Tuesday 8 July 2014

Famine Ration Book reveals Thurles ancestors

A recently discovered book, the Gratuitous Relief Ration Record Book, also known as The Distribution Book, has been digitised and can be instantly searched for names by visitors to St Mary's Famine Museum in Thurles, Co Tipperary. Dating from 1847, it covers the electoral divisions of Holycross, Thurles and Ballycahill, and will be of huge interest to anyone with ancestors from these areas.

Historian and museum curator George Willoughby told Irish Genealogy News: "There are lots of names in the handwritten book. It contains the names of the heads of household and, in many instances, the names of all the adults in the household, along with the number of rations each householder was to be allowed. There are also lists of people, from the Bishop to the local middle class, who donated money to provide this early form of social welfare. Because the book was kept by the local Board's inspectors, all kinds of details and observations were noted ie that 'this person is also getting food from another soup kitchen' or 'he made waistcoats', as well as a recipe for the soup doled out to the needy and the costs of the ingredients."

George tells me the recipe produces a watery soup that, while palatable, has practically no nutritional value.

This extremely rare book, which provides records of the food rations distributed from May to September 1847 and part of 1848, was discovered by George in an apple box retrieved from the church roof after a partial floor collapse. "There were several of these boxes among the damage; most were filled with old tattered hymnals, and then I dusted off the Gratuitous Relief Ration Record Book. Inside was a note, signed by the Committee chairman, Archdeacon Henry Cotton, stating that the book was to be retained as it 'may perhaps be useful in case another season of distress or misery should occur'."

The book, together with a second discovery, the minutes of the Thurles/Rahealty Famine Food Committee, is currently accessible only to personal visitors to St Mary's Famine Museum (opening hours Monday to Saturday 10:00am to 4:30pm and Sunday 2:00pm to 4:30pm).

But all is not lost to those who can't make a personal visit; George says the Gratuitous Relief Ration Record Book may be uploaded in pdf format to the Hidden Tipperary website. This may be before the end of the year.