Report: IGRS Open Day & AGM, London, 2013

The IGRS Open Day & AGM was held, once again, at 34 Chepstow Villas, a venue that’s just a stone’s throw from the buzz of London’s Portobello Road and Notting Hill High Street. At nearly full capacity (only two places short), the bright and airy conference room soon had its own buzz as members took the opportunity over tea/coffee and biscuits to catch up with one another before settling down to the first of two lectures.

John Tierney presented an interesting overview of the work he and the HistoricGraves team have been carrying out with community groups in Ireland.

As well as passing on some useful tips for reading and deciphering memorial iconography and inscriptions – torch, mirror and the human eye being the main tools – he gave some fascinating examples of how modern and inexpensive technology is being used to develop an outstanding archive of material for genealogists and local historians.

A ‘surname cloud’ is a visual representation of the relative frequency of a surname on the headstones in an individual graveyard.

He talked of how HistoricGraves, having started off with a strong archaeological focus (John and his colleagues being archaeologists), swiftly evolved into a project that’s about people – both the people in the communities that carry out the graveyard surveys, and the people whose stories are uncovered by those community groups.

The HistoricGraves project, he says, is not about measuring old stones; it is about facilitating the telling of stories of people and places through time.

These stories of people and place convey the emotional response generated by graveyards. Richer and more accurate than the mere recording of stones, these stories are captured by local groups in photographs, in audio and video recordings and in writing, and then uploaded to the HistoricGraves website for all to see, hear, read and enjoy.

John directed the audience to a new mobile app developed by Historic Graves and to an online slideshow of his presentation here.

Sharon Hintze, director of the London (LDS) Family History Centre at the National Archives in Kew, was the second speaker and she set out to guide us around the brand-new FamilySearch interface. It was reassuring to learn that the new design – with its pop ups, bright colours and bells and whistles – was deliberately created with the upcoming, tablet-using generation of genealogists in mind. 

Click the Search button at the top of the page to return to familiar territory

For the assembled audience, which made up the more typical demographic of family historians, Sharon suggested the Search option at the very top of the Homepage, which returns us to more familiar, calm, territory.

Among the new features she pointed out is the need to log-in (if you want to collaborate on family trees, upload photos or save searches); she stressed that this will not generate spam nor any contact from the LDS Church.

Apparantly the search facility has been much improved and searches can now be carried out by first name only, by family name only, by no name and by batch number, followed by filters. And for those who run into difficulties with the site, FamilySearch can be contacted directly via text, email and phone options, including a UK 0800 number. Messages are currently being answered within a day.

As well as introducing us to the newly unveiled FamilySearch site, Sharon gave details of the Irish record collections searchable on the site. These are listed in the attached handout, but also advised that the site holds transcripts for the Irish Prison Registers 1790-1924 (images can be viewed at any LDS Family History Centre), and has both transcripts and images for the Tithe Applotment 1814-1855 collection. The Principal Probate Calendars 1858-1920 will shortly be joining the FamilySearch line-up.

She also pointed out that some 2,580 microfilms of the Registry of Deeds collection are held at Kew – 100 of them are indexes, the rest are of actual deeds – and reminded the audience that FamilySearch is a cheap and accessible way to discover US and Canadian records of our emigrant ancestors. With that in mind, she added that FamilySearch is currently working on adding all New York passengers lists.

Both lectures were full of interest and new information, and were warmly received by all attendees.

Terry Eakin FIGRS (left) receives his Certificate of Fellowship from IGRS President Fergus Gillespie

A finger buffet followed, and gave everyone a chance to mingle, talk about their own research or even ask specific questions of Sharon, John, or other experienced genealogists in the room.

And then it was on to the business-end of the day with the AGM, which was introduced by IGRS President Fergus Gillespie, ex-Chief Herald of Ireland. Chairman Steven Smyrl ran through the major highlights of the year for both the IGRS  and the wider Irish genealogical community, and talked of how the Society’s membership has leapt to its highest ever number (720). His report, and those of the Honorary Secretaries, will appear in The Irish Genealogist when it is published in the autumn, as will the full citation of Terry Eakin’s election to the Fellowship of the IGRS.

And so another successful Open Day in London was wrapped up.




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