01 May 2012

REQUIRED READING FOR FAMILY HISTORIANS: GRENHAM'S 4TH EDITION

     I simply could not wait until I could get my hands on a copy of the new 4th edition of John Grenham's Tracing Your Irish Ancestors, so I ordered a copy from Amazon UK. And, yes, this tome (579 pages) is still THE authoritative handbook on Irish genealogy. I was not disappointed!
     In the chapter "The Internet," Grenham states on page 68: "The rule is simple: if you don't know what you've searched, you don't know what you've found."
     My response: AMEN!
     I think this one sentence sums up why this book belongs on the bookshelf of every Irish family historian.
     I wish I could afford to send copies to the creators of every "cut and paste" family tree posted on Ancestry.com. Just this past week, I found four such trees that have included my ancestor in families that are not his and in locations in which he never resided.  (I wonder--do some of these "family historians" ever go back to Ireland or other countries and visit "relatives," found via this hasty and faulty research, who are not in fact their relatives?). The "owners" of many of these trees have no idea of what they are searching or who they are finding. With a guide such as Tracing Your Irish Ancestors available, there is no excuse for shoddy research. For more experienced researchers, the book contains valuable finding aids for locating records and repositories.
    I have a few comments on my initial examination of the book:
1)  This guide "works" precisely because Grenham explains the records--what the records are, where they are located, and what those records mean to your research. His explanations are as valuable as are his lists and bibliographies.
2) Grenham writes in an intelligent manner, but takes the time to explain the basics. Don't be daunted by the size of the guide. Read it in small chunks, if needed.
3) I especially like the bibliography of books and publications he includes at the end of chapters and county sections. Bibliographies in his earlier editions have proven very valuable to my research. His bibliographies have led me to quite a few local histories that have helped me to further my research and understand the lives of my ancestors.
4) Which brings me to a related topic item: eBook research. Books are being digitized at an amazing rate, a boon to those of us who can travel to Ireland only occasionally. Finding local histories and genealogies online can be as tricky as finding records, and I would have been interested in Grenham's advice regarding searching for and evaluating the information in eBooks. ( See my recent post on eBooks: http://irishfamilyresearch.blogspot.com/2012/02/using-ebooks-for-your-genealogy.html and see the site Free Irish Genealogy EBooks: http://freeirishgenebooks.blogspot.com/ ).
5) Grenham has updated the Internet portion of his book. However, tackling Internet research and sites in a physical book is like catching a greased pig (to use a rather visual rural American term!). Internet sites and databases change too rapidly to capture in a snapshot in a print book. But, that is the nature of the Internet, and not a criticism of the book. What I think is valuable is Grenham's discussion of Internet research--that advice will stand the test of time.
6) I liked that Grenham tackled the topic of estate records, and points the reader to many estate collections, but I wish a more comprehensive guide to estate records were available. The huge Wandesforde estate collection (at the National Library of Ireland) is not mentioned. This collection has been my most valuable resource in tracking my County Kilkenny ancestors. Estate records can be a treasure trove for family historians, but are not easy to locate, so I assume the task was beyond the reach of this edition. But if Mr. Grenham ever decides to publish a comprehensive guide to estate records--I will be first in line to buy the first copy off the presses!