Ireland Branch Open Day 2013: Report

The Ireland Branch of the Irish Genealogical Research Society held its Open Day at Dublin City Library & Archive on Saturday 25 May and, despite coinciding with the first sunny weekend morning for what seems an eternity, had a very impressive turnout of around 80 attendees.

Journalist and author Mary Leland was the first speaker of the day and took the audience on a tour of some of the historic houses of Ireland. She chose a selection from her book – At Home in Ireland: Houses and their families (Cork University Press €20) – itself a selection from nearly 1,000 features written by Mary for the Irish Examiner over nearly two decades.

With anecdotes a-plenty, she showed how the architecture of Ireland’s countryside – whether taking the form of a castle or a cottage – is part of our rich legacy and a powerful link to our past.

The timing of the second lecture – The Down Survey of Ireland Online – was perfect, with the website having been fully launched only two weeks before. It’s a Trinity College site which has brought together a unique 17th-century map collection for the first time in 300 years as a free, publicly accessible resource. It maps out in great detail the dramatic transfer in landownership from Catholics to Protestants and changes our understanding of Ireland nearly 400 years ago.

1641 Land ownership –
Catholic-held land in blue.

It’s received a lot of publicity and Dr Micheal O Siochru advised that it received 100,000 visitors in its first week alone, and a wealth of new information had come in as a result.

He and David Brown, who has been digitising the maps, ran through the main functions of the site and stressed that it is in two distinct sections. These sections don’t ‘talk’ to one another. This snippet of information seemed to be an ‘Ah ha’ moment for many in the audience who had received ‘nil returns’ on searches they felt sure would reveal the details they sought.

So, to be clear… The maps section is where you will find the historical data and maps for 1000+ parishes in 204 baronies across the 32 counties. Just a handful of parishes from Connaght are missing. Some of the Terriers go into quite a bit of detail providing information about the infrastructure of settlement in the 17th century.

1670: Land ownership –
Catholic-held land in blue

A feedback process will be introduced shortly, as the team is keen to learn more, especially from those with local knowledge.

Michael described the other half of the site as the more challenging. You can zoom into an area and overlay the 17th-century roads with today’s road maps. You can also better understand the scale of the land transfer which set up the Protestant ascendency when it is mapped out. The two maps of Ireland on this page show Catholic land in blue, Protestant in yellow, in 1641 (above) and 1670 (right).

There is clearly a lot to be learned from the Down Survey of Ireland website.

Dr Gerald Moran took over the podium after lunch to take us through the various waves of emigration from Ireland in the last 300 years. Each wave had different features, resulting in many disperate sources of information, and each creating their own challenges

Through a densely packed presentation, the audience learned of many resources for locating emigrant ancestors, and Dr Moran gave examples and stories from a good number of them to illustrate how emigration was not always about leaving A and settling in B. He gave an example of a family unit that had an assisted passage from Galway to the US in 1880. Having arrived in June, they were sent to Minnesota where they were given land. But they couldn’t settle in the remote land, where their nearest neighbour was three miles away. They longed for a sense of community, so within a year they relinquished the land and went back to St Paul where they settled, with other Irish who had had similar experiences, in an area that became known as the Connemara Patch.

Dr Moran has kindly provided a downloadable handout list of sources and details of two events on the theme being held this summer.

The final lecture of the day focussed on the Anglican Record Project, which has quickly become one of the most carefully watched developments in Irish genealogy since it landed on the Representative Church Body Library (RCBL) website late last year. Since then, transcriptions and indexes of the registers of around a dozen Church of Ireland parishes have been made available for eager family historians to study.

Click to visit the Anglican Record Project

The project is run by Mark Williams and in his lecture he explained his motivations and methodologies. The latter he discussed in detail because there does not appear to be any accepted or recognized standard method for carrying out this type of work. He wants to encourage more volunteers to get involved in the project but – it’s a big but – these volunteers need to understand that the Anglican Record Project (ARP) is not like other indexing projects; Mark has no more access to Church of Ireland registers than the next person. When an indexer signs up to an Ancestry project, the data is sent to their computer by Ancestry. Similarly, a FamilySearch indexer will be forwarded electronic copies of documents that need transcribing. With ARP, it is the indexer/transcriber who has to secure access to a register – whether that is the original register at RCBL or another archive or still in parish hands, or on microfilm at an LDS Family History Centre.

Mark added that he is currently more than half way through transcribing 24,000 entries in the Derryloran registers (Cookstown, Co Tyrone).

The Open Day concluded with a ‘Silent Raffle’, and delegates were pleased to find the sun still shining as they left the Library after a highly informative event.

31 May 2013

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