20 x 20 minute Family History Workshops in association with Eneclann at the National Library of Ireland, August 2012
by Jean Norton, Family Historian
One of the surprise highlights of my summer came back in August. I looked through the National Library of Ireland newsletter and discovered they were hosting a series of 20 lunchtime workshops, each of 20 minutes’ duration, to facilitate those who wanted to learn about family history research and still have time for something to eat before returning to work.
I am a relative novice at compiling my family tree. I love TV programmes such as Who Do You Think You Are, Dead Money and Heir Hunters but of course they make it look so easy, don’t they? I get impatient when I hit a dead end, and I sometimes get disillusioned when I do a search and so many results come back – or none at all! Or when I can’t find the proof that backs up a story told in the family…
So I was thrilled at the prospect of hearing about lots of new things and decided I would attend perhaps 2 talks a week over the 4 weeks. Hah!!! Little did I know how I would be beguiled by listening to speakers who knew their subject well and were passionate to pass on some of their vast knowledge to others. The talks were so interesting that I ended up attending 17 of the 20! The 3 I missed were because of circumstances outside my control.
Like most of the attendees I came away looking for more. Most of us were there because we wanted to learn more about our families and to get direction in how to do this. While the whole series of talks were a joy there was an unexpected bonus, and that was the people who attended. Some had been working on their family history for a long time and knew the ropes well. Over the course of the 4 weeks many of the same faces appeared day after day. People started chatting and shared experiences or offered advice to point you in the right direction to move your search on.
Another feeling I came away with was that every life we researched helped to complete the social patchwork of knowing who we are as a country. Where we come from, what we did and how we lived are so important in weaving the story of our country and its progress over the centuries. It really hit home to me that the ordinary stories of men, women and children were so important to document for posterity. They make up who we are today.
In the talks we could see how inventions changed things. For instance before the invention of the bicycle most people had to walk everywhere. So they mingled and married within a few miles of where they lived and everyone knew everyone else. With the advent of the bicycle they could go further afield to meet a partner and the gene pool changed. Then with motor transport, boats, planes, etc., we now have people marrying from one end of the country to another and even across continents thousands of miles away.
I learned or remembered so many things during those magic lunchtimes in August and could give you pages of information. But one of the lessons I learned was that the title of the lecture does not always give the full picture. For instance one was ‘Records for Research at the Representative Church Body Library’. Yes, my family are both Roman Catholic and Church of Ireland but these records at the Representative Church Body Library in Churchtown, Dublin are not just for those with CoI ancestors. The Church of Ireland, through their parishes, were very like the local council of today. They collected a levy and provided street lighting, street cleaning, local security (pre-police force) and fire protection to the whole surrounding community. Their watch records recount who was on duty where and what happened in a given locality on a watch. See these lovely examples from their RCB Library’s Archive of the Month (April 2012). The Vestry records noted who lived where and their quality of life as they organised Poor Relief for those within the parish, regardless of faith. So this was definitely a wonderful resource I might not have considered looking at.
In addition to ongoing digitisation at the National Library of Ireland, there is great work being carried out in digitising records by the National Archives, Eneclann, FindMyPast.ie and others which will make searching for our ancestors easier in the future. It is heartening to hear of so many records that will come online in stages over the coming years.
Be aware that not all subscription services provide the same records for you to access. It can be expensive if you subscribe to several of them. FindMyPast.ie is concentrating on Irish records and may be the best option depending on your family. They told us at their talk in August that they launched in 2011 with 5 million records and now have 35 million records. More will be added regularly. You can search for free on their site, or sign up for a free trial. But at the National Library of Ireland you get free access to FindMyPast.ie. So it may be well worth a trip into town or up to Dublin to enjoy that site and all the subscription sites made freely available by the NLI as well as their free Genealogy Advisory Service.
At the Family History workshops back in August, it was pointed out to us several times that most of our ancestors did not read or write. So it is the people who recorded the information (priest, immigration people, court officials, census enumerators, etc.) who spelt names in their own way, be it phonetically or translated from Irish to English. We were shown copies of records where priests recorded surnames of the same family in a range of different ways. So in your research, siblings could be listed differently in the same parish records.
All in all, these talks were a wonderful experience and so many tips were shared that will be so helpful as I continue to trace my family’s history. I look forward to more talks in the future to broaden my knowledge.