Friday, December 28, 2007

Resources for Irish Genealogical Research from a Beginner's Perspective

We don't have much Irish heritage, my children's father and I. Both of us have ancestral lines that resided in Ireland for a couple of generations. A closer look at these families indicates that all but one--which came from France--immigrated from Scotland: the typical Ulster Scots. After a few generations, the families moved on to North America; my children's father's to Pennsylvania, North Carolina and Virginia, and mine to Ontario. His arrived during typical Scotch-Irish migration periods of the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries, while mine came over during the 1830s.

I also have an adoptive line from Ireland. My paternal grandmother's adoptive mother, Nellie May CONCIDINE, was a second-generation American, whose paternal grandfather arrived from Ireland in New York State sometime before 1849, perhaps residing first in New Jersey. I haven't yet been able to get them "over the ocean," so to speak, so I'm not sure from which county they hailed.

Am I ready to do Irish research? No. There are too many generations between us and our Irish-born ancestors for me to delve into this with any quality results. I've long ago learned the rule of genealogy to start with myself (or my children's father) and work backward through time, pausing to dig as deeply as I can to extract all possible clues before moving on to the previous generation.

However, I can educate myself along the way, so when I do feel prepared to tackle these challenges, I will be equipped with the necessary knowledge and tools. One way is to read everything I can get my hands on about Irish genealogy, research, and history. I should also look at Scottish resources, to help me better understand the history, culture and migration patterns of the Ulster Scots. The genealogy room of the Spokane Public Library's downtown branch is stocked and staffed by members of the Eastern Washington Genealogical Society, and its collection holds a wealth of publications, especially on Irish genealogy. That will be a great place to start. Also, this past year, I acquired three books that I believe will be helpful in my quest.

The first is General Alphabetical Index to the Townlands and Towns, Parishes and Baronies of Ireland Based on the Census of Ireland for the Year 1851 (1861; reprinted in 2000 by the Genealogical Publishing Company, Baltimore, Maryland). It is a 968-page chart of all the towns and townlands in Ireland, showing the county, barony, parish, and Poor Law Union of 1857 that each comes under, as well as listing their acreage, the sheet number of the ordnance survey maps, and volume and page number of the 1851 census on which each can be found. So, for instance, I can look up my SAYERS' ancestral home of Letterkenny, County Donegal, and find out that in 1851 (two decades after they left for Canada), this townland of a little more than 410 acres was situated in the Barony of Kilmacrenan, and in Conwal Parish, with a Poor Law Union of the same name. It can be located on Sheet 53 of the Ordnance Survey Map, and its information can be found in Volume III, page 126 of Part I of the 1851 Townland Census. All this information will be useful for when I start looking for various records and need to know what government units covered the area.

Another interesting older reference work is Handbook on Irish Genealogy: How to Trace Your Ancestors and Relatives in Ireland by Donal F. Begley of the Irish Genealogical Office (1970; reprinted in 1984 by Heraldic Artists, Ltd., Dublin). This 165-page book consists of six chapters: "Tracing Ancestors and Relatives in Ireland," "Records and Record Repositories," "Irish County Maps" (from Samuel Lewis' 1837 A Topographical Dictionary of Ireland), "Irish Parish Registers," "Preliminary Research in Home Country," and "Emigrant Passenger Lists to America." It is followed by lists of record repositories, pedigrees in printed books, published family histories, common elements in placenames, and useful addresses, as well as a comprehensive index.

My last resource is (A Genealogist's Guide to) Discovering Your Irish Ancestors: How to find and record your unique heritage by Dwight A. Radford & Kyle J. Betit (2001, Betterway Books, Cincinnati, Ohio). This is one of those newer helpful genealogical guidebooks laid out with icons in the margins listing "tip," "important!" or "reminder," and has internet and bibliographic resources in every chapter.

I'll also read articles on Irish and Ulster Scots genealogy in the magazines I subscribe to, such as Internet Genealogy and Family Tree Magazine. Online resources I can use include Cyndi's List of genealogical links for Ireland and Northern Ireland and for Scotland, FamilySearch's Research Outlines for Ireland and Scotland, and searching Google Books for online Irish and Scottish publications. There are a number of researchers I know whose brains I can pick for more ideas, such as fellow members of my genealogical society and other genea-bloggers. One of my favorite new genealogy blogs is the Irish Roots Cafe blog by Michael O'Laughlin, who also hosts a website and podcasts, as well as publishes many books on Irish research.

When it comes time for me to really start digging up my Irish roots, I don't think I'll be hurting for good resources!

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