Wednesday 11 January 2012

Gold panning in the Chief Secretary's Office

The second of last week's announcements about new records came from the National Archives with the release of the Registered Papers of the Chief Secretary's Office.

Having now had the chance to spend some time mooching around the new website – – I can see that this is another valuable addition to the online family history mix and every researcher should take time to see whether a gem is hidden within.

The first tranche of the Collection covers just five years (1818-1822 inclusive) and the 'Context' page is worth reading for an overview of the role and political position of the Chief Secretary. While the Registered Papers include material relating to all aspects of the administration of Ireland, a large proportion is made up of letters and petitions from individuals and organisations on a wide variety of topics; some topics are of national importance but there are lots of personal stories and plights concerning employment, health, unfair incarceration or other punishment, smuggling, religious intolerance, neighbour disputes.

The collection doesn't have the size or the scope to promise a find for everyone, however. And due to the nature of the beast, it can sometimes seem a bit Dublin-centric. But if you find a reference to an ancestor within the collection, you'll likely be delighted with the colour it adds to your research.

For those who, like me, panned for gold and came out empty-handed, there is still potential within the papers. Perhaps neighbours are mentioned, or local schools, employers or bigwigs, or events that affected the communities in which our ancestors lived. These papers are very much of their time, and tell us a lot about the social scene of the day.

Here are some examples:

In a three-page letter dated 21 December 1819, Marcus Tierney of Dublin, who was staying at Gosson's Hotel, Bolton Street, requested Earl Talbot, the Lord Lieutenant, to consider him for a government appointment. He states he was disowned by his parents following his refusal 'from remorse of conscience' to take holy orders as a Roman Catholic priest, and his joining the Established Church.

Thomas Halpenny of Leaklodge, Co Leitrim, wrote to the Lord Lieutenant for an advance of £500 for public works to alleviate the local peasantry. The public works he had in mind were the erection of cottages, the draining of bogs, and the building of roads. His detailed request was made in a three-page letter dated 5 June 1822.

A petition was sent to the Chief Secretary's Office by John and Ester Hill of 7 Eden Quay, Dublin, requesting the discharge from Richmond General Penitentiary of fourteen-year-old Garrett Doyle, their employee. The letter, dated May 1822, claims he had no previous convictions and had thrown a stone in self defence at a 'servant man'. The petition includes a character reference from Reverend Henry Murray, the Chaplain of the Foundling Hospital, Dublin.

A letter dated 29 October 1821 from Thomas Taylor, Earl of Bectire MP, recommended the case of Arthur Murphy of Navan, Co Meath, and requested patronage for his plight. He details his loyalty during the 1798 rebellion and his family's poverty, and requests the Chief Secretary's assistance to secure him government employment. The letter was signed by 14 individuals.

Five items (nine pages) of correspondence dating from 28 November 1820 to 13 January 1921 tell the story of Tohn Teevan, a farmer from County Cavan, who was requesting release from Cavan Gaol and redress. He asked for bail to avoid being 'brought to a state of beggary and ruination' after being charged wtih killing and feloniously taking seven geese in August 1820 which were owned by Mrs Ann Nesbitt of Derrcadis, Cavan. He claimed the charges were maliciously raised by Hugh Tierney, who he describes as a 'most infamous character'.

The registered papers for 1823 and 1824 will be added to the site in due course.