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.