28 April 2011


     With so many family history researchers planning their spring and summer Ireland vacations, I thought I would share a travel tip I learned from others. Bringing gifts with me to Ireland never occurred to me until I met a woman who enlightened me. She always packs small gifts to give to staff members and locals who help her with her research. I've since met others who follow the same practice. One woman travels with souvenirs of her hometown of Philadelphia, such as small Liberty Bells or Hershey's Kisses candy. Another brings along copies of her own town's history to give as thank you gifts.
     When I am in the American Southwest, I like to collect the "storyteller dolls" made by many Native Americans. The dolls usually depict a grandmother or tribal elder telling stories to children. I have given these dolls to some Irish family historians as gifts. Not only are the dolls a uniquely American treasure, the Irish genealogists appreciated the thought behind the gesture--that they are keepers of their townland's stories.

      These gifts serve a purpose to the giver, also. Your Irish contacts are sure to remember you!
      On my last trip to Ireland, I spent the bulk of two weeks in the reading room of the archives of the National Library of Ireland. I am sure I taxed the patience of the librarians I peppered with questions and the runners who retrieved the files I ordered every half hour or so. On my last day of research, I put together a gift bag full of candies and treats for the Library's "tea room." I was not prepared for the outpouring of gratitude shown by the staff for just a small gesture of appreciation.
     Many archives, libraries, and institutions have a snack, lunch, or tea room. Bringing cookies or snacks for the staff is a good way to thank the entire staff for all the help they give researchers.
     One librarian in Ireland suggested yet another way for researchers to show their appreciation: she requested that I write a letter to the "boss," expressing my satisfaction with the staff's service. Her request reminded me how often I take for granted the services of librarians and archivists and staff members who contribute to my family history research. A simple compliment expressed to a library or archive director might have an effect on a person's job or might help a department obtain funding.
     I can't say that I always remember to commend a staff member or bring along a treat to an archive, but I do find that the gesture is always appreciated when I do. A simple "thank you, your staff is terrific" can go a long way towards brightening the day at your favorite archive or library!

21 April 2011


     I finally decided to have my DNA analyzed. For years, I have been reading about DNA testing for genealogy purposes. I have also been waiting for the prices to drop. Prices are still a bit steep for me, but every so often a sale comes along to tempt me. A few weeks ago, Family Tree DNA ran a one-day half-price sale on its Facebook page (the other company is 23andme), . With twenty minutes left in the sale, I jumped in and ordered my kit.
     I will update my trials and tribulations with DNA testing over the next few months. Since scraping my mouth with a tiny plastic comb and sending in my cell samples, I have been trying to educate myself about using genetic testing for genealogical purposes. It has been a tough education--my last science class was in 1972!
     As a female, my testing choices are limited. The only line that can be tested with females for genealogical purposes is a mother's maternal line. The test for this specific genetic line is called the mtDNA test. This tests the mitochondrial DNA that a mother passes on to both female and male children. The one big problem, in family history hunting terms, about this test is that the ancestry revealed by this test is rather ancient. As a genealogical tool, it has limited application, since the results reveal broad genetic groupings from eons ago, and very little from more recent ancestors. Interesting, yes, but of very limited use to genealogists.
     Males, on the other hand, receive both the X and the Y chromosomes from their parents, plus the mitochondrial DNA from their mothers. The test for the Y chromosome is limited to the father's paternal line. But at least a man can obtain a genealogical snapshot of both his father's paternal line and his mother's maternal line. The Y test can be used to match ancestry with others to a finer and more recent degree than the mtDNA test.
     Men with Irish ancestry take note--there is a "warrior" gene that has been passed down through Celtic ancestry. Those men having this "Niall" gene have deep Celtic roots back to the first Celtic warriors in Ireland.
     What about all those lines in the middle? Your mother's father's lines and your father's mother's lines and so on? The chromosomes from all these other ancestral lines are passed down in a rather haphazard fashion and are not easy to trace. Just a few years ago, there was no way to match relatives through testing this jumble of genetic material.
     But a new test has been developed, and it is in the "beta," or testing, stage, but it has become available to genealogists. Called Family Finder by Family Tree DNA and Relative Finder by 23andme, this test is what is known as an "autosomal" test. In my view, this test has the promise of becoming a huge genealogical tool. Currently, these tests can match cousins up to about 5 generations, and both males and females can be matched. This test compares your jumble of chromosomes with that of others who have taken the test.
     The successful use of these autosomal tests for genealogy is dependent on two factors: 1) the size of the database (i.e., the amount of people tested), and 2) the system of notification of matches. As more people are tested, the greater the possibility of finding a cousin. Plus, the test subjects must be willing to enter a notification system that releases their contact information to those people who match chromosomes with them. Currently, Family Finder (Family Tree DNA) has a free notification system, and Relative Finder (23andme) runs theirs on a subscription basis.
     Join me on my journey through the exciting land of genetic genealogy in the coming weeks as I explore the possibilities of finding cousins through my DNA!

15 April 2011


     The Irish government has announced that the Irish heritage certificate will be available within weeks. However, the precise nature of the certificate, its uses, and the process of obtaining one are all still a bit unclear. The requirements for proving Irish ancestry will supposedly be lower than those for Irish citizenship, but the actual proofs have not been made public. I have read that the certificate will entitle the bearer to tourism discounts. I am betting that the certificates will be a very successful  marketing gimmick for Ireland, especially since Americans are eager to display their Irish roots in any way possible. This eagerness to be more "Oirish" than the next guy is both good and bad, in my humble opinion--the bad part is when those who parade on a certain day in March don't take the time to care about their ancestral roots. I sometimes give genealogy talks to Irish American organizations, and have been amazed at how little many of these members of the "active Irish American community"  know of their own ancestry and of Ireland itself. The desire for a certificate "proving" their "Oirishness" might spur some serious family history investigations.
     On a less controversial note, the Irish American Family History Foundation has added new County Monaghan records to its online database. Don't forget that, while a limited number of searches are free on the IFHF database, the actual records are not. Also, too much searching without purchasing a record can get a person locked out of the database access.
     Time for the March updates for the Irish Genealogical Projects!
--Military & Constabulary
Royal Irish Constabulary with native county of Clare Sep 1852-May 1853
-- Photos
Castle Bunratty & Dirty Nelly's Pub est 1620
-- Headstones
Mt. Jerome, Dublin Pt 20 & 21 (Over 3,000 gravestones)
Moylough Cemetery, County Galway (10 images)
-- Photos
Muckross House & Dennehy, Patrick or Coakley, Timothy
Kilbannivane Burial Ground (a few headstones)
-- Military & Constabulary Records
Royal Irish Constabulary with native county of Kerry Jan 1852-Oct 1853
-- Church Records
Mount Mellick (R.C.) Baptisms M-O
Assorted R.C. Baptisms - Connor, Fitzpatrick, Kennedy
-- Photos
Kilfinnane, St Andrews C.of Ireland
--Military & Constabulary
Royal Irish Constabulary with native county of Londonderry Sep 1852-Oct 1853
-- Military & Constabulary
Royal Irish Constabulary with native county of Longford July 1852 - May 1853
Glennan Presbyterian Church Graveyard - additional photos
--Military & Constabulary
Royal Irish Constabulary with native county of Monaghan Sep 1852-May 1853
--Military & Constabulary
Royal Irish Constabulary with native county of Roscommon Jun 1853-Oct 1853
-- Military
Royal Irish Constabulary with native county of Tipperary Jun 1853-Oct 1853
Bray - St Pauls Graveyard, (CoI) (partial)
St Patrick's Enniskerry - Part 5
-- Military
Royal Irish Constabulary with native county of Wicklow Sep 1852-Oct 1853

07 April 2011


     A lady approached me after my recent presentation at the Central Jersey Genealogy Club (wonderful group of people, by the way). She told me a story that was similar to others I had heard before. Her story, like the others, went along these lines:
     "A professional genealogist told me that I would never find my ancestor in Ireland."
     I kept my voice barely below scream level, "HE TOLD YOU WHAT?"
     "He told me that Jones [*name changed] was not an Irish name. He showed me a map of Ireland that had all the Irish surnames on it and, he was right, there was no Jones listed. He said that meant that I would never find records with that name in Ireland."
      After I picked my jaw off the floor and put my popped eyeballs back in their sockets, I asked her why she thought her ancestor was Irish.
    "My family members claim that my great great grandfather had Scottish parents but that he was born in Ireland."
     This story illustrates one important point about seeking professional advice regarding Irish research:  be careful when commissioning research.  Don't stop at checking to see what certifications or credentials a researcher possesses--ask whether they have expertise in the area you are researching, regardless of that string of  abbreviations after their name. After all, you wouldn't necessarily expect your eye doctor to diagnose your shortness of breath, nor a business lawyer to defend you against capital murder charges, would you? Besides, where Irish research is concerned, I know quite a few "amateurs" who are more knowledgeable than many certified genealogists.
     Beware, there are many genealogists and researchers out there who simply cannot say, when asked a question, those three important words:
     "I don't know."
     I will now give you three more words you need to know about Irish research:
     "Never. Say. Never."
     There is NOT one map, or one set of records, or one database that contains every record of our Irish ancestors. Run from any genealogist or researcher who tells you so, or tells you that your ancestors were not from a particular area because they were not on one list or another.
     Those of us who have been doing Irish research for a long time know that we never say never. I will tell you a story that could have had a very sad ending, but, luckily, it didn't. It's about me, and it is not sad because I learned my lesson very early.
     Decades ago, back in the days before Al Gore invented the Internet, I went to a local family history center because I had heard that it contained a computer with genealogical records. I was a complete novice at genealogical research. A man met me at the door and said he would guide me in my research. He looked through a few books on Irish records on the shelf, sat at a computer, then typed my ancestors' names. He obtained a few results with my surnames of interest, but none of the results seemed to be from my family.
     He then announced that I would find nothing.
     "No, nothing."
     "Nothing, anywhere? Here or anywhere?"
     "Nope, not anywhere. If it is not on our computer, you won't find them. We have it all."
     I had no idea that he was a volunteer who, obviously, was not trained and had no idea what he was talking about. I thought he was an expert. After all, I was a neophyte, a newbie, an amateur.
     I was also, thankfully, very stubborn and very persistent.
     Within ten years, I was standing on the site of my third great grandmother's cottage in Innishatieve, County Tyrone.
      Never say never.