Monday 28 February 2011

IrishGraveyards – a monumental leap forward

Today's launch of represents monumental progress for Irish family historians.

The new website is designed to hold photographs and memorial transcriptions from digitally-mapped and carefully documented surveys of graveyards and cemeteries.

IrishGraveyards differs from other graveyard transcription sites in that its images and searchable details are not randomly contributed by individual family historians.

“ holds information gathered during systematic surveys of entire graveyards,” explains Michael Durkan, managing director of Irish Graveyard Surveyors (IGS), the Mayo-based company behind the new website. “The surveys are carried out by qualified teams, using a combination of GPS and eye-mapping. The team even includes a Braille reader who can often decipher by touch inscriptions that are too eroded for the eye to read.”

During a survey, every grave, whether identified by a huge Celtic Cross, a simple stone slab, or even unmarked, is recorded and numbered, and a digital map of the churchyard or cemetery is then produced. So, too, is a list of the names, addresses and dates/age of death of the occupant of each grave, as recorded on memorials.
Drafts of the map and list are initially made available only to the local community who can correct or add details, especially about unmarked graves or incomplete memorials.

“Parishioners are an important source of additional information,” says Durkan, whose own father, an undertaker, was often called upon to help visitors locate the graves of their ancestors in his local churchyard. “My father knew every occupant and every blade of grass in Balla churchyard,” says Durkan proudly. “But his familiarity, and the knowledge that today’s parishioners hold, dies with them. IrishGraveyards is capturing and preserving that knowledge for future generations of family historians.”

Following each survey, a stainless steel version of the map and alphabetical list of names is at the graveyard.

Since its formation in 2007, IGS has completed more than 200 surveys, most of them in western counties. One of the largest projects undertaken was recently completed at the 9-acre St Mary’s cemetery in Newry, and details from this survey will be uploaded to IrishGraveyards within the next fortnight. Meanwhile, the company’s surveying team has been commissioned to conduct a further 60 projects; 22 counties are represented in the commission list.

Experience suggests numbers will quickly grow. “Once IGS arrives on site, word soon spreads to a neighbouring parish,” says Durkan. “That congregation and the clergy like what they hear, and they pop by to see for themselves how simple the entire process is, and we come away with another commission.”

Family historians will also like what they see on the freely accessible website. The search facility is extremely flexible, and records can be searched by name, year of death, and/or location.

Results are returned in table format, together with a thumbnail picture of the grave. When clicked, an 8mb photograph can be viewed and downloaded.

Grave inscriptions can be extremely helpful to genealogists. They often contain information that is not recorded elsewhere, or that clarifies family associations and helps breakdown research brickwalls. will therefore be a huge boon to anyone conducting research on Irish ancestors.

While the majority of the records held by relate to deaths in the 19th and 20th century, some are older. The oldest grave recorded is that of John Gwinn of Iskaheen, co Donegal, who died in 1661. It seems somehow fitting that he was the local gravedigger!


Top: Michael Durkan and Niall Broderick of Irish Graveyard Surveyors install a map at Ballybrack, Greencastle, co Donegal.

Middle: Map and list of graves at Leenane, co Galway.

Bottom: Map and list of graves at Cushlough, co Mayo.

Saturday 26 February 2011

March dates for your diary

2 March: Lisburn Historical Society. Lisburn Linen Centre and Museum. The Flight of the Earls and the Ulster Planatation, with Roddy Hegarty. 7.30. Details 028 9262 1332.

8 March: Downpatrick Library, co Down. Genealogy for the over 50s – A Family History Course for Beginners , with Brian Watson. 10 week course for beginners. Tuesdays 2-4pm. Booking essential. Free. 028 4461 1448.

Saturday 12 March
: Dublin City Library & Archive, 138 Pearse St. Family History Day. 9.30-3.30. Billed as being aimed at beginner genealogists, but topics are rather more advanced than that suggests. Booking essential. (0)1 674 4806.

Saturday 12 March: Coatbridge Irish Festival, Buchanan Centre, Main St, Coatbridge, Scotland. How to use the Internet to research your Irish ancestors, with Chris Paton. Aimed at those new to Irish genealogy. 1pm. Free.

Sunday 20 March: Museum of Ireland, Turlough Park, Castlebar, Mayo. 2.30-3.30. The 1901/1911 Census of Ireland, with Catriona Crowe of the National Archives. Booking essential at

Wednesday 23 March: Ayrshire Federation of Family History Societies, Session House, St. Columba's Church, Largs, Scotland. Irish Resources Online., with Chris Paton. 7.30pm. Free. Details at

Thursday 24 March: Kerry Archaeological & Historical Society, Tralee Library. Medieval Nunneries. Lecture by Tracey Collins. 7.30pm.

Wednesday 30 March: Linen Hall Library, Belfast. Presbyterian Historical Society. Church Records for Family History, with Valerie Adams. 1pm. Free. Places Limited.

Friday 25 February 2011

Immerse yourself in the Dublin of yesteryear

The online Image Gallery and Special Collections of Dublin's City Libraries continue to grow at a pace and are definitely worth losing yourself in for a few hours.
In the last couple of months some 530 photos have been uploaded to the image bank in collections called Vanishing Dublin, Dublin Pubs, and Working for the City. The latter, the most recent collection, features photos of City staff at work (mainly) in the 1950s and '60s. Heart racing stuff for Health & Safety professionals!

The Special Collections portfolio is also great fun to rummage through. My favourites include the tram timetables, old maps (I confess to being a map-nerd) and a 1736 newspaper advert for a tincture that 'immediately expels wind from the stomach' and sorts out your belchings and hyck-ups. Useful stuff!

Monday 21 February 2011

Preserving the past for the future

Somehow this talk slipped through the net of my February Dates for your Diary round up...

Wednesday 23 February: Preserving the Past for the Future.
Brendan Campbell of PRONI talks about how best to preserve family papers and letters stored at home. Free. 1pm. Linen Hall Library, 17 Donegall Square, North Belfast BT1 5GB.
For more information: 028 9032 1707.

Saturday 19 February 2011

Linen Hall's maps and images now online

Some of the Linen Hall Library's unique collections are now available to purchase online.

The entire Postcard Collection, a large selection of maps, and a number of political cartoons have been digitised and released through the Photo Sales section of the Belfast Telegraph’s website.

For any genealogist looking for an image of a local town or city in bygone days, or perhaps a map of Ireland in the 18th century, this will be a valuable resource.

Tuesday 15 February 2011

Fine Gael, CIGO, and the 1926 Census

The Council of Irish Genealogical Organisations (CIGO) has today seen its long running campaign to gain access to the 1926 census of Ireland moving a step closer to a successful conclusion.

In its General Election Manifesto, Fine Gael, one of Ireland's major political parties, said: "Genealogy Tourism: Fine Gael will examine the feasibility of releasing the 1926 census to stimulate genealogy tourism.” 

Following an article in The Irish Times in January by CIGO's Executive Liaison Officer Steven Smyrl,  CIGO was invited to indepth discussions with Jimmy Deenihan TD, Fine Gael's spokesman on Tourism, Culture and Sport, about the tourism potential of the 1926 census.

The data recorded in 1926 was relatively brief. The following information was noted for each individual: full name, age, sex, religion, literacy level, occupation, marital status, place of birth, relationship to head of household and any infirmities. Duration of marriage and number of children born were also recorded, where relevant.

Technologies rolled out over the past decade allow even huge collections of records to be digitised and indexed with ease and comparatively little cost. Sensitive data can also be easily redacted so access to data about people born less than 100 years ago can simply be restricted or withheld. CIGO concurs with Fine Gael that redaction of such data could be the solution necessary to prompt the early release of the 1926 census. In such a format, these census records could be released, fully digitised, by next year.

Fine Gael is doing well in election polls. Last weekend's Sunday Business Post poll suggested the party could even be elected to govern without recourse to a coalition.

Monday 14 February 2011

A tale for Valentines Day

Rummaging through the archives of the Belfast Newsletter, I came across this delightful story from 1828 and thought it was the kind of tale to bring out the romantic in even the hardest nut on Valentines Day.

(The journalistic standards of the piece are not high, but I've deliberately not amended the storytelling except for a few points of punctuation that were confusing.)

County of Waterford Assizes

Declan Baron was put to the bar on a charge of abduction and forcibly carrying away, in last August, Mary Hogan, with intent to marry her: again, with intent to disgrace her; and again, with a burglarious intent.

Mary Hogan, a young country-looking girl, about 17, sworn, and examined by Mr Driscoll, remembered last August that the prisoner came at night and took her away. For a long time witness could not identify prisoner but at last said: 'Oh, now I see him', (looked at) the prisoner and she smiled, and the Court joined.

Witness was not alarmed on the night she was taken away; there was no door where she was, and prisoner got in easily; there were five or six entered; prisoner was with them; does not know which of them took her; she was asleep when he entered; saw prisoner afterwards, at a good distance from the house; she was carried off six miles to one Foley's; did not go willingly; prisoner said he intended to marry her; thinks there was no harm in him saying that; she had no objection to marry if her father liked; she had no objection (smiling) to prisoner if her father liked.

Mr Driscoll – I confess, my Lord, our case looks drooping.
Counsellor Hassard – My Lord, it is a regular courtship.
Judge – She is actually courting him this moment. (Roars of laughter.)
Counsellor Hassard – Prisoner was three or four months in her father's house, and was a well-conducted young man.
Judge – The law will not allow the violation of the privacy of a family with impunity; therefore, they should proceed strictly. At the same time, if the witness would compromise her security, to show her affections, that course remained for her.
Counsellor Hassard – Would you like to marry him still?
(Witness smiled.)
Counsellor Hassard – She would, my Lord, upon the prisoner being acquitted.

His Lordship addressed the prisoner, and hoped that, as he saw the kind conduct of his prosecutor, he would behave honourably to her.

The prisoner said he would, and was accordingly discharged.

(Loud cheers.)

Thursday 10 February 2011

Last Orders for PRONI@Cregagh

The PRONI Self Service Microfilm Facility at Cregagh Library, which has been providing an interim operation for genealogists since PRONI closed its doors to the public last September, will itself close on 16 March. 
This is to facilitate the removal of microfilms to PRONI’s new Headquarters at Titanic Quarter which will open on 30 March. 
Details of the reopening will be posted here on Irish Genealogy News in due course, along with a full schedule of services at PRONI's spanking new premises.

Friday 4 February 2011

Unauthorised Certificate of Irish Heritage launched

A website launched in the last couple of weeks to supply a Certificate of Irish Heritage has no connection to the official Government-inspired scheme of the same name, the Department of Foreign Affairs has confirmed.

Complete with official looking logo, the unauthorised website has fooled a number of people into thinking it had official capacity and to sign up for further details.

A DFA spokesperson told Irish Genealogy News: 'The site is not an official site. The Department of Foreign Affairs is aware of the website and its use of the official harp is currently under investigation by the relevant Government Department.'

The official scheme is still on the cards for a launch this year. It is aimed at those whose genealogical connection to Ireland pre-dates their grandparents and are therefore ineligible for an Irish passport. The launch date was rumoured by some to be set for January but the month passed with only this unofficial website appearing.

Fexco, the Kerry-based company who will administer the official project, have told me today that they are still not ready to give any indication of when the launch will be.

How to order a birth certificate: the video

NIDirect – the Northern Ireland government site – has launched an online player featuring short instruction videos on a range of services.

Among the first suite of  videos is 'Applying for a birth certificate online' which aims to demonstrate to the beginner genalogist how to complete the application form for a birth registered since 1864.

The video can be viewed at

Thursday 3 February 2011

February dates for your diary

Proof that Winter's hibernation is passed, this month's diary is a pretty busy one.

Monday 7 February: Beara Historical Society, Toomey's Lounge Bar 8.30pm. The Sinking of the RMS Leinster in 1918, by Dorothy Brophy whose grandfather died in the tragedy.

Tuesday 8 February: Genealogical Society of Ireland, Dun Laoghaire. RIC and Related Police Forces, by Jim Herlihy.

Thursday 10 February: Clare Roots Society, De Valera Library, Ennis.. 8pm. Presentation of the CIGO 2010 Award for Excellence in Genealogy, by Stephen C Smyrl.

Monday 14 February: Galway Historical Society, Harbour Hotel, Dock Road, Galway. Protestant Missions in Connemara 1846-1937, by Dr Miriam Moffat.

Monday 21 February: Lecale & Down Historical Society, Ardglass Golf Club. 7.30pm. Local herring fishing in the 19th and 20th centuries, by Vivian Pollock. Cost 2Euros.

Tuesday 22 February: Casteldermot Local History Group, Community Centre, 8pm. The Boer War and Co Kildare, by Liam Kenny and Brian McCabe. Cost 2Euros to non-members.

Wednesday 23 February: Carrickfergus & District Historical Society, Carrickfergus Town Hall, Dobbs Road. 8pm. The big houses of Carrickfergus, with Maud Hamill. Free.

Friday to Sunday 25-27 February: Who Do You Think You Are? Exhibition. Olympia, London. Tickets from £20 (advance) to £30. Details at