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26 January 2010

Griffith's Valuation

I am always surprised at the number of people in my classes who are stymied by Griffith's Valuation. Many take a look at it, then give up. With the absence of census and other records from the mid 1800's, Griffith's Valuation (GV) is the most useful tool a researcher has for locating family in the period of 1848-1864. Even if one's ancestors left Ireland before 1848, GV can help locate family members who stayed.
GV is not a census. Rather, it is a land survey that was taken for tax purposes. It is important to Irish genealogists because the GV records the names of each landholder and leaseholder, along with the landlords. It also describes the property.
Before the GV was put on the internet, it was indeed a difficult resource to research. One had to know the county and usually the townland in order to find the target person. However, now that the GV is available online, and for free at that, researching by surname is possible. The best GV site is the one offered by Ask About Ireland (the digitalization is owned by the National Library and Eneclann). Click on the
Link to Griffith's Valuation search engine
Not only can you search by surname and  geographic/political divisions, you can see and print out the original page of the GV, plus, in most instances, you can also print out a map of the landholding in question.
If you don't know the county or parish of your ancestors, you can search the surname distribution throughout Ireland and then narrow your search by the first name. Familial naming patterns might be of help to narrow down your results. If a couple were married in Ireland, you could try to cross reference the results of the two surnames--don't forget that in Ireland in the mid 1800's, people tended to marry others who lived in geographical proximity. This avenue of research can be slow and tedious, but it can produce results, particularly if the surnames are limited geographically. I must admit that for many of us searching for ancestors with widespread and common surnames, such as my Kelly's and Kavanagh's, searching the GV can indeed be overwhelming and nearly impossible without a knowledge of a county or townland.
If you are eager to learn more about the GV. the best article about the GV was written by James R. Reilly for the journal The Irish at Home and Abroad. Reilly instructs us how to glean every drop of information possible from the GV. The article can be found at the Leitrim-Roscommon site:
Reilly's Griffith's Valuation Article
One more important point to keep in mind when researching the GV: the GV was taken at different times in different counties. It began in 1848, and was not finished until 1864. If your ancestors emigrated during those years, your research of the GV might be affected. I use James Ryan's excellent resource book, Irish Records: Sources for Family and Local History, to determine the year that the GV was taken in each county before I dig into my research.
Here is a list of the counties and the corresponding GV years:
Antrim 1861-2; Armagh 1864; Carlow 1852-3; Cavan 1856-7; Clare 1855; Cork 1851-3; Derry 1858-9; Donegal 1857; Down 1863-4; Dublin 1848-54 (Dublin City 1854); Fermanagh 1862; Galway 1853-6; Kerry 1852; Kildare 1851; Kilkenny 1849-50; Laois 1850-1; Leitrim 1856; Limerick 1851-2; Longford 1854; Louth 1854; Mayo 1856-7; Meath 1854; Monaghan 1858-60; Offaly 1854; Roscommon 1857-8; Sligo 1858; Tipperary 1851; Tyrone 1860; Waterford 1848-51; Westmeath 1854; Wexford 1853; Wicklow 1852-3.

19 January 2010

Consider Canadian Records If You Cannot Find Port In USA


Canadian records seem to be the "buzz" on genealogical mailing lists and publications this month, especially the Irish ones. The Irish Genealogical Society International devoted its January 2010 issue of The Septs to "Canadian Records." http://www.irishgenealogical.org/ Researchers in the US and Canada have been flocking to the databases of the Canadian archives, particularly the online journals and diaries of Irish immigrants: http://www.collectionscanada.gc.ca/immigrants/021017-110.05-e.php?PHPSESSID=koeoqsdmaqhktf0hiepmuvukf2 But many US researchers ask me why they should bother looking for traces of their ancestors in Canadian records, when their family settled in New York or Boston. Surely, their ancestors arrived at those port cities?
Not necessarily so! Emigrants most often took the cheapest, not the most convenient, route and ship to America--especially if they were part of an assisted emigration from an estate in the 1840's. Take a look at a globe or a quality map and trace the sea routes--see the convenient northern route from Ireland and England  across the ocean and down the St. Lawrence River? Those who disembarked did not always "go west, young man, go west." I have seen many trails of Irish immigrants starting from the Great Lakes ports leading EAST not west, eventually ending in East Coast cities. If you are hitting a brick wall tracing your Irish ancestors' steps to the USA, you want to take a look at Canadian records. Never leave a stone unturned!
But now the bad news--Canadian ship lists are at best scarce and at worst non-existent prior to 1865. But there are ways to compensate. One is to look at US and Canadian records for border locations and port cities. Another is to keep current with the ever increasing database of emigrant records being released by the Canadian government and archives. Of particular value are emigrant records being put online by the Canadian Archives: www.collectionscanada.gc.ca/databases/immigrants-canada
The story of Irish emigration to Canada itself is a fascinating subject that I will treat in greater depth in a future blog post.

10 January 2010

Finding a County or Townland

Many Irish family history researchers become frustrated when they cannot find the county and/or townland of origin of their ancestors. I begin my Irish Basics lecture by telling the audience that Irish research can be very frustrating--you should see the wave of nodding heads! Many people approach me afterwards and recite a long list of records and archives they have checked to no avail. I ask them one question:  "With whom have you spoken lately?" Did they contact every conceivable relative? Have they tried to find living relatives who might know something that their own branch does not? Don't forget that the Irish have a ancient ORAL tradition, not a written one. Celtic history, even Celtic Brehon law--was passed down through the ages by bards who sang their memorized information. I think this reliance on the spoken word throughout the ages accounts for why so much information about Irish families tends to be "family lore" as opposed to family records. So my message to frustrated researchers today: Get over to your great uncle's house, get on that phone to gramma, email those third cousins. Find those living relatives: use networking sites, bug relatives for addresses and contacts, conduct internet searches.
Here are the ways some of the people who attend my Irish Research classes have found their county and/or townland of origin:
1. family stories
2. obituaries
3. old letters
4. a scrap of paper kept by a distant cousin who was discovered via the internet
5. hints in a poem written by an ancestor
6. tombstone
7. an apprentice's Indenture found among a relative's papers
8. by going into a pub and attending a festival in Ireland and announcing they were looking for their ancestors
These people were not lucky--they were diligent in contacting people. Maybe there is a place for Irish luck in genealogy research....BUT, to play the lottery you must first buy that ticket! You cannot win at slots unless you drop a coin first! So, don't complain until you have exhausted your "people contacts." You will find it is more fun to research by talk anyway--you can't share a Guinness with a census page!

04 January 2010

Welcome to My Irish Genealogy Blog

I decided to write this blog because, as a genealogy instructor, I am constantly receiving new information and research tips from the wonderful people who attend my classes and lectures. I decided that blogging might be the best way to pass these tips to a larger audience.
If you live in the Philadelphia area and are looking for Irish genealogy instruction, I give genealogy talks at libraries, senior centers, and historical societies. If you would like to meet other Irish researchers in the South Jersey area, you are welcome to join me with my Irish Research Group at the Cherry Hill Family History Center on Evesham Road in Cherry Hill. We meet on the first Thursday of each month at 11 a.m.
Irish family history research can be frustrating, but it is also fun and rewarding, and I hope this blog will be as well!