07 April 2011


     A lady approached me after my recent presentation at the Central Jersey Genealogy Club (wonderful group of people, by the way). She told me a story that was similar to others I had heard before. Her story, like the others, went along these lines:
     "A professional genealogist told me that I would never find my ancestor in Ireland."
     I kept my voice barely below scream level, "HE TOLD YOU WHAT?"
     "He told me that Jones [*name changed] was not an Irish name. He showed me a map of Ireland that had all the Irish surnames on it and, he was right, there was no Jones listed. He said that meant that I would never find records with that name in Ireland."
      After I picked my jaw off the floor and put my popped eyeballs back in their sockets, I asked her why she thought her ancestor was Irish.
    "My family members claim that my great great grandfather had Scottish parents but that he was born in Ireland."
     This story illustrates one important point about seeking professional advice regarding Irish research:  be careful when commissioning research.  Don't stop at checking to see what certifications or credentials a researcher possesses--ask whether they have expertise in the area you are researching, regardless of that string of  abbreviations after their name. After all, you wouldn't necessarily expect your eye doctor to diagnose your shortness of breath, nor a business lawyer to defend you against capital murder charges, would you? Besides, where Irish research is concerned, I know quite a few "amateurs" who are more knowledgeable than many certified genealogists.
     Beware, there are many genealogists and researchers out there who simply cannot say, when asked a question, those three important words:
     "I don't know."
     I will now give you three more words you need to know about Irish research:
     "Never. Say. Never."
     There is NOT one map, or one set of records, or one database that contains every record of our Irish ancestors. Run from any genealogist or researcher who tells you so, or tells you that your ancestors were not from a particular area because they were not on one list or another.
     Those of us who have been doing Irish research for a long time know that we never say never. I will tell you a story that could have had a very sad ending, but, luckily, it didn't. It's about me, and it is not sad because I learned my lesson very early.
     Decades ago, back in the days before Al Gore invented the Internet, I went to a local family history center because I had heard that it contained a computer with genealogical records. I was a complete novice at genealogical research. A man met me at the door and said he would guide me in my research. He looked through a few books on Irish records on the shelf, sat at a computer, then typed my ancestors' names. He obtained a few results with my surnames of interest, but none of the results seemed to be from my family.
     He then announced that I would find nothing.
     "No, nothing."
     "Nothing, anywhere? Here or anywhere?"
     "Nope, not anywhere. If it is not on our computer, you won't find them. We have it all."
     I had no idea that he was a volunteer who, obviously, was not trained and had no idea what he was talking about. I thought he was an expert. After all, I was a neophyte, a newbie, an amateur.
     I was also, thankfully, very stubborn and very persistent.
     Within ten years, I was standing on the site of my third great grandmother's cottage in Innishatieve, County Tyrone.
      Never say never.