Behind the scenes in the National Library’s genealogy room: Various.

The fun of the genealogy service in the National Library is that we never know in advance who we’ll meet, or what stories we’ll hear.  Our job is to listen, to identify verifiable facts and events, and to guide enquirers in their research.  The search never ends.

As we start the summer season in the Genealogy Service, here are a few stories from behind the scenes, to show you what our genies do all day!


Ancestors for all seasons!

I met a nice gentleman a few weeks ago whose ancestor was related through marriage to Eoin McNeill. We searched the census for “John” McNeill in 1901, knowing that the English name was generally used in the 1901 census, even amongst those involved in the Gaelic revival. We found John living in Malahide with an occupation transcribed as “Secretary Garlic League“.

Spurred on by my find I searched for other “garlic” enthusiasts:

Patrick O’Ruane, “garlic league organiser

Minnie Sheehy, “garlic authoress

which reminds me to take all transcriptions with a pinch of salt…or garlic!

Contributed by Linda Jane Byrne.

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‘Weird’  or ‘Synchronicity’?

One day last season I got a call on my mobile, while in the train on the way to my shift at the NLI.  It was a man called John who was trying to track down his Listowel relatives.  He explained that his mother had died when he was a baby, his father had married again and moved to Co. Cork.  He had lost contact with his maternal relatives.   [He said that on a recent visit to Listowel he discovered a first cousin’s house but was told by neighbours that the first cousin now lived in Dublin and nobody could supply contact details. Mobile reception is not too good on the train so I gave John my email address and asked him to send me details of his mother’s family.

A week later I got John’s email with a fairly good history of his maternal family and I realised that I probably could find some living relatives. But before I got around to that, I had another day on duty in the Library.

Two ‘genies’ were on duty and it was fairly busy with people waiting when the next man presented himself to me with a family history which was detailed and well laid out.  Having glanced at it, I realised right away that it was the same Listowel family so I presumed this must be ‘John’ in person who had somehow discovered that I was on duty in the NLI on that particular day and had come to visit me in person! I said ‘You must be John, I got your email’, the man looked at me in total surprise, much confusion ensued and it transpired that this was Tony the cousin in Dublin.   Tony was a retired teacher, interested in genealogy, had a lot of work done on his family and had just decided to come into the library on a whim to check out a townland.   He could have met with any one of three genealogy advisors that day but got me.  It was an amazing coincidence.

I put John and Tony in touch with each other, both came back to me later and Tony’s comment was that it was ‘weird’, John’s comment was that it was ‘synchronicity’.

Contributed by Kay Caball.

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Having the Catholic parish registers on Findmypast, is turning out to be a real game-changer, in terms of what we can find. I was in the Library Tuesday afternoon, when an English couple dropped into the genealogy room. For years, the husband  has tried to trace his great-grandmother Ellen, born to parents Michael O’Brien and Mary Cronin, recorded in the 1860 U.K. Census as  living in Newport, Wales.

He didn’t think any records survived, but had been searching for years, and wanted to be sure that he’d followed up every possible lead before he set it aside.

A quick perusal of the parish registers online, and we found a baptismal record for Ellen O’Brien and her twin brother Owen O’Brien, baptised on 1st June 1859 to the correct parents, in Shandrum, county Cork. Interestingly, the twins’ god-parents were Owen and Ellen O’Brien – presumably a close family connection, and certainly something worth following-up in research.

The icing on the cake, was a marriage record for Michael O’Brien and Mary Cronin on March 29 1857, also in the parish of Shandrum.

I didn’t think we’d find anything. We had so little to go on, and it was so far back. This is better than Who do you think you are.”

Contributed by Fiona Fitzsimons.

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