30 December 2010


     I was compiling a list of New Year's genealogical resolutions, then I gave up. I am not a good keeper of resolutions. I find that life tends to follow the saying "we make plans, and God laughs" which is not always a bad thing in my eyes, given my love of new and novel projects (such as this blog).
     I would rather compile a list of Genealogical Shout-Outs to those people and volunteer organizations who have kept me, and Irish family history research, "truckin'" this past year. These people work hard for the cause of Irish genealogy, so please take some time to visit their sites and thank them!  I run the risk of forgetting people to thank, so please alert me if I have passed anyone over, or if you have a Shout-Out of your own to make! HAPPY NEW YEAR, EVERYONE!

Raising a pint to thank everyone
(me, at the Guinness Brewery in Dublin)


*My fellow genealogy bloggers, who have provided great support to me and to each other, and especially to the organization Geneabloggers. Without the guidance of Geneabloggers and fellow bloggers, I would never have started this blog. Check out the Geneabloggers web site to find other blogs!
*All the members and guests of the IRISH AMERICAN FAMILY HISTORY SOCIETY for a year of exciting meetings, a great website (thanks to Mary-Jane), and wonderful camaraderie. https://sites.google.com/site/irishgengroup1/
*The tireless volunteers at the Irish Genealogical Project for bringing Irish records to our home computers (a special thank you for Chrisina Finn Hunt for keeping me informed). Check out the county pages, and don't forget to browse the archives!
*Irish genealogy website Connors Genealogy and its owner-administrator-researcher-extraordinaire Pat Connors for bringing Irish records to our computers
*The Council of Irish Genealogical Organisations, for representing the interests of Irish family historians and lobbying for increased access to records
*The public libraries in Ireland involved in the Ask About Ireland projects, particularly the Griffith's Valuation project, which brought us the Valuation FREE online, with all the bells and whistles such as maps and advanced  search engines
*The Rootsweb mailing list administrators and list subscribers. Although Rootsweb has been taken over by Ancestry, the administrators and list members still work on a volunteer basis to share their expertise and advice with other family historians. Special shout-outs to the Castlecomer and County Kilkenny lists, plus the Irish in Philadelphia list, for being so instrumental in my own research.
*Irish Genealogical Society International for its fine publication.
*Efrem and Chick, two of the best family history detectives I know, for helping me with my research and book this past year.
*Team Fox. Love you!

23 December 2010


This is a very short video montage of family Christmas celebrations in the 1950's featuring my Irish American ancestors and family members who are no longer with us to celebrate.
I wish my all my fellow family historians a very blessed Christmas!

17 December 2010


     It seems that each year, one more holiday tradition fades into memory in my family. My father's generation is now gone, depriving me of cherished holiday visits with the aunts. As my mother and her siblings age, the traditional Christmas Eve dinner has been replaced with more easily prepared dishes. My scores of cousins have shown very little interest in keeping the visiting and cooking traditions alive. I fear I am fighting a losing battle to pass on our family Christmas customs to new generations.

    So, this melancholy mood of mine got me thinking--what traditions did my ancestors in Ireland keep?  What traditions are still kept in the areas of Ireland where they lived?
     For all things Christmas and Irish, visit Russ Heggerty's website Irish Culture and Customs. See the link below for articles on the website describing Irish Christmas customs.
     Many of the general Christmas customs that we keep in the United States today had their roots in Ireland and England, some dating back to medieval times. Holly (and sometimes ivy) is still a favorite Christmas plant. Many of us place a candle (albeit electric, nowadays) in the window as they have done from times past in Ireland. I know a few Irish American families that, on Christmas Eve, still simmer a pot of stew while the family attends Mass, although now the stew is in the slow cooker and the Mass is at 5 p.m. instead of Midnight.
     But to find lesser known, local Irish customs, I turned to some of my favorite Rootsweb mailing lists. If you are not a subscriber to one of the many local and county genealogy mailing lists, consider joining one soon. The lists vary in tone and activity, but most are full of members who are generous sharing their time, knowledge, and expertise.
     Jack Langton, my favorite "go-to" man on the Castlecomer list (northeast region of Co. Kilkenny), alerted me to a peculiar custom--The Castlecomer Wellie Race. According to the official race web page, the Wellie Race began in 1978, when some of the local men decided to "run off the Christmas excess" on St. Stephen's Day (26th December). Their footwear of choice? Why, their favorite Wellingtons! Although my ancestors left Castlecomer long before the running of the wellies, one day I hope to attend the race in their memory.
     The Castlecomer people do keep the memory of their ancestors in more serious ways. Jack said that a Mass is celebrated in the cemetery each year. He noted that besides bringing everyone together to honor those who have passed on, the annual rite serves to keep the cemetery tended and in good condition. Any readers who are active in cemetery upkeep and preservation might want to take note of this idea.
     Rachel on the Co. Tyrone list shared with me a local west Tyrone practice from the 1800's. On the Ogilby estate, the tenants would celebrate festivals and holidays by lighting barrels of tar. I wonder if perhaps  my ancestors in Tyrone gazed at the winter stars by the light of bonfires and tar barrels?
     Rachel also reminded me of a long ago tradition in Tyrone, one that has been adopted in different form in Philadelphia--the mummers. In Philly, we hold a costume parade, with strutting and string bands, that lasts from sun up to sun down on New Years Day. The history of costumed performers going house to house with music and dance may go as far back as the Celts in Ireland. I would like to think, as I watch the Philadelphia Mummers each year, that the essence of the mummers' tradition ties my own Christmas memories to those of my Ireland-to-Philadelphia ancestors.
     I would love to hear from my readers--please post comments about your own Irish and Irish American Chirstmas, solstice, and New Year traditions.
     And, if you are reading this before midnight on Monday, December 20th, there is still time to vote for the Top 40 Blogs, see my post below. Vote for Help! The Faerie Folk Hid My Ancestors under the "Heritage Groups" category:
Vote for Top 40 Blogs Family Tree Magazine
It is such an honor to be nominated, and I want to thank my readers for being so supportive!

15 December 2010


Thanks to everyone who nominated HELP! THE FAERIE FOLK HID MY ANCESTORS! for Family Tree Magazine's Top 40 Blogs. Voting is still open until Monday December 20th. Go to the link below, then scroll to "HERITAGE GROUPS" then vote for "HELP!THE FAERIE FOLK HID MY ANCESTORS!" if you like my blog! A big thank you to all my readers for keeping me writing this year!
LINK: Family Tree Top 40 Voting Until Dec. 20th

10 December 2010


    (Allow me a disclaimer before I begin: while this post focuses on negative reactions to our family history research efforts, I find that the overwhelming majority of people are very proud of, and grateful for, their family genealogist. I have received tremendous encouragement and gratitude from my extended family in my work, and this positive feedback is the fuel that keeps me researching. But the reality is that there seems to be a sour grape or two in every bunch, so here goes!)
     "That's not great grandmom Mary's baptismal record, it says 'Maria McGee' and the family ALWAYS spelled it 'Magee.' "
     "You wrote that Aunt Peg played bridge with the family, but she never came to bridge night!"
     "You forgot to include Aunt Peg when you wrote about bridge night. She loved playing bridge with the family!"
    I am going to discuss a complaint that I hear over and over again from fellow researchers:   family members criticizing or finding fault with one's tireless and difficult work on the family history, especially after one has so magnanimously (and often with great expense) shared that work with those same family members who, invariably, haven't lifted a finger to contribute time, energy, or funds to the pursuit or preservation of the family history.
     The critical relative has a warm fuzzy place in a family historian's heart, right next to the relative-who-hides-the-family-records-and-photos-in-their-closet.
     In all seriousness, hurt feelings and even family feuds are often a by-product of the family historian's work. I have found that some researchers can simply shake those raindrops off their shoulders, while others respond by withdrawing and becoming very protective of their work. But since part of our goal is to preserve our family history and to ensure that it is not lost for future generations, the issue of coping with criticism becomes a very real concern for the preservation of the family tree.
     I had to learn early on to shrug off comments about my research. My late father, may he rest in peace, used the word "alleged" when refering to any of my discoveries. "You allegedly found an alleged great grandfather," he would say (finger pointing and heavy vocal emphasis on "allegedly" of course). Proof to my sceptical dad would have been his grandfather's rising out of the grave and handing my dad a certified certificate from St. Peter--maybe even that would not be enough, I am sure Dad would have asked if St. Peter had been under oath. I took my dad's criticism as the "leg pulling" that it was. I also saw his skepticism as a challenge to be meticulous in my research and sources.
     Most of the complaints that I hear from others involve relatives that dispute dates and spellings of names--the latter being a BIGGIE. I still have difficultly convincing new family researchers themselves to accept the fact that their ancestors' names were spelled many ways. It can be impossible to convince relatives, especially those who have never gone bleary-eyed reading old Irish baptismal records on microfilm, that, no, the family did NOT always spell Kavanagh with a "K" instead of a "C."
     I often hear complaints from researchers whose relatives dispute events from living memory. "I don't remember Uncle Pat's being at any of our Christmas parties" or "Aunt Bridie played the fiddle, not Aunt Mae" are examples. We have to remember that events are both perceived and remembered differently by each individual present at the time. We all have different perspectives while watching the same event. This is where being a good family history detective helps. Any police officer or detective will tell you that eyewitness reports can differ widely. A ten year old boy will remember an event differently than would a thirty year old woman in the same room.
     Be aware that personalities play a crucial role in how we remember other people. In my mind, my grandfather was a larger than life figure, doting and protective. But, just mention his name to some other relatives, and expletives explode! He had a temper, he yelled, he was impatient. Yes, I saw that side of him, but it was not directed towards me, so I saw these faults as strengths and remember him fondly as a tiger of a man.
     The critcism problem arises when researchers share their work. One of my goals is to get my family's history in as many households as possible, so that it is preserved for generations to come.  I have spent hours of work and quite a bit of money putting my genealogy in many forms. I have made charts, books, and dvd's. I have written family stories, reports, and memoirs. In the process, I have exposed myself to comments and criticism. For the most part, I have learned to brush them off, but, being human, I must admit to sometimes being irked or hurt.
     It helps to realize that I am not the only family historian to suffer these slings and arrows. We need to regard criticism of our work as an occupational hazard.  I have found that there are ways to control the comments before they begin:
1. educate your relatives by offering an explanation of the difficulties of records research  (alternate spellings, varying birthdates, census errors)
2. remind relatives that recollections differ and that you have recorded how you (or how Aunt Emily or Uncle Bill) remember an event (encourage a critical cousin to record his memories and to add to the family history)
3. acknowledge that your book or memoir or tree might contain mistakes, but that you did your best to present correct information
4. nod, smile, and listen to a relative's comments, then simply ignore what he or she said (or, take the comment seriously if your relative might be correct or might have new information for you)
5. encourage the critic to become a partner in research. Most times, that's the last you hear from him or her about their comment. But, you might be lucky and acquire a new companion for your research trips.
   Usually the critical relative has their say and then chucks your work into the closet, where it awaits discovery by a future generation. And, isn't that one of your goals, anyway?  Pat yourself on the back even when others won't! You've done good!

02 December 2010


     The new year will bring many a smile to the faces of Irish family historians. Those of us whose ancestors hailed from Northern Ireland received good news this week from the Public Record Office of Northern Ireland: the projected public opening of the new PRONI facility is scheduled for 30 March 2011, well ahead of schedule. In the email announcement, Culture Minister Nelson McCausland said that the new headquarters will be in a state-of-the-art facility and will provide the public with better access to records. Over 40 km of "unique, irreplaceable and ... priceless documents" are being moved to the new facility, which will be in the Titanic Quarter of Belfast.
     PRONI had more good news for "armchair" researchers. Now available online is a fully searchable index to the will calendar entries for the District Probate Registries of Armagh, Belfast, and Londonderry. The database covers the period 1858-1919 and 1922-1943. Those for 1921-22 will follow soon. In addition, the digitized images of entries from the copy will book from 1858-1900 are now available online. Reseachers can now view the full contents of those wills online. The collection contains 93,388 will images.
     Wait--there's more from PRONI! Over fifty years of wedding and family portraits are now available for viewing via the photo-sharing website, Flickr. The photos are from the Allison Photographic Studios in Armagh. There are now 200 digital images online, with more being added, until all 1530 images are posted.

   Not to be outdone, the National Library of Ireland announced its intention to digitize and make available online all of its Roman Catholic parish register microfilms. These are IMAGES, yes, IMAGES! This is a revolutionary leap in online genealogy research. Currently, researchers must visit the Library in Dublin or obtain the films from the Latter-day Saints if they want to see actual images of the registers. Since we Irish family historians rely so heavily on church records, especially for those years before civil registration began in 1864, this online collection will be a dream come true. The collection covers 1200 parishes on 520 reels.


PRONI photos on Flickr
PRONI Will Calendars