Thursday 5 April 2012

John Grenham's new edition: Worth the weight

The first thing that hit me when my review copy of John Grenham's Tracing Your Irish Ancestors 4th Edition arrived was its weight. I was reminded of that mighty tome 'Ancestral Trails' which, while a perfectly valid and useful book for genealogy research around the world, I've rarely used simply because I find it too heavy to handle. Well, I say 'rarely used'. It's been pressed into doorstop duty on a good few occasions.

Now, Grenham's new book isn't in the same tonnage league but it's certainly noticeably heavier than the well-thumbed 2nd edition that's been holding court on my shelves for around twelve years.

There are two reasons for the added weight. First, the 4th edition has 202 more pages than the 2nd. It's also on much nicer paper: white, bright, finer and heavier.

If you read John's Irish Roots column earlier this week you have pretty much read his preface to the new book, which he's completely revised to accommodate the huge changes in patterns of genealogy research and the greater accessibility of online Irish records in recent years.

As in the previous edition, there's a short chapter dedicated to Internet research which includes the usual sensible advice about not believing everything you find, and to exercise care when searching databases, and gives a brief overview of the main database providers (both free and paying) and listings sites under a number of categories (census, migration, police, property etc). His own creation Irish Ancestors on the Irish Times site, gets a generous number of plugs.

Generally, the book follows the same pattern as previous editions (1st ed published 1992; 2nd ed 1999; 3rd ed 2006). Some sections, for example, deeds, newspapers, directories, have exactly the same sub-headings, even if the content is updated.

Others have been expanded with addtional information. So the Property and Valuation Records chapter, for example, now covers Irish placenames and a guide to using Griffiths Valuation online; India and Mexico have made appearances in the Emigration and Irish Abroad chapter.

The County Source Lists have also been completely revised and expanded with details of relevant websites for each county.

Online Sligo. Why no IGP-web?
I was pleased to see some websites in the listings that I hadn't come across before but I was rather surprised by some inconsistencies.

Why, for example, are the Ireland Genealogy Projects sites for Longford and Meath and Waterford included but not those for Antrim, Cork or Sligo?

I was very, very pleased to see the return of parish maps in the Roman Catholic Registers section. Their omission from the last edition was much criticised. And it's good to, at last, see an index. They're a bore for the author to create but essential to the reader.

Any printed reference publication suffers from one major problem – the speed with which it becomes outdated. This was an issue for reference books long before the Internet was created, but is even more acute now. The truth is that after a six or seven year wait, Tracing your Irish Ancestors 4th edition was out of date even before it was published last Friday. It refers several times to the usefulness of the free index search facility on, which, if you've been reading this blog in the last two weeks, you'll know has been withdrawn, much to the consternation of Irish genealogy researchers. It also advises readers that Wills calendars for the Republic are on the shelves at the NAI... they are, of course, but in the last month a sizeable proportion of them have been made freely available on the NAI's website.

This isn't a criticism of John's work. It's simply a fact of modern day publishing. It may mean, though, that the 4th edition has a shorter shelf life than the earlier editions have enjoyed.

Finely dressed in its new livery, Tracing Your Irish Ancestors will, I am sure, reaffirm the title's status as THE standard reference book for Irish genealogists, both beginners and the more experienced. Never mind that John's writing style is so readable, there is simply nothing else on the market, nor on my shelves, that comes anywhere close to it for its breadth in one volume.

Tracing Your Irish Ancestors, 4th edition, is published by Gill & Macmillan. Price €22.99 but discounts available from the publisher and some other booksellers. ISBN: 9780717150243

What the kitchen scales reveal:
Tracing Your Irish Ancestors, 2nd edition: 600g
Tracing Your Irish Ancestors, 4th edition: 900g, or just a smidgen below
(Not that I'm obsessive, or anything!)