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!

21 January 2011


    I moderate an Irish genealogy group in the Philadelphia area. Most of the members' Irish ancestors settled in the New England or Mid Atlantic states. I have found that many researchers in my area assume that their Irish ancestors arrived at one of the east coast ports--Philadelphia, Baltimore, New York City, or Boston. When they run into a brick wall, I often ask whether they have looked at Canadian records. They usually give me a funny look and repeat, "My ancestors lived in Philadelphia, why would they have entered the US via Canada?"
     Especially in the 1800's, many Irish took the Canadian route, even if they were headed for an eastern US city. Many Irish immigrants took the Canadian route, then traveled east to New York City and eastern Pennsylvania. One set of my ancestors did so, and I have heard from other "East Coast" family historians who also discovered a Canadian connection. I've been told that passage rates were cheaper for the Canadian destinations. So, don't dismiss a Canadian port if you are running into a brick wall with your ship list search.
     The difficulty with searching ship lists in Canada is that so many of them are missing. However, if your ancestor received government welfare during their short stay in Canada, you may find records of the items received, which often included foodstuffs. Your ancestor might have stayed for a time in Canada, also.
     In the near future, researching Canadian records from the comfort of home will be easier. In December, the Library and Archives Canada announced its plan to "go digital." The announcement read:
     "OTTAWA, December 7, 2010 – Within the next seven years, Library and Archives Canada will put most of its services online, transforming the country’s leading memory institution into a fully engaged digital organization, just in time to celebrate Confederation’s 150th anniversary in 2017."
     In the meantime, the Archives already has many valuable genealogical resources online. Check them out via the links below.
     A reminder: Pat Connors continues to add new resources to her growing, multi-county database, "ConnorsGenealogy."  Her site is particularly valuable for its Tithe lists, and she has added quite a few more of those lists in the past couple of months.. The database also covers portions of New York state and Canada. See link below.


14 January 2011


     French genes and surnames might have wiggled their way into your Irish family tree in a number of ways. As do the British nobility, many of the landed Irish families have Norman ancestry. Trade, war, and oppression often caused Irish and French to cross the seas. But one source of French ancestry often missed by Irish family history researchers is their possible link to French Protestants who fled to Ireland during times of persecution in France.
     The story of the Huguenots in Ireland is a complicated one, beginning in the early 1500's when Protestant religions (mostly the teachings of Calvin), arrived in Catholic France. A number of civil wars ensued. Thousands of  French Protestants were massacred on St. Bartholomew's Day, 25 August 1572. The Edict of Nantes brought a period of religious freedom after 1598, but by 1628 the persecutions were back in full swing. The Edict of Nantes was revoked in 1685.

Were my Irish Large ancestors French?
I don't know, but will use any excuse
for a trip to Paris!

     Huguenots fled to England, the American colonies, and other European countries. They came to Ireland, many brought in groups by the British, many fleeing on their own, some via the British military. Most of those who arrived in Ireland did so in the 1600's. The first major group was composed of weavers. Later in the 1600's, bankers, soldiers, financiers, and other professions followed. Small in number, they had a broad influence on Ireland. Eventually, they were absorbed into the Irish population. Often, surnames, cemeteries, street names, and buildings are the only echos of the French roots.
     Many times the French worshipped at a "French Church," which was often a local church of the Church of Ireland that permitted French services. Over the years, most of these congregations were absorbed into the Church of Ireland system.
     Sometimes, researchers discover their Huguenot ancestry through a French surname. But often, these names, too, were absorbed into English and phonetic spellings. Some surnames in Ireland with possible Huguenot roots include some surprises such as Cobb/Cobbe, Devenny, Rainey, Dennis/Denis, Hammond/Hammon, Jolly/Joly, and Terson (disclaimer: do not assume Huguenot roots simply on the basis of a surname) .
     I stumbled upon the history of the Huguenots in Ireland while researching my surname Large. While I do not know if my Irish Large family includes any Huguenots, the name Large/LeLarge is a common Huguenot surname. It also has Norman roots, so I cannot be sure of where or when any possible French genes entered my family line.
     Huguenot settlements are found the length of Ireland: Belfast, Lisburn, Dundalk, Dublin, Portarlington, Carlow, Kilkenny, and Cork are just some of the sites of settlements and churches.
     I am not advocating that researchers go on fishing expeditions for Huguenot ancestors. But, if the clues are popping up in your Irish  research, and local history includes Huguenot settlements, some research into French Church records or Huguenot history just might break a brick wall.

06 January 2011


     Over the Christmas holidays, I attended the funeral of a cousin I met through my family history work. This man had lived a long life and was greatly loved by his descendants, of whom there are many. As I looked over the crowded room, I was struck by how many people I had met over the years after finding his family line. After we "found" each other, he attended one of my family reunions, and brought many other family members with him. I was so fortunate to have made contact with him.         
     Another holiday afternoon was spent visiting my in laws in New York. I used the occasion to videotape an interview with ninety-three year old Aunt Shirley (who still commutes to work as an illustrator in Manhattan every day). Quite a few genealogical discoveries were made, and several previously unknown family stories were heard.
     So, to get to my point immediately--don't put off contacting PEOPLE. Yes, the records are important, and so is organizing your files, and, yes, we must cite our sources properly, but don't ever forget why we are doing this work--for the people and their stories, not for some notch on our family tree.

     Start the new year by checking your favorite Irish genealogy sites for updated databases! Recent additions to the Irish Genealogical Projects include the following:

Files added in 2010:

Dublin Journal, 28 Nov 1732 (Flax Seed)
Dublin Journal, Marriages & Deaths, 3 Aug 1765
Dublin Journal, Marriages & Deaths, 2 Jan 1770

Antrim Genealogy Archives - HEADSTONES
Ballintoy (CoI) Cemetery Parts 1 & 2

Down Genealogy Archives -- HEADSTONES
Dundonald, Belfast, part 2
Knockbreada Cemetery, Belfast - Part 2

Dublin Genealogy Archives - HEADSTONES - Mount Jerome, Dublin Parts 13-15

Dublin Genealogy Archives - HEADSTONES - Deansgrange Cemetery
St Fintans Section part 3 & St Patricks section part 8

Leitrim Genealogy Archives - Headstones
Graveyard - Aughavas Parish, Toomna Graveyard photos

Monaghan Genealogy Archives - Headstones.
Ballybay, Christ Church (CoI)
Ballybay, 1st Presbyterian
Ematris Graveyard (Dartrey/Rockcorry)
Tyholland - St. Sillian's (Co), Church of Ireland - updated

Roscommon Genealogy Archives - Headstones.
Ardcarne New Graveyard & Site of Templemihil (photos of signs with surnames)

Tipperary Genealogy Archives - LAND
From the Keeper of the Public Records in Ireland. Volume 6.

Wicklow Headstone Index - HEADSTONES
Kilquade Cemetery - updated