Saturday 30 October 2010

Hurley letters shed light on Irish emigrant experience

An extensive collection of letters from two West Cork brothers who emigrated to Nevada in the USA in the 19th century has been donated by their family to Cork City and County Archives.

The 122 letters were written by Michael and Denis Hurley over nearly 70 years from 1871 and were sent to their parents, siblings and nieces in Tawnies, Clonakilty and Timoleague. Their importance lies not just in the way that the story of their lives in America unfold over the years, but in their survival as a unique historical source for understanding the Irish emigrant experience in America, especially that of emigrants who continued westward after crossing the Atlantic.

Michael Hurley lived in Nevada, Lake Tahoe and Oregon before settling in San Francisco in 1881. His younger brother Denis lived and worked in Nevada (first for the Railway, then as a prison guard and, in his later years, as Bailiff of the US District Court), and was elected Mayor of Carson City.

The Hurley Family Emigrant Letters collection will be properly preserved by the Archives and made available for further research and public exhibition.

Source: Southern Star newspaper

Friday 29 October 2010

Next major online offering may be entire Catholic register collection

The National Library of Ireland (NLI) is planning to scan all 520 microfilms that make up its collection of Roman Catholic parish registers and put the scans online.

While they won't be transcribed (so genealogists will still be going cross-eyed and pulling their hair out with frustration at the many illegible pages of records) nor indexed, this step would be hugely beneficial. At present, family historians have to visit the NLI in person, and only one microfilm for each parish is made available at any one time.

So, while not perfect, having this resource online would be an outstanding advance. The collection represents, for the majority of researchers, the main source of birth, marriage and death records for pre-1864 (when civil registration started).

The project is still at the tender stage, so it's some way off, but scanning and uploading 520 films to the web isn't an enormous undertaking and should be achievable within a year from now.

Saturday 23 October 2010

November dates for your diary

Wednesday 3rd November:
Annual General Meeting of the Council of Irish Genealogical Organisations at Freemasons’ Hall, Molesworth Street, Dublin 2 (7pm) followed at 8pm by a lecture 'Fact, Fiction and Public Record' with Fiona Ross discussing her new role as Director of the National Library.
There's a raffle, a bar, and free admission.

Saturday 6th November:
November Morning Meeting of the Irish Family History Society at Dublin City Library & Archives, 138/144 Pearse Street, Dublin 2.
Starts at 10am with Registration, followed at 10.30 by 'The Cobbe Family of Newbridge House, Donabate', with Peader Bates, and at 11.30 by 'Genealogy Research on the Web - an update', by Mary Beglan.
Free admission and open to both members and non-members. No booking required.

Tuesday 9th November:
Lecture from the Genealogical Society of Ireland at Dun Laoghaire College of Further Education, Cumberland Street, Dun Laoghaire. 'Irish Convict Transportation - Damnation or Salvation', with Sean Solan. 8pm.

Wednesday 20 October 2010

Offaly ancestors?

If your ancestors were from Offaly you may be interested in a new book The diary of an Offaly Schoolboy, 1858-59, written by William Davis (and edited by Sandra Robinson).

Some 190 pages long, it chronicles the life in a rural household in Eglish, near Birr, brought low by the early death of the writer's father. This is the story of two years in the life of William Davis (1842-1921), an intelligent and rather serious boy in his late teens, trying to make sense of his world.

It is a personal journey which is the richer for the author’s growing self-awareness and for the insights which it affords the reader.

Copies of the book are available at €15 softback/€25 hardback through the Offaly Historical & Archaeological Society at or through international online bookseller Amazon.

Tuesday 19 October 2010

Halloween approaches

Ireland's biggest and most energetic Halloween celebrations take place in Derry, with a fantastic Carnival Parade at 6pm and a jaw-droppingly artistic fireworks display on the Riverfront at 7pm.

But it's not just on the night itself that the city goes spookily mad.

There's a 10-day build-up of events – cultural, sporty, educational, creepy and just plain silly – to make sure everyone, no matter their age, is well and truly aware that the 31st approaches.

It's a really great programme (full details at

Among the events that caught my eye were the Ghostbusters Tours (two or three per evening 26th to 30th) Tel 028 7126 7284; Traditional Halloween Games at Gransha Wood, 28th, 3-7pm Tel: 028 7126 2664; The Park After Dark at Creggan County Park, 29th, 7pm Tel: 028 7136 3133; Spooky Sports, at The Diamond Centre, Claudy, for pre-schoolers on 28th 10-noon, and at St Columbs Park Leisure Centre, for 6-11 year olds 29th 10am-2.30pm Tel: 028 7136 1566; and Ghost Stories at the Playhouse, 29th 8pm Tel: 028 7126 8027.

Discover more about the origin of Halloween and other Celtic holidays.

Sunday 17 October 2010

Back to the Past show report

Small but well-formed, would be my analysis of the Back to my Past show at the RDS in Dublin.

I visited on Friday, the first day of the three-day run, when the numbers milling around the stands made for a comfortable experience. The stalls seemed to be well enough 'manned' to allow anyone who wanted to ask questions to get their answers without too much hanging around. I was able to have a quick word with Aideen Ireland, senior archivist at the National Archives of Ireland, within only a minute or two of arriving, and I spotted Catriona Crowe, who project managed the digitisation of the 1901 and 1911 censuses, pouring over a visitor's family tree, deep in conversation.

John Grenham, whose book Trace your Irish Ancestors ought to be on every researcher's bookshelf, was also in attendance, on the Irish Times stand.

Having access to such professionals is, of course, one of the top reasons for visiting. Another is the free seminar programme. All the seminars that I witnessed seemed to be delivered to full houses, which was no surprise because the subjects were well chosen and covered different levels of research.

Talks ranged from Tracing land ownership using property records, by Rachel Murphy of Eneclann to The buried secrets of Glasnevin Cemetery, by Shane MacThomais of Glasnevin Trust.

In addition to the 'big' state- or religion-funded organisations, there were a number of well-known commercial businesses exhibiting including Find My Past and Genes Reunited, both keen to show how these primarily British sites can help your Irish ancestry search, and smaller specialist firms such as Edmund Ross Studios (photographic restoration) and Irish Genealogy Solutions (archival products).

There was a good turn-out from membership societies with the Irish Family History Society, Irish Genealogical Research Society, Irish Georgian Society and Genealogical Society of Ireland in attendance, showing off their journals and talking to visitors about their events calendars, research facilities and other reasons for joining.

I took the opportunity to chat to Adrian Gallagher of the Guild of One Name Studies about starting such a project for my own surname. I've been thinking about this for some time -- I've even been paying for the website domain for three years – but had no idea how or where to start. It seems the Guild will point me in the right direction, and, having signed on the dotted line, I'm looking forward to getting started. Not too sure I want to be known as one of the GOONS, though!

For me, actually finding the confidence to take this leap was a great result from visiting the Back to the Past show. Others may have different reasons for being pleased they visited, whether because they were able to break down a brickwall after discussing their problem with a professional consultant, or because they went home laden down with society journals, books or genealogy products.

Friday 15 October 2010

Back to my Past show in Dublin

This weekend, the RDS in Dublin is hosting Ireland's first-ever family history show. It forms part of a larger show aimed at the Over 50s, but has its own dedicated entrance and all the stands are clustered together.

As well as the big names that you'd expect ie National Archives, National Library, Eneclann, PRONI and Roots Ireland, there are also a number of smaller organisations and groups advising on membership, genealogy products, photography restoration, and other resources that may be useful to your family history research.

Perhaps the most exciting element of the show is the excellent programme of talks by well-respected genealogy/archive experts.

I'll post a full show report with pictures in due course for those that can't attend, but I'd recommend that any researcher who can get to the show on Saturday or Sunday does so. I think you'll find it a worthwhile experience.

Show Times: 10am-6pm.

Friday 8 October 2010

Fingers crossed for early release of the 1926 census

A Bill to allow the early release of the 1926 census has been published today and now awaits Second Stage process in Seanad Éireann, the Irish Parliament's upper house.

The argument for early release is two pronged. The first is based on precedent and cites the early release of the 1911 census. Like the 1926 census, the 1911 census carried the legal proviso of a 100-year 'closure' period ie the content of the returns was to be kept under lock and key for a century so as to maintain confidentiality of individual records.

However, the Government saw fit to release the 1926 records after only 50 years (they were available for public perusal from 1961), whereas it is already nearly 85 years since the 1926 census was taken. As such, the vast majority of individuals included in its records have since died.

The second argument is a repeat of the moral debate that successfully won the early release of the 1911 returns... that, due to the void caused by destruction of nearly all 19th century census records, and the absence of a 1921 census, there is huge public demand -- both in Ireland and the Diaspora -- for this heritage information.

The 1926 census was the first to be carried out in the Irish Free State (Eire) following the Partition of the island. Its records relate only to the 26 counties of the modern-day Republic of Ireland, and not to the six counties of Northern Ireland.

The Statistics (Heritage Amendment) Bill, 2010 is sponsored by Senator Labhrás Ó Murchú (Fianna Fáil) and has the support of many senators on both sides of the House.

Thursday 7 October 2010

More Limerick records online

An additional 100,000 bmds and census records from Limerick Genealogy have been added to the Irish Family History Foundation's online (fee payable) system at

Just what the mix of records is, or which parishes they cover, hasn't been announced.

Wednesday 6 October 2010

Yet more Chelsea Pensioners!

The Chelsea Pensioners records collection from 1760-1913 has been completed at with the launch of the final records from 1900-1913 (see posts of 9 May and 3 June for details of earlier releases).

Among the latest batch (which comprises 341,888 records and nearly 2million images) are service records for the Territorial Force and Volunteer Service Companies. The Territorial Force was formed in 1908 so these men would not have appeared in earlier record releases.

Also for the first time online are the attestations for men who joined the Volunteer Service Companies during the Boer War.

These men, who had previously served with Volunteer battalions, re-enlisted with these special volunteer companies and served alongside regular soldiers in the regular regiments.

Many Irish soldiers served in the British Army during the period covered by Find My Past's Chelsea Pensioner Records. While this latest tranche of records probably has a smaller Irish connection than earlier releases, it may still prove worthwhile checking for an important but elusive ancestor.

Latest additions to Irish Origins

The genealogy database site has launched two new record sets.

First up is a duo of Wills Indexes, as follows:

Phillimore & Thrift, Indexes to Irish Wills 1536-1858. This series, compiled from existing finding aids at the Public Record Office in Dublin, contains entries for over 30,000 wills for many of the diocesan consistorial courts of Ireland up to 1800, and some up to 1858.

Sir Arthur Vicars, Index to the Prerogative Wills of Ireland 1536-1810. This important book is well-known to Irish genealogists. it contains an index to over 40,000 Irish wills, most of which were destroyed in the 1922 explosion and fire at the Public Records Office in Dublin.

The other release is an unusual one, and will be of particular interest to researchers with ancestors from the north or city of Dublin:

1798 Rebellion: Claimants and SurrendersThe 1798 Rebellion was a watershed in Irish history. It has been estimated that up to 30,000 people were killed during the uprising, with many more wounded. This dataset brings together some of the few remaining primary sources about the people involved in the conflict.

It contains two lists of individuals who made claims for compensation for loss of property during the rising, and also two lists of rebels who surrendered in Dublin City and Coolock Barony.

In total there are over 8,000 names included in this dataset covering two distinct groups: those who took up arms and those whose property was damaged. These groups come from every social background, from poor Dublin City labourers to the gentry.

Belfast's shipbuilding heritage goes online

A new Titanic website has been launched this week to highlight Belfast's rich shipbuilding heritage. A series of short films tells the story of the Titanic and Northern Ireland's rich industrial past.

While the main intention of the site is to promote tourism to the North, its pages and films will be of special interest to family historians with connections to Belfast and those with ancestors who worked in the shipbuilding industry.

The site, at, will also highlight the centenary of the cruise liner's doomed maiden voyage in April 1912 which saw the loss of 1,517 lives.

Tuesday 5 October 2010

View the street where your ancestors lived

Google Street View has finally landed in Ireland. This new internet application provides the viewer with a 360 degree tour of Irish streets and provides a great way to explore the area where your ancestors lived.... without exhausting shoe leather or air miles credits.

Ancestors from Bandon?

Street View allows you to navigate and 'travel' the neighbourhoods where your family lived their lives. It provides you with a much greater feel for specific locations or areas than random snapshots bring. Only problem .... you can lose hours on it!!

You can access Street View via (which is free to download, and, in my opinion, the easier and faster option) or

Have fun exploring!