When the New Year sounded in Ireland, it not only began The Gathering Ireland; it also ushered in Family History Year
Thanks to The Gathering Ireland’s clan gatherings and family reunions, 2013’s calendar is busting at its seams.
In among these joyous get-togethers and all-night getting-to-know-yous, we should spare a thought for those just embarking on their ancestral journey – and the jigsaw made out of pieces of Ireland.
As Irene Walsh carried out research for the online history project, Emigration Isle, she found a sometimes difficult history opening up before her.
“It was very sobering to complete the research for this project from a 21st-century point of view; discovering how the conditions surrounding the emigrants' departure were often extreme, and their stories poignant.”
Irene admits that “although some effort is required to scratch beneath the surface of statistics”, the rewards are clear:
“The fascinating secrets hidden within the stories of many Irish emigrants can reveal new depths and dimensions to one's Irish heritage across the generations.”
During Ireland’s Family History Year the subject of Irish heritage will be under the spotlight. As far as timing goes, there could be no better moment to trace your family story to Ireland.
Where and how, though, do you begin?
Dublin’s National Library is not only home to possibly the most beautiful reading room in Europe. It is also home to the largest collection of newspaper records and images in Ireland. Bright minds, too, like that of Ciara Kerrigan, make up the team there. We asked Ciara for some tips to get us started on the search, and she was kind enough to oblige:
“1. Be organised. Make sure to record the source of your information and its location. Keep a note of all the records searched, even if you have found nothing. You don't want to search the same record twice.
2. Make use of all the information in a record to further your research. For example, use the ages of persons in the 1901 and 1911 Census records to narrow the range of years to be searched in earlier birth or baptism records.
3. Hit a brick wall? Don't despair! Family history is not all about names and dates – it's also about the kind of lives lived by your ancestors and the places they came from. A photo can tell a thousand words – you can search over 35,000 photographs from all parts of Ireland in the 19th and 20th centuries on the NLI website – that's a lot of stories.”
As you’ll no doubt find out through discussions on the Ireland Family History Facebook page, there will be “Brick walls”. They should never discourage you. Gerry Britt, a man who traced his family for years, knows the ups, the downs and the joys of finding your ancestors:
"The intended goal of my journey, from family rumours to family reunions, was to learn about my Irish roots. The discoveries along the way were often exhilarating and sometimes frustrating. But while strengthening the connection with the ancestors of my Irish past was wonderful, the real reward was the exhilaration of embracing the living of my Irish present."
If anything is worth a brick wall or two, it’s family.
Visit the Ireland Family History Facebook page here and share your story or source some tips to start your search.