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).