31 March 2012


Below is a press release from the New England Historical and Genealogical Society: 

NEHGS to be featured on new PBS Series
“Finding Your Roots with Henry Louis Gates, Jr.”
Show helps to uncover the mysteries of who we are and where we come from

Boston, MA – March 30, 2012 –The New England Historic Genealogical Society (NEHGS) is pleased to announce that it will be featured on the next episode of the new 10-part PBS series,Finding Your Roots with Henry Louis Gates, Jr.NEHGS and Senior Researcher Rhonda McClure will be featured on the next episode of the show scheduled to run on Sunday, April 1st at 8pm ET on PBS.

On this episode, McClure helps uncover the family mysteries of Geoffrey Canada, President and Chief Executive Officer of theHarlem Children’s Zone. Geoffrey Canada has become recognized internationally for his ground-breaking work helping children and families in Harlem and as a passionate advocate for education reform. In addition, television journalist and former co-host and chief correspondent of ABC News’ “20/20” as well as current creator, co-owner, executive producer and co-host of “The View,” Barbara Walters will learn and discover her fascinating ancestral background.

This season, Professor Gates examines the fascinating family histories of celebrities including Samuel L. Jackson, Harry Connick Jr., Condoleezza Rice, Kevin Bacon, Martha Stewart, Robert Downey Jr., Maggie Gyllenhaal, and many more.

“It is truly an honor and a privilege to have this opportunity to work closely with Professor Gates,” says NEHGS President and CEO, D. Brenton Simons. “All of us at NEHGS are thrilled to be a part of such an incredible television series and we wish Professor Gates and the rest of the production team a most successful season!”

The basic drive to discover who we are and where we come from is at the core ofFinding Your Roots with Henry Louis Gates, Jr., the 12th series from Professor Gates, the Alphonse Fletcher University Professor at Harvard University and director of the W.E.B. Du Bois Institute for African and African American Research. Filmed on location across the United States, the series premiered nationally on Sunday, March 25th, and will continue to run through May 20th on PBS. Be sure to check out the next episode on Sunday, April 1st. Please check local listings for times.

 Founded in 1845, New England Historic Genealogical Society is the country's leading resource for family history research. We help family historians expand their knowledge, skill, and understanding of their family and its place in history. The NEHGS research center, located at 99-101 Newbury Street, Boston, houses millions of books, journals, manuscripts, photographs, microfilms, documents, records, and other artifacts that date back more than four centuries. NEHGS staff includes some of the leading expert genealogists in the country, specializing in early American, Irish, English, Italian, Scottish, Atlantic and French Canadian, African American, Native American, and Jewish genealogy. Our award-winning website, www.AmericanAncestors.org, provides access to more than 135 million searchable names in 3,000 collections.

29 March 2012


The Irish Family History Foundation (IFHS), the largest online database of Irish genealogical records, has revamped its pricing system. The new system has significant changes. First, users must now pay to search the database (new users are given ten free searches). Prior to this change, searching was free. However, users would periodically complain of being barred from the site after performing a large amount of free searches. So, although the reason for the new charges is not stated, I am assuming part of the change is directed towards eliminating problems with their "you can search free but not too many times" system.
     I am cognizant of the IFHF's need of funds to create and maintain this wonderful database. However, I do not think they have yet hit upon a fair and reasonable system of payment. I would rather see them create a subscription service. Under their payment systems, both past and present, a researcher literally gambles on whether they are paying for a search or a record that might prove to be useful to them.  I will probably not use the IFHF database much now that I have to pay to search. Maybe it is psychological, but I don't mind paying a subscription fee for unlimited searching and viewing, whereas when I look at my past balance and see that I paid hundreds of dollars to view records that turned out not to be helpful, I get upset. Really upset.
     The pricing system is detrimental to research. A researcher needs to be free to get wrong results and go down errant paths. If every search and every view of a record is a monetary gamble, we cannot research effectively. The IFHF needs to reexamine their pricing policy and to assess the needs of their market--Irish family historians.  Good business sense, at the least, demands such a market analysis! I don't mind a fair subscription price, but don't make me feel like a chump for paying for records and searches that come up empty for me.
     The new credit system as described by the IFHF site:
The IFHF ORS has been converted to a credit system. All user balances have been upgraded to the new credit system automatically.
Part of this upgrade has been the reduction in the cost of a record from €5 to as low as €2.50 depending on the amount of credit purchased. However, users will be charged 1 credit for a page of index search results. Every user will be given 10 free searches.

     The site also has a "top up" system for bulk credit purchases. Buying in bulk reduces the costs. For example, 35 credits cost 5 euro, but 320 credits purchased in advance would cost 32 euro.

28 March 2012


     ESP, intuition, synchronicity, hunches--I have heard many stories from people who have made genealogical discoveries with the aid of a sixth sense. Sometimes, after my talks, I notice someone hanging back in the crowd, waiting for a more private moment to tell me a story of supernatural occurrences in their search for their ancestors. More than once, I have experienced a tingle down my spine at a point in the story at the same time as the teller did! I am convinced that we family historians, particularly those of us dealing with the vagaries of Irish research, must pay attention to those hunches and gut feelings that many researchers would otherwise ignore in the quest to be a serious and orthodox researcher.
     By now, I've probably lost my more cynical readers! So, if you are still reading, here's my own most recent "personal assist" from the beyond.
     I've been searching for my Bowe ancestors since I was a preteen, when my father would tell stories about Richard Large and his wife Teresa Bowe in the coal region of Schuylkill County, Pennsylvania. But I have not been very successful researching the Bowe line. Over time, I came to refer to my great grandmother as "The Elusive Teresa Bowe." Frustrated, I appealed to her to reveal her birth record to me in a recent blog post.( http://irishfamilyresearch.blogspot.ca/2011/09/buzz-this-week-irish-heritage.html)
     After I had my DNA tested, I entered my results in the Bowe surname study (more about that in a future post), hoping for a break in my brick wall. Even my Bowe DNA proved elusive! So far, I have not matched with any other Bowe descendants, not even the ones from Schuylkill County families.
     A couple weeks ago, I received an email from Jeane, a volunteer researcher for the Bowe One Name Study. Jeane has Bowe ancestors, but we have yet to find a match in our trees. I knew her as the "spreadsheet woman" for the Bowe study, the person responsible for maintaining the huge collection of Bowe data. The aim of the spreadsheet is to gather into one place all the references to Irish Bowe's from the 1700's to the mid 1800's mainly using land, birth, marriage, and death records.
     I woke up one morning to find an email from Jeane describing a dream she had about a Mr. Kenny and the spreadsheet. Jeane describes part of her dream:
 "A Mr Kenny was the main character in the dream. I had confusion about his name, I called him Kenny like it was his first name and he said, "I'm Mr. Kenny!" The he was telling me about the people in the Spread Sheet except I don't remember what he said about them. I asked him if he was a historian and he said, "No." and continued to talk about the people on the SS, pointing at names on it as he spoke. When I woke up in the night and remembered his name I thought he must be on the SS so I checked in the groom's list in the morning but didn't find him. When I looked for Teresa just over 24 hours later he was a witness at her baptism."
     Not only did the baptism details fit what I knew of my Teresa, the parents listed on the record were James Bowe and Anne Kelly--matches for "my" Teresa's parents! The baptismal record was from the parish of Arles, County Laois, which was my long-time hunch about her birthplace. 
     Thankfully, Jeane not only pays attention to her dreams, she shares them.

26 March 2012


New in IGP Archives 1 March - 15 March 2012:
CARLOW Genealogy Archives - Photos
St. Mary's Churchyard, Bennykerry
DUBLIN Genealogy Archives - Headstones
Deansgrange Cemetery, St. Patricks Section, Pt 11
Deansgrange Cemetery, St. Mary's Section, Pt 3
GALWAY Genealogy Archives - Photos
John Roche Family (3 photos)
LAOIS (Queens) Genealogy Archives - Headstones.
Old Kyle Graveyard outside Borris-in-Ossory
LEITRIM Genealogy Archives - Military & Constabulary
1840 & 1841 Royal Irish Constabulary
LIMERICK Genealogy Archives - Obituaries
Assorted Obituaries
LONGFORD Genealogy Archives - Military & Constabulary
1840-41 Royal Irish Constabulary
MONAGHAN Genealogy Archives - Headstones.
Ematris Graveyard (additional headstones)
Monaghan Town, Coolshannagh, St. Patrick's, Pt 1 (transcription added)
SLIGO Genealogy Archives
Church records added (particularly for McDermott)
TIPPERARY Genealogy Archives - Land
List of Claims - Forteited Estates - Tipperary 1700, Pt 1

18 March 2012


     Sometimes I turn to fiction to experience the emotional impact of family history, both mine and others'. By its very nature, a fiction novel is, well, fiction. But a skilled and knowledgeable author can spin a good yarn while conveying to us the thoughts and cultures and times of our ancestors. So it is with three books I read recently.
      I just finished reading Sanctuary Line by Jane Urquhart (Toronto: McClelland  Stewart). In this tale of a contemporary events in the lives of an extended family living on the shores of Lake Erie, Erquhart explores how the stories of the family's ancestors affected the succeeding generations. One of the characters, the narrator's uncle, is the family historian who is constantly telling the children the stories of the "greats greats" and the "great great greats" of their Irish Butlers. The "bifurcated" Butler family divided back in Ireland into farmers and lighthouse keepers, then continued dividing geographically in the US and Canada. The stories are interwoven, until the past culminates in present day tragedies and healing.
     While not dealing as directly with genealogy, two other fairly recent novels have dealt with the emotional and cultural issues that Irish immigrants faced while creating a new life in America after fleeing from political strife in the years surrounding Ireland's independence. In On Canaan's Side by Sebastian Barry, an immigrant woman is forced to create a succession of new identities because of her past in Ireland. But, no matter how hard she attempts to cover her tracks, her past continues to haunt, and imperil, her.
     Brooklyn: A Novel by Colm Toibin also tells the tale of a female Irish immigrant, but this story is set in the 1950's. The main character is a single female who grapples with life in multicultural Brooklyn. Toibin expertly explores the emotional tug of war between the homeland and the new land. The character's visit back to her family in Ireland is especially poignant.
     How did our ancestors deal with homesickness? How did they deal with the new culture and way of life they faced after leaving Ireland? After reading these three novels, I can more readily imagine the range of emotional responses my own ancestors might have had to the travails of emigrating and establishing a new life so very far from home.

17 March 2012


      I tend not to be a reveler on St. Patrick's Day. Sure my late father insisted we all wear the green on this holy day, but a holy day it was, and was quietly observed otherwise in our household and at my parochial school. As I grew older, I sometimes wore a "kiss me I'm Irish" button, hoping that a few preteen boys might notice me that day and take a chance on being forward. I'll keep it a mystery as to whether the button served as a magic mistletoe or not.
      Every St. Patrick's Day, I remember one particular boy, a late classmate of mine named Kevin, may God rest his soul. It was a gray March 17th morning  in 1961, and, as we first graders stood silently in line waiting to be let in the doors at St. John's School, I saw Kevin grinning in the boy's line across from me. He looked down at his shoes, and I followed his gaze to discover his school loafers painted with bright green paint. Splotched, rather than painted, is a more apt description of the forever-wrecked shoes.
     "My parents let me," Kevin said in a low voice.
     As Sister Paracleta approached, we all waited for judgement to descend upon Kevin. Would he be dragged from the line by his ear? Sent out of the schoolyard and told to go home?
     Sister loomed over Kevin, sternly examining the loss of two perfectly good school shoes. She raised herself straight, a giant among us pint-sized youngsters, for her veil and accouterments added a good eight inches to her height, and proclaimed,
     Thanks be to Kevin and to Sister Paracleta for the wonderful memories.
       A very blessed and peaceful St. Patrick's Day to all!

12 March 2012


     On Friday, March 9th, I attended the reburial service for the victims found at the Duffy's Cut excavation site. These Irish immigrants died building the railroad near Philadelphia, PA, in 1832. Some were victims of cholera, others were murdered--victims of anti-Irish violence then rampant in the Philadelphia area. The ceremony was dignified and touching. It was a metaphor for the Irish diaspora. Below is a video I shot at the service.

09 March 2012


     A couple of genealogy news flashes from Ireland:
  • Public Record Office of Northern Ireland (PRONI) has announced a change in their lecture schedule. (Wish I could get to Belfast for this one--I hope they eventually put it on You Tube!)
"The Linen Hall Lecture 'Gone for good: PRONI sources on emigration', due to delivered by Dr Ann McVeigh on 28th March, will now take place on 27th June. This change is due to the possibility of industrial action across the public sector.
The lecture will take place at 1pm on Wednesday, 27th June 2012, at the Linen Hall Library.
Admission is free, but it’s best to book your place in advance as seating is limited. Booking is via the Linen Hall Library website."
  • The Irish Family History Foundation has begun its first phase of adding County Wexford records to its online database (the database can be searched on a limited basis for free, but record retrieval has a fee): Clongeen RC parish, Tagout RC parish, and Inch Church of Ireland records. LINK TO IFHF

06 March 2012


     There are a handful of books on Irish genealogy that I schlep with me when I shuttle between my Toronto and New Jersey residences, and an even smaller number that I take with me to Ireland. But what is the one book that will be with me and George Clooney if we are stranded on a desert island?
     No question: Tracing Your Irish Ancestors by John Grenham (Dublin: Gill and Macmillan; Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Co.).
     If I am lucky enough to be stranded on the tropical island with Mr. Clooney after April, I will be taking the new FOURTH edition of the Bible of Irish genealogy.
     I will be writing a review as soon as I get my pre-ordered copy. In the meantime, I am honored to present an e-interview with Mr. John Grenham in which he describes the new material to be found in the fourth edition. He also has advice for American family historians (good advice for family researchers everywhere, actually).
My soon-to-be-retired, well-worn copy
of the 3rd edition of Grenham's authoritative
 When will your book be available in the US?
     J.G.:  The US edition will be announced in Genealogical Publishing Company's April 2 mailing list. It will be available on their website in late March.
What is different about the 4th edition?
     J.G.:  The biggest change from previous editions is in its approach to the Internet. The nature,  quality and quantity of Irish records online have changed out of all recognition in just the past three years. Online research is now an essential part of any Irish family history project. The fourth edition integrates detailed guides to Irish online records into the familiar three-part structure, discussing the idiosyncrasies of the digital versions of sources and outlining detailed research strategies.  The sheer scale of digitisation can make it both easier and more confusing to do research: if you don’t know what you’re searching, you can’t understand what you're finding.
What is the biggest mistake Americans make in researching their Irish roots?
      J.G.:  Not doing enough research in the US. Again and again, I've had to tell visitors to Ireland that they don't have enough information to do meaningful research here and that the only place to get that information is back home.
What is your best advice for Americans planning a research trip to Ireland?
     J.G.:  Make sure to pick all the low-hanging fruit before coming. There are still plenty of records that are only offline, but be sure to cover all the online ones before travelling.
THANK YOU, John, for taking the time to share your news and thoughts with Irish researchers. And, thank you for sharing your knowledge and your expertise with us through your books.
     Click on the links below to visit John Grenham's web pages:

05 March 2012


     Those tireless volunteers at the Ireland Genealogy Projects (IGP) are again adding to the free databases that the IGP shares with us. With genealogy databases becoming increasingly commercialized and/or controlled by a few entities, I feel that the work these people do and the information they provide for us, gratis, is especially valuable. Researchers helping researchers is the backbone of Irish genealogy. Visit the IGP pages and thank them!
Derry/Londonderry Genealogy Archives - Military & Constabulary
1840-1841 Royal Irish Constabulary
Donegal Genealogy Archives - Military & Constabulary
1840-41 Royal Irish Constabulary
Dublin Genealogy Archives - Headstones
Mount Jerome, Dublin Dublin - Part 38
Fermanagh Genealogy Archives - Education
Boys admitted into Charitable Charter School 1787-1933
List of National Schools in 1862
Limerick Genealogy Archives - Military & Constabulary
1840 & 1841 Royal Irish Constabulary
Monaghan Genealogy Archives - Headstones
Monaghan Town, Coolshannagh, St. Patrick's (CoI), Parts 1 & 2
Offaly (Kings) Genealogy Archives - Military & Constabulary
Kings 1840 & 1841 Royal Irish Constabulary
Wexford Genealogy Archives - Cemeteries
Duncannon Fort Burials

01 March 2012


     In just a month, the National Archives of the United States (NARA) will make history when it releases the 1940 census on April 2, 2012. This census will be the first to be released to the public in digitized form. Family historians will be able to access the images from the computers at the NARA branch facilities or on their own personal computers.
     However, the search will not be as easy as plugging a surname into a search engine, since the census will not be indexed by name (indexing projects are underway by the LDS Family Search and Ancestry.com). In order to find your family in the images, you will need to know their address in 1940, which will help you obtain their census enumeration district.
     NARA has prepared excellent tutorials on preparing to search the 1940 census. Click on the links provided below. And don't forget to store food and water for April 2nd--you might not be able to tear yourself away from your computer!