20 April 2012

AVOIDING PUBS: OTHER CHANCES TO MEET (AND LISTEN!)

      A reader commented on my last post (an e-interview about etiquette in Ireland)  that many family historians have reason not to visit pubs while in Ireland. The reasons are varied, from religious to health concerns about being in a place serving alcohol. While it is true that Irish pubs are promoted as the "go to" spot for tourists wanting to meet "the locals" and hear Irish music, there are other places that family historians should visit during a trip to Ireland where they can meet the local people.
      In fact, the pub as the center of Irish life is in decline. Stringent drunk driving laws have contributed to a decline in pub-going among the Irish, and many pubs are no longer owned by locals.
     For family historians, the first stop in an ancestral locality should be the local or county library. Besides checking the local history shelf, speak with the librarian. You might be lucky enough to encounter a patron or two who has information about the local history, or even about your family. Visiting a local heritage or historical center will also increase your chances of meeting a local who might help you with information.
    I know researchers who have visited the town post offices and have found people willing to impart information.
     Time your visit during a local festival of any kind, and you will find people in an outgoing and festive mood, and therefore more willing to engage in conversation.
     I think the key to successful and informative encounters with locals is not the setting itself, be it pub or library, but the willingness to listen. Not speak--listen! The locals don't want to hear about the five generations of Lagan's I have found, nor do they care that I have spent years tracking my Magee's. Why should they--I can't even get most of my own family to care! Besides, I don't go to Ireland to bend some one's ear about my family. My purpose is to obtain information, information, information.
     Be patient with your listening. You never know when the odd bit of information might lead you to information about your family. Show interest in the locality and its history and its people, and the local historians will be glad to share.