28 January 2011


     When I first found Claire Santry's website, IRISH GENEALOGY TOOLKIT, I was incredulous. I figured that such an exhaustive, informative site had to be run by a staff of people at an archive or a business. When I searched for the author/administrator, I was shocked to see that one woman had put together this fabulous website.
     Think that I am overdoing the accolades? Ha! Just click on the link at bottom (after you read my e-interview with Claire) and see for yourself. 
     Claire launched the Toolkit in June of 2008. I asked Claire why she created the site.
     "Genealogy research has given me enormous pleasure over the years but I'm still mad that I didn't get to grips with it earlier," Claire said. "Like many others, I'd been deterred by the urban myth that Irish research was impossible because 'all the records were burnt in The Fire'. If I had a Euro for every time I've heard that, I'd be able to bail Ireland out of its current economic crisis ! But having eventually discovered that all the records were NOT burnt in The Fire, I continued to waste time by not really understanding the records available -- not only how they worked and where they could be accessed, but their limitations."
     Like many of us, Claire spent money, as well as time, accessing records that were not her ancestors' records.
     "I'd spend hours (probably days and weeks, if truth by told) clicking like a woman possessed from one website to another searching for records that didn't exist. I wasted a lot (and I really mean a lot) of money on pay per view sites that yielding a big fat zero. None of the sites I looked at, nor even the genealogy books I'd bought, gave me the level of detail I needed to really appreciate what was available and what wasn't. So that's why I started the site. It was, essentially, to help novice family historians to not waste time!"
     But don't get the idea from Claire's remarks that the Toolkit is only for those beginning their Irish research. Even experts will benefit from her catalogue of topics and her concise, informative descriptions. What I myself love about the Toolkit is the information it contains regarding Irish culture and heritage. Claire obviously understands that genealogy comes alive when a researcher honors ancestral life stories and customs.
     What ancestral stories breathed life into Claire's own research?
     Claire answer: "I'm a bit soft on my maternal great great grandmother Sophia Doolittle born c1840. Like me, she had five brothers and was brought up in a male-dominated home, so I like to imagine we'd have a fair amount in common. But it was also her wonderful name, which I found in an old letter, that first drew me into genealogy. She is responsible for my addiction! I have a lot to thank her for!"
     She has also had some surprises in her own family tree:
     "My mum had told me some of her Wicklow ancestors were sailors. I'd assumed she meant deckhands or something of that sort. In fact, they'd owned and captained a number of sizeable schooners, and my family tree is full of ship carpenters and lifeboat coxswains and Harbour Masters. Such a strong connection to the sea, right up to 1915, was unexpected. It perhaps explains why water holds such an attraction to my generation: I have a boat, and so do two of my brothers. We knew nothing of our seafaring ancestors a decade ago. Maybe we've inherited salty blood!"
     I asked Claire for some advice for my readers:
     "The most common 'mistakes' typically come from inflexibility. For example, I've had researchers tell me that my Santry ancestors from Cork were a different family to their Sauntry ancestors from Cork. I've had people tell me their family were Driscolls without the 'O', so can't be connected to my O'Driscolls. This rigidity demonstrates a lack of understanding of Irish history and of rural Cork accents!The spelling of a surname before the 20th century, when literacy levels started to improve, was nearly always a matter for the person hearing and recording it, not the person saying it.And many families dropped the 'O' prefix during the 19th century due to the oppressive regime they lived under. The 'O' was seen as 'too Irish'.Similarly, people can sometimes be too rigid in their interpretation of family stories. There is often a shred of truth in these tales, but it's best to take a wide view. Just because family lore says gt grandad Tom arrived in America in 1880 at the age of 15, a researcher shouldn't restrict a search for his birth to 1865 and only 1865. He very likely got younger with the telling of the story! And this might be why there's no birth record in the civil registration index for that year. Indeed, if he was 18 or 25 when he set sail in 1880, he was born before the civil registration system even started, so a completely different research direction needs to be taken."
     I want to send a big THANK YOU to Claire, not only for taking the time to be interviewed, but for creating and maintaining THE IRISH GENEALOGY TOOLKIT. Visit it now and often, and don't forget to bookmark!