17 December 2012


     Peter J. Clarke is the writer, blogger, and researcher extraordinaire who maintains the Internet site Free Irish Genealogy eBooks  ( http://freeirishgenebooks.blogspot.co.uk/ ). Peter has graciously agreed to say a few words about researching  family history eBooks that can be found, for free, online. Thank you, Peter!
     Be sure to check Peter's site frequently for new additions!
     For my interview with Peter earlier this year, see  http://irishfamilyresearch.blogspot.com/2012/02/using-ebooks-for-your-genealogy.html

The Value of Free eBooks to Irish Family History Research
Commercial genealogy sites now boast millions (or is it billions?) of online records allowing people all over the world to research, for a fee, their family histories without ever visiting a library or record office and without ever purchasing (sometimes expensive) birth, marriage or death certificates.   The range of records is astonishing – fully indexed directories, transcriptions of church records, military records, prison records, census data and so on.   Every few months they add a new trove of records giving us new detail for our family trees and a boost to our individual research efforts.

And yet free websites continue to have relevance – whether they are hosted by local or national government bodies or by enthusiastic amateurs photographing and transcribing their local graveyard’s headstones.   My project is the listing and categorising of thousands of eBooks which, by simply clicking on a link, can be read online free of charge using a PC, tablet or e-reader depending on format used by the host site. In general these eBooks fall into two types – family histories and research tools.   In this article I deal with the first of these.
 Family History eBooks
Imagine starting your family history research and finding out that someone has already done it for you! That would of course be the ideal scenario unless of course it is the actual researching that you like rather than the finished results!   In the 19th century and early 20th century thousands of people in Europe and North America wrote and published their family histories.   In Ireland these books were mainly written by well-to-do Anglo-Irish families eager to show their connections with nobility and the ‘establishment’.  A few were written by the descendants of the great Gaelic families.   Intriguingly Irish family histories printed before the Four Courts bombing and fire of 1922 may well have data not available elsewhere.

In North America the motive seems clear enough – people felt some connection with the ‘old county’ and wanted to trace their origins.   They also wanted to pass on to the next generation the story of their origin – in some cases involving poverty, deprivation, religious persecution and in others descent from ancient and noble families.   Millions of Irish people emigrated to seek a better life for themselves and their families and most of these stories show that, indeed, that is what happened.   Many of this first wave of books relate to the Scotch-Irish emigrations which preceded the famine. Now out of copyright and out of print, books which haven’t seen the light of day for decades and some of which were printed for ‘private circulation only’ have been converted to eBooks and made available to everyone without charge on FamilySearch, the Internet Archive and other sites.  

 A second wave of eBooks is much more recent in origin.   Perhaps it was the great 1970’s TV mini-series ‘Roots’ based on Alex Haley’s book telling the story of tracing a slave family back to Africa which gave many around the world (including myself) the inspiration to research and write their own family histories.   The relative ease of modern international travel has meant that some of the authors from North America have actually visited homesteads and locations in Ireland where their ancestors once lived, looked at original parish records and in some cases met with distant relatives.   The invention of computers and the creation of the Internet have also transformed the whole process of family history research.   Using word-processors and then PC’s a new generation of family historians has emerged.   Some have used software programs to ‘write’ their family histories – but these are usually less satisfying – being merely lists of names and dates.   Others have written lengthy chapters on their families and included photographs of family members, copies of documents and other interesting items.  Many of these new authors have subsequently donated their work to FamilySearch who have converted it to freely available eBooks. Other authors have ‘self-published’ using their own websites or the Internet Archive. These later books tend to be about Irish families who emigrated since the famine.

While you probably won’t find a published eBook giving all of your individual family history – you may well find that some branches of your family have already been researched and great detail on the origin of surnames in your tree is now readily available by reading the work of others - living or long dead.   At the very least you can draw inspiration from those who have produced beautiful books crammed with original research.
copyright 2012 Peter J. Clarke
Saintfield, County Down.
13 December, 2012