

02 July 2010


      Don't forget to check the Irish Genealogy Project online pages every so often. There have been quite a few additions to the IGP archives over the past couple of months. Some ship lists (always a "find" for Irish researchers) are available in the "countrywide" "emigration" archives. Various records for the following counties have also been added: Clare, Donegal, Laois, Fermanagh, Limerick, Longford, Monaghan, Offaly (Kings), Tipperary, Tyrone, and Wicklow.
     A big thank you shout-out to Christina for keeping Irish researchers updated on the changes and for the many valuable volunteers at the IGP.
     Scroll down to read Part II of RC Church Records!


        Last week's post dealt with the difficulties in locating and obtaining Roman Catholic Records in the US. I gave you the bad news first--in many locations, these records are becoming increasingly hard to obtain. Now for the good news: the RC Church records are a treasure chest for family historians. Not only does the Church keep records of milestones in its members' lives, those records are usually well-preserved and archived.
     When I was planning my wedding back in 1980, I complained about the paperwork I needed to submit to the Church. My husband is Jewish, and we were planning a Jewish ceremony with a Catholic priest in attendance. When we were interviewed by the rabbi, my husband brought no papers--he simply told the rabbi he was Jewish. The priest, on the other hand, needed my sacramental records, plus quite a few other forms. Like any bridezilla who would rather be thinking of gowns and cakes,  I grumbled at the extra work Of course, had I been thinking like a good family historian, I would have been thankful for all those forms and records!
     Generally, the Church keeps and saves records of persons receiving certain sacraments. Note that many (not all) of these records are in Latin. In the US, some priests wrote in Latin, while others did not. Just in case, when researching you should be aware of the Latin spellings of your ancestor's names.
     Be aware, also, that when a Latin equivalent of a name was not available, the priest often assigned one. For example, Owen was recorded as "Eugenio" by Irish priests in the US and Ireland. See my archived post of 14 February 2010 for more information on naming issues and patterns.
          1) Baptism. Baptismal records usually provide the date of birth of an infant. If not, you can usually (but not always) assume that the child was born close to the baptismal date. Until modern times, many Irish parents planned baptisms within weeks, if not days, of the birth.  However, especially in rural areas in winter, getting a baby to the church was not always easy. There was a provision in Church doctrine allowing lay persons to perform baptisms when the baby's survival was in doubt.
     A baptismal record usually contains the following: child's name, date of baptism, date of birth, parents' names (with maiden name of mother), sponsors' names (a male and a female), and the name of the priest. Before states began to require civil birth and marriage registrations, the baptism might be the only record of your ancestor's birth. It is often a valuable source of the mother's maiden name. It may also be a source of new ancestors--many of the sponsors were family members.  Sponsors also were often close friends from Ireland who also emigrated. I have seen two instances of Irish relatives traveling to the US to serve as sponsors. Surprisingly, in both cases the families were poor. The researchers assumed that the sponsors were "by proxy" but further research turned up travel records to show that, indeed, the sponsors sailed across the pond  and back for the baptism.
     Other notes might be found on the church record. I have seen baptismal records noting that the father was not a Catholic. I have also seen notations that the child was "illegitmate." In the Irish church registers in the 1800's, the clerk often noted the amount of the baptismal donation (or that no fee was paid).
     2) First Communion. The age at which a child received First Communion, also called First Eucharist, varied through time, but usually occurred during the early elementary school years. Customs varied with individual parishes, but often students made their First Communion together with their class members at one Mass. After the invention of the camera, photos of the Communion boy or girl, with family or with their entire Communion class, became popular. These photos can contain many genealogical clues.
     3) Confirmation. Confirmation records are not always easy to find, as many are kept at the Diocesan, not parish, level (confirmation is a sacrament given by the bishop or his representative).  The age of confirmands varied over time, sometimes being as young as 7 or as old as teen years. Again, the ceremony was usually a group affair. I have found lists of confirmands in Irish church records in the early 1800's, but these lists are very rare and are often sandwiched in between other records.
     4) Marriage. Like baptismal records, marriage records are a source for a woman's maiden name. Sometimes, marriage records will contain the names of the spouses' parents. Usually the two witnesses will be named, along with the priest who preformed the ceremony. Again, consider the possiility that these witnesses could be family members or friends from Ireland.
     People often attempt to find funeral or burial records in Catholic parishes, to no avail. Most parishes did not keep burial or funeral Mass records, unless the parish kept its own cemetery. Nor were records usually kept for sacraments such as Extreme Unction (Last Rites) or First Confession.
     There are other non-sacramental church records that can also provide information for a family historian. Jubilee and church anniversay books can be valuable sources, as can old church bulletins. Some churches have such records of parish history, and many dioceses have archives or libraries with such records.Don't forget to check online parish websites, many parishes are putting historical sources online. Ebay is another source of those old jubilee and yearbooks.