22 October 2010


     I will not be able to post next week, October 29th. So, in lieu of the post, I suggest a Week of Family History Action. Get out of the archives and off the online databases. Find, call, visit, write, or email at least one family member and talk about your family history. Share stories and memories. Ask questions. Get your aunt to 'fess up and come clean with the family secrets.
     Try my tried-and-true jelly donut method: bring along some jelly donuts, sit down with a family member and let them talk. Don't forget to audio or video tape the visit (use a tripod for the video so that you can eat jelly donuts, too). I would love to hear of any discoveries or success stories!
    Also, don't forget to check "LABELS" section in  the column to the right. "Labels" is really an index to previous blog postings (don't know why Blogger uses the word "labels" instead of "index," it took my thick head a few months to realize what labels meant!). Search my labels for earlier blog postings that deal with those subject headings you might find useful to your research.

     Every so often after one of my talks, an audience member will tell me that he or she is a  descendant of "Black Irish." Others often ask if I had heard of the term. I usually ask in reply, "How does your family define Black Irish?"
    Whatever the reply, I joke that he is wrong and that it really means that he is descended from selkies (female seals who become human women for a time). See the movie The Secret of Roan Inish for a good selkie tale! (Also the movie Ondine, a more modern take on the legend, has been recently released on dvd).
      I have found that the term "Black Irish" is rarely used in Ireland and seems to be an American invention.
     Most people I meet who use the term do not use it in reference to race. Their explanations are many. A few that I have encountered in my research or through my fellow researchers include the following:
     1. Dark hair and/or eyes. This is the most common explanation I have been given.  I know of one man who would ask his grandmother why he did not have red hair, and the grandmother answered, "Because we are the Black Irish, that is why!"  Being a descendant of a line of dark haired, blue eyed Irish myself, I often heard other children remark that I didn't "look Irish" because their idea of Irish was of a different hair coloring (however, I did inherit the pale skin and the tendency to burn instead of tan!).
     2. The Spanish Armada. Others claim that their dark hair is a trait passed down when a female ancestor married a Spanish sailor who washed up on Irish shores after the Armada was defeated. I have not been able to find any verification of these tales.
     3. The term has also been used in the US in a racial manner. I have read that it has been applied to persons of mixed racial descent, one component of which was Irish. There is a rich Irish heritage in many Caribbean islands, particularly Monserrat, where many Irish indentured servants had settled during the colonial period. I have also read that the term was used, mostly in the South, to refer to people of mixed Irish and Cherokee descent.
     The term does remind us of the rich genetic heritage found in Ireland. If we dig far enough into our roots, we will most likely find Danish, Norman, French Huguenot, English, Welsh, Scottish or Spanish ancestors, among many others, contributing to our gene pool. I am always meeting researchers who have found, not just another surname, but another ethnicity in their Irish family tree!
LINKS for more information:
Ireland-Information.com website article about "Black Irish"
Discover a rich Irish heritage--visit or learn about Montserrat
Wikipedia entry on "Black Irish"


15 October 2010


     Irish genealogy can be fraught with controversial politics and divisive semantics. Two words for one place, for example "Derry" or "Londonderry," can signify the speaker's religious or political affilitations. As someone who conducts genealogy workshops and speaks to various groups about Irish genealogy, I am very aware of my responsibility to tread carefully on the line that separates information and opinion. I often speak to groups containing researchers who are looking for Orange Order ancestors mixed with those who are searching for ancestors who took part in armed struggles to create the Republic. I strive to maintain a neutral gathering where all Irish family historians can learn. For the most part, an atmosphere of education wins over any partisan feelings (although I am sure there are many of tongues bitten and outbursts inwardly extinguished).
     However, sometimes a comment slips and causes a bit of disagreement. But these instances, if approached with learning in mind, can be a source of education.
     One recent evening, I was giving a talk to a group of Irish attorneys. Speaking of the migration of Irish to America in the 1700's and early 1800's, I stated that those waves of Irish immigrants originated in the northern counties. I used the terms "Scots Irish" and "Scotch Irish," stating that those were the labels applied to such immigrants in the USA. These two terms are commonly used in the USA, but they are not used in Ireland, England, or Scotland.
     So I was not surprised when a native Ulster Scot in the audience objected, saying that the only proper term is "Ulster Scots." We had a conversation about semantics (it was a group of lawyers, after all, what could I expect?), and I listened to quite a few new points that I had not considered before that night. As is often the case, I learned much that evening from an audience member. This "give and take" with others is one of the reasons I enjoy giving talks.
     I've since done some thinking, and some additional research, but I have yet to find a term that is both genealogically descriptive yet politically neutral for those ancestors who hailed from Ireland but were of Scottish ancestry or origin themselves. I tend to call a group by whatever name they designate themselves, so until I am corrected again, I will drop the American "Scots Irish" for "Ulster Scots."
    But this incident did remind me of the difficulty of teaching about Irish genealogy research devoid of any historical  or political context. Can't be done! Irish ancestry and Irish history are wound together too tightly to be separated easily. Throw in a need for political correctness these days--and talking about Irish genealogy can be like stepping into a minefield. I am thankful, however, that I invariably find Irish family historians to be sensitive to this political quagmire and to share, instead, the joys of finding an ancestor after years of research, regardless of their own, or their ancestor's, political leanings.

08 October 2010


     There has been quite a few new developments in Irish records databases the past few weeks, so today is update day.
     First, the buzz about Google Maps--the photo mapping of Ireland is completed! I have found this photo service to be of great use to me here in the States. I have used it to see photos of my ancestral churches and addresses. A friend of mine used it recently to view some tombstones (near the road) in a cemetery. Can't get to Ireland anytime soon? Spend an day strolling the streets of your favorite town via your computer with this Google service. It is free, by the way.
     Simply type in the address in Google Maps. You might have to try some different spelling variations, and perhaps start with a map of the county or city and then use the zoom function. Don't forget to add the "Ireland" term. Or, you can access the global Google map and then click on Ireland.
     When you have the larger geographical area you are looking for, zoom to street level. On your left, in the zoom and navigation controls, is an icon of a man. Click on him and drag him to the place on the map you want to see. If a photo is available, the street will change color. Click him into place and have fun exploring. Try the directional and zoom funtions for a 360 degree view.
      If that is not enough to keep you busy for a week or more, check out the following additions to online databases.
Birth, Deaths & Marriages from the Freeman's Journal
Killaloe Marriage Bonds for Tipperary. Includes spouses from
surrounding counties
Clare Genealogy Archives
"Part of the Estate of Hon. Brig. Thomas Fowke" From the Dublin
Journal 1 Aug 1747
Cork Genealogy Archives - News
A rent roll for the County of Cork, 1st Nov. 1748.
Cork Headstone Photos
Kilbrogan Cemetery (Chuch of Ireland), Bandon, Cork
Derry Genealogy Archives - Church Records
CARLIN Baptisms & Births 1841-1875
Dublin Genealogy Archives
List of Dublin Cemeteries
Dublin Genealogy Archives - Headstones
Deansgrange Cemetery, South West Section Part 4
Fermanagh Genealogy Archives - Church
Tubrid Church, Kesh, Co. Fermanagh - Burials 1836-1943
Laois Genealogy Archives - Church Records
Mount Mellick Baptisms 1837 - 1859 - F-G
Limerick Genealogy Archives - Church
PURTILL Baptisms in Kilcolman Parish
Monaghan Genealogy Archives - Headstones.
Tydavnet New Graveyard - Map of Graves
Wicklow Headstone Index
Arklow Cemetery, Part 3 (Updated)

     The Irish Family History Foundation has added more counties to its online database: Laois, Offaly, and Limerick.  If you have not yet used the IFHF database, be aware that, while the searching the index is free, they charge 5 Euro for each record you may wish to view (with other rates for multiple records). Also be aware that the IFHF does deny access to users who exceed the IFHF limit of free searches without purchasing a record  (I am not sure of what that limit is). While these features of the IFHS are somewhat controversial, it remains the largest online database of Irish records, and can be an invaluable, but also expensive, source. I find that, while "fishing expeditions" can be expensive on the IFHF, a carefully conducted search  (with solid information on an ancestor such as a county, townland, parent's or spouse's names) can produce results well worth the fee.
     I find there are two "camps" of family historians: one group believes all ancestral records and information should be free and accessible, while the other side is more willing to pay fees (of course, we all want those fees to be reasonable and give value for the cost). I do attempt to promote free sites in this blog, and to avoid being an advertisement for any paid services, but I do feel that I must mention some of these fee-based sites, when relevant or newsworthy, as a service to all the family historians. My updates do not constitute an endorsement, just information, and where relevant, my experiences.
     Enough legalese! Have a great week strolling along those Google Map streets!

02 October 2010


     I am a day late posting my blog this week. I have been immersed in creating a family history book, a project I have been putting off (placed on the long finger, as the Irish would say) for a long time. The task seemed insurmountable, but as the photographs fall into place, and the pages bloom one by one, I find I am enjoying the process so much that I wonder why I have procrastinated.
     I think part of the reason revolves around my indecisiveness regarding the best way to preserve the records, information, and photos that I have collected. I have my "hard data" stored on a computer genealogy program, and I also have binders in which I have all the records organized. For me, this is how I like to view family history--give me a collection of the raw data and let me draw my own conclusion, my own story in my mind. But, I have found that my binders and charts are of no interest to most of my family members. Their eyes glaze over as I attempt to interest them in page after page of census records.
     My worry is that my binders will also be of little interest to generations yet to come. So my question is, how do I best preserve the family history in a way that will interest and inform other people, while retaining the integrity and accuracy of the records?
     I have made three family history books through the years. Two were composed of copies of all the records that I have collected. I took the copies to a local copy/business center and had them spiral bound, then distributed them to family members. I found that most of my cousins were grateful, but I doubt that they spent much time examining the hundred or so pages of documents. But, I feel that at least the records are "out there," all together, and that they will be preserved for at least a few generations.
     One cousin of mine mentioned that she liked reading stories of the family history. To be truthful, my own eyes glaze over when I read most people's family stories. It is beyond my talents to make an interesting, accurate story of the generations. I find most family stories tend toward the mundane (John married Jane, their children were Zeke, Zoe, Yetta, Xavier...), the elaborate (five pages of World War I history lifted from Wikipedia), or the heavily footnoted (I can't help it, I was an appellate lawyer, I footnote every phrase!). I have been attending a memoir writing class, and some of the essays knocked my socks off, so I know that some people can pen a beautiful memoir. One man in the class is writing a very detailed personal history, and his book should be donated to a local museum or archive, it is so rich in detail and history. But I don't find many family histories like his--engaging and accurate at the same time.
     So this time, I am combining many methods into one book. I was inspired by a book authored by a friend of mine, Rosemarie, who is part of the Irish American Family History Society that meets in South Jersey every month. She put together a beautiful, hard-bound book that contains her grandfather's poems, their family history, and photographs. This eclectic approach worked for me. I found myself glued to the book, even though it was not about my own ancestors.
     Before I began, I explored several options for creating and publishing the book. I found that there can be a HUGE difference in price and product, so please shop around before deciding on an online publisher. You might want a publisher that arranges your book automatically for you, or you might want full creative control over the process. Rosemarie used Blurb.com, and I am using that service also. I found their prices to be the best. I did have difficulty navigating their BookSmart program at first, but once I got familiar with it, I was running full speed ahead. So much so, I forgot to write my blog posting yesterday!
     My book will be a mixture of personal essays, photos, and records. I hope that this mixture will accomplish both my aims: to preserve the family records and to interest family members. I will let you know once the reviews are in whether or not this approach is successful. For now, I am enjoying the process immensely.