26 January 2012


     The Internet has been buzzing with talk about the new reforms that the European Union is making to its data protection standards. Of particular interest to family history researchers is the proposed "right to be forgotten." In its most basic definition, this right is the right to have one's personal data deleted. For instance, upon your request an online entity such as Facebook would have to delete, entirely, your account and the information you placed online, not hold them in a state of virtual limbo as it does presently.
     Much of the discussion about the right to be forgotten centers on two concerns: privacy rights and commercial interests. The European and American views on these two concerns differ, with the European courts seeming to lean towards ruling for the right to be forgotten. American law currently permits a more open personal data marketplace. However, as we have seen with the Social Security Death Index and many states' laws, concerns over the privacy of personal data is becoming an issue in the States as well.
      Do we own our own histories and life events, or are these facts partly owned by the larger framework of the family and society? Are the facts of a person's past life part of history itself and not a thing in that person's possession?
     I could discuss the legal and ethical issues of this exciting topic for pages. For now, I would like to point out the ramifications for the genealogical community. The obvious impact will be the effect this obliteration of data will have on future family historians. With more and more of our personal histories and life events being recorded online, will our descendants have no way of finding us if we have disappeared?
    Can we hide our data from marketeers but preserve it online for generations to come? Or is economic exploitation the price we pay for accessible genealogical data?
     The other effects on family historians are more subtle. Could the right to disappear extend to our ancestors? Does data regarding life events and information belong to the person or the entity collecting the data? For example, is a baptismal record the property of the church or the baptised person or the community at large? Can the right be extended to the collection of personal data, i.e., could personal data be protected from being collected--a "right to not appear" as opposed to a "right to disappear?"
     Is the right to be forgotten online the equivalent as burning the parish registers and the census? How slippery is the slope of this new right?
     So many questions!

24 January 2012


Time to take a look at what's happening in the world of Irish genealogy!
  •      The Council of Irish Genealogical Organisations has updated their "links" page, and what a great page it is! A one-stop Internet shop for Irish family historians: Council of Irish Genealogical Organisations
  •     Have an ancestor in the Irish military? New resources for your research: Irish Military Archives
  •     Ireland Reaching Out (Ireland XO) continues to update and expand its effort to connect Irish parishes with modern day descendants: Ireland XO
  •      The Public Record Office of Northern Ireland (PRONI) will present "Religion" this Thursday, 26 January, at 6:30. See the PRONI website if you will be in Belfast and able to attend: http://www.proni.gov.uk/
  •      Genealogy TV continues in the States with Season Three of Who Do You Think You Are? on February 3rd on NBC: WDYTYA?  In March, look on your local PBS station for my favorite, Faces of America, an intelligent exploration of our roots as individuals and as an American nation (the first season is available on video): Faces of America
And don't forget to check...
  • Ireland Genealogy Projects Updates:
Ireland (Country) Genealogy Archives - Military & Constabulary
Royal Irish Constabulary with no native county stated 1842 (JOHNSTON, BRENNAN)
Antrim Genealogy Archives - Military
1840-1841 Royal Irish Constabulary men
Armagh Genealogy Archives - Military
1840-1841 Royal Irish Constabulary men
Dublin Genealogy Archives - Deansgrange Cemetery
Deansgrange Cemetery, St. Patricks Section, pt 10
Dublin Genealogy Archives - Headstones - Mount Jerome, Dublin
Mount Jerome, Dublin - Parts 31 - 35
Fermanagh Genealogy Archives - Church
Derryvullan (CoI) Marriages 1847-1903 (Tirkennedy, Enniskillen)
Tipperary Genealogy Archives - Military
1842 Royal Irish Constabulary men
Sligo Genealogy Archives - Military & Constabulary
1842 Royal Irish Constabulary men
Wexford Genealogy Archives - Military & Constabulary
1842 Royal Irish Constabulary men
Wicklow Genealogy Archives - Military
1842 Royal Irish Constabulary men
Wicklow Genealogy Archives - Headstones
Glenealy Cemetery


20 January 2012


     You just ended a twenty year search for the townland of your great great great grandfather. You want to scream about it from the rooftop, but instead you call your brother and you share the good news. He returns a polite but perfunctory "that's really REALLY interesting" before he goes on to tell you about his daughter's soccer news. You sit there, newly found record in hand, and wish that someone would appreciate the magnitude of your discovery.
     Time to turn to your fellow family historians in your local Irish genealogy group.
     Don't have one? Start your own!
     Starting your own genealogy group is easier than you might imagine. Yes, the first few steps can be a bit intimidating, and you might have to weather a meeting or two alone, but if you persevere, your group will take root. All you need is a few fellow Irish family historians who are willing to meet once a month or so to discuss genealogy research.
     My local Irish genealogy group, the Irish American Family History Society, has been together over four years now. We grew from a handful of people who attended classes I gave in the South Jersey area to about 50 people from four states.  Approximately 20-25 people attend each monthly meeting. Some of the members get together outside of the meetings to visit archives and cemeteries.
     Yesterday, I attended a meeting of an Irish genealogy group that began last year in Upper Darby, Pennsylvania. That group, the Irish American Genealogy Group of Delaware County, now meets monthly at the Irish Immigration Center in Upper Darby. That group, too, began with one man, and is growing each month.
     Some tips for starting your own group:
  • Read your local newspapers, especially any Irish oriented papers, for news of any groups that might already meet.
  • If you can't find enough Irish researchers in your area, branch out to include other genealogy areas of interest. I personally believe that only another Irish family historian can truly relate to the difficulties of Irish genealogy research, but starting out with any other fellow genealogists can be a boon to your research.
  • Look into your local libraries, your condo, your development's clubhouse, your church, your town hall, and your local Irish clubs for a place to meet.
  • If there is a general genealogy society in your locale, inquire whether it might be interested in sponsoring a subgroup of Irish researchers.
  • Advertise in newsletters or bulletin boards (physical or virtual) available. Use social networking on the Internet to invite fellow researchers. Approach your local Irish cultural or sport groups to see if they can help you find members.
  • Check to see if your town sponsors groups or programs. If you are so inclined and have the skills and knowledge, offer to lead a genealogy workshop for a local continuing education or civic program. Offer to speak at Irish cultural groups about your interest in genealogy. You might snag a few interested beginners.
  • Don't be discouraged if the group takes time to grow. Back in the 1990's, I offered to hold a genealogy workshop for a township program. One woman registered. She said she would attend all six meetings if I would, and we did. In the years since, Cathy Walowy has surpassed her "teacher" in genealogy, as well as web design, skills. She is now my "go-to" resource for Polish/Ukrainian research and Internet questions. (See the link below and visit her amazing web page). Interest, not size, matters in a genealogy group.
  • If you are interested in forming a more formal group, the Federation of Genealogical Societies is your number one resource. (Link below).

17 January 2012


     I was listening to recitations of Walt Whitman's poetry on YouTube the other evening, so naturally, I began musing about family history. Naturally? Well, I'll explain that connection in a bit. (What doesn't get my obsessed mind thinking about family history?).
     I thought about the television commercial where a man relates how he discovered that his family lived near the Wright brothers. Today, most of our celebrity sightings are on film, television, and computers. We attend rock concerts in big stadiums where we watch the stars singing on big screens because they are small figures on a faraway stage--same for most sporting events and political rallies. But back in the day, shows and concerts and speeches were often more limited gatherings. Celebrities were more accessible to the common man, at least better seen with one's own eyes.
     What celebrities or political figures might your ancestors have met? Did a grandfather fight for Irish independence with Michael Collins? Perhaps a great grandmother met Synge or Yeats at an Abbey Theatre performance? Watched a Buffalo Bill Wild West Show? Heard Lincoln speak?
     As if you don't have enough research to do, here is another idea to keep you busy: research the entertainment venues of your ancestors' times and locations. Read the old newspapers to see what shows were in town and what celebrities or political figures might be visiting nearby. Even if you never find evidence of your ancestor's attending a rally or a show, you will have a clearer vision of their lives. You will get an idea of their dinner conversation. You can imagine what the ladies gossiped about over the fence while hanging laundry.
Walt Whitman tomb
Harleigh Cemetery, Camden, NJ
     I had never thought of a possible connection between my ancestors and the poet Walt Whitman until the other night.  Both Whitman and my Magee ancestors resided in Camden, New Jersey, in the 1880's. They did not live too far from each other in the downtown section of that small city across the river from Philadelphia.  I never made the connection because I figured, well, surely they traveled in different social circles. But then I remembered that my great grandfather's sister, Margaret T. Magee, was a teacher and school principal who loved poetry. On my bookshelves are great great Aunt Margaret's volumes of poetry by Keats and Byron. Somehow, they survived being handed down through the years. I like to think they survived because they were so beloved by her. Would Margaret have been interested in the eccentric poet that lived a few streets away? Whitman was in his declining years, but still famous and controversial. What did she, obviously a fan of the Romantics, think of Whitman's free verse and his celebration of the common man? Did he visit her school? Did she attend his readings? I'll never know, but what fun I had imagining Margaret and  me, together, listening to Whitman's poetry the other evening!

14 January 2012


     I've had a long list of rather fun topics to post the past few weeks, but life has a funny way of diverting my best intentions. So it is this week, as I muse about family records while helping relatives with some pressing legal issues.
     As an attorney, I have prepared many end of life documents over the years--health care directives and proxies, power of attorney forms, wills, and codicils. I realized today that I have neglected in the past to record, in my genealogy files, information from those documents for many of my own family members. At the time of a loved one's death, most of us are thinking as mourners, and we are not thinking of our genealogy files. Many people (myself included) destroy or discard documents such as powers of attorney and living wills once the maker is deceased. These documents, when no longer of legal force and no longer confidential, could contain valuable genealogical information.
     For instance, many of the witnesses on these records could be relatives. A brief note to the effect that Grandpa had a will or a codicil witnessed by Jane and John Kelly, and that Jane and John were his cousins (or next door neighbors), would preserve this information for future generations in your family.
     With the person's permission, you might even enter this information while the principal of the document is alive (or if you are the principal). I have had two cases in which wills were written long, long ago, and were not what lawyers call "self-proving." That is, the witnesses needed to be found and brought into court to attest that the signature was that of the decedent. The matter would have been solved more efficiently had someone in the family kept note of the identity, and other particulars, of the witnesses.
     Don't forget to save other documents such as social security and identification cards, death certificates, funeral receipts, and Mass cards.
     Isn't it true that both happy and sad life events overshadow our thoughts about the place these events have in our family history? I don't mean to sound callous, as if we should allow our family history pursuits to invade the solemn time of mourning, or the spontaneous celebrations of birth, or the joy of a wedding. But, if we think about these issues beforehand, we will automatically save and record our family's historical moments near to the time of their happening. Plus, we might take better care when "cleaning out" after a wedding or a loved one's funeral.

10 January 2012


     The following article appeared on CNN today. The police investigating a murder case sent a DNA sample to a genealogist, who compared it to results from a genealogy DNA bank. The suspect, if the police theory is correct, is a Mayflower descendant with a certain surname. They are hoping to narrow the field of suspects with this information.
     As a former prosecutor, I applaud the innovative thinking involved in this case, and I wish the police success in catching this criminal.
     As a genealogist who believes DNA testing is the "future" of family history research, I have concerns that stories like this will scare away people who have worries about the privacy of their DNA results when done for genealogical purposes. I have cousins who are resisting getting their DNA tested, and if they do not, my extended family will lose, forever, the chance to have two male lines of DNA charted. Are their fears so unfounded? I thought so, until I read this article.
     From the police methods used here, whether or not a person's DNA is tested would not make a difference. The murderer's DNA would not necessarily be on record--it is his ancestors and relatives who will be responsible in the end for catching him.
     Good or bad development? Read and discuss: CNN COLD CASE DNA TRACKING

09 January 2012


     "The Forgotten First Step" is the first in a series of posts I am writing for the website of the Certificate of Irish Heritage. Find out if you have forgotten to document fully a very important person in your family tree: THE FORGOTTEN FIRST STEP Certificate of Irish Heritage site

07 January 2012

06 January 2012


     Update on the changes in obtaining Social Security Death Index information: Word is out that deceased persons' social security numbers are now being redacted in online databases. I attended a First Friday session at the Mid-Atlantic (Philadelphia) branch of NARA (US Archives), and other attendees reported that their results from the Ancestry.com SSDI database did not include the social security number. Others in the room claimed that they were able to retrieve results that included the number. As I reported last month, the Social Security Administration has begun to redact the names of parents on the applications. While important information is still available on the application forms, the absence of the parents' names and the Social Security number has taken away an important source of information from family historians.
     Ireland Genealogy Projects Updates, part 2:
CLARE Genealogy Archives - Headstones
St Flannan's Cathedral, Graveyard (additional - Scanlan & Hare)
CORK Genealogy Archives
Royal Irish Constabulary Patrick Ready (Riedy) 1848
DUBLIN Genealogy Archives - Headstones - Glasnevin, Dublin
Glasnevin Cemetery Part 10 (partial)
GALWAY Genealogy Archives - Military & Constabulary
1842 Royal Irish Constabulary Enlistees
LIMERICK Genealogy Archives - Obituaries
Assorted From Norwich Bulletin
MAYO Genealogy Archives - Military & Constabulary
1842 Royal Irish Constabulary enlistees
MONAGHAN Genealogy Archives - Military
1842 & 1844 Royal Irish Constabulary enlistees
ROSCOMMON Genealogy Archives - Military & Constabulary
1842 Royal Irish Constabulary
WATERFORD Genealogy Archives - Military & Constabulary
Waterford 1845 Royal Irish Constabulary enlistees
WATERFORD Genealogy Archives - Obituaries
Jeffrey Power & Mary Russell - 1827

02 January 2012


     Of all the developments that I have witnessed in the genealogy world in last three decades, the most profound change has been the evolution of family history researchers into a commercial consumer group. We are now a target audience, a market segment--in short, customers. When I began serious genealogy research thirty years ago, my biggest budget items were notepads and stamps, plus an occasional long distance telephone bill. Now I have a huge genealogy budget, with "big ticket items," such as my online database subscriptions, costing hundreds each year. Throw in a research trip to Ireland every few years, annual dues to a few organizations, upgraded computer programs, DNA testing, webinars, and attendance fees at a conference or two, and genealogy becomes a very expensive undertaking.
     The rising costs are a problem in more than a budgeting sense. I am at the point where my budget now has an effect on my research. With many churches and online sites now charging for record requests, I have to weigh the costs of what records I request and when. I have poured so much money into the "pay per retrieved record" sites that I no longer go on "fishing expeditions." I miss my fishing expeditions, and my research has suffered. While casting a wide research net did not always catch an ancestor, some of my "dead end" searches have been very valuable in weeding out red herring ancestors and false leads. But if I am spending this much money, I want hits, not misses.
     I do understand the work and funds involved in researching records, especially for church secretaries with other pressing duties. I know that placing records online costs time and money. But what makes me angry is that I believe that novice family historians are affected adversely by the marketing methods of some genealogy suppliers.
     Current advertising campaigns entice genealogy consumers by stressing  either 1) how easy genealogy is if you use their services or join their organization, or 2) how hard genealogy is without their aid. I am not targeting commercial sites, I have found some bothersome marketing slogans used by groups, organizations, and even individuals.
     The result is often off-putting for people who might otherwise pursue their family history. I've had more than one researcher tell me, "I went to so-and-so's talk, and he made genealogy sound so hard. I can't do it myself, and I don't have the money to hire someone (or join the organization or buy a computer product, etc.)."
     But what bothers me the most is the marketing that promises ease--if you subscribe to the site or you use a service, finding your ancestors is as easy as paying the fee. I've had multiple instances of persons handing me census returns, family trees, and church records of individuals who are not their ancestors.
     "But I paid for this!" "I did a search for 'John Magee' and this was the number one result!" "But this stuff was online, and I followed the bells and whistles as instructed!" "Someone in Ireland looked this up for me!"
     I have had a very hard time convincing most of these people that the "research" was plain wrong, and that their money was wasted.
     Contrary to modern marketing slogans, a family historian DOES have to know a few things about his or her ancestors before conducting research. We have to know enough facts about our family history to determine whether the results we obtain are truly those of our ancestors. We have to use our brains and our knowledge of record sources and family history to determine if a "hit" is a record of our ancestor's. So far, I know of no search engine or algorithm that can perform that function for us.
     Genealogy has become a consumer good, and like all purchasers, we have to be educated and aware if we value return on our dollar (or Euro or pound or loonie).