This was my first time to attend the Who Do You Think You Are show at its Birmingham venue. Logistically, it proved a fantastic, from the point of accessibility. For those flying in to attend it is a short hop, via free shuttle, to the exhibition centre. The city of Birmingham is accessed via the rail station, also within the arena’s complex. For this Dubliner, struggling with Dublin’s daft transport links, it was a joy.
But the real delight was the opportunity to meet all the British families with Irish ancestry over the three days. Most had traced their families through the surviving UK censuses and I was quite envious of those who had access to information on their families each ten years. How wonderful it is to be able to follow our ancestors through the years. From our experience researching, we know that you can get lucky with these UK censuses. Sometimes the ancestor will give a specific place of origin in Ireland, say Mullingar or Belfast. It was such a pleasure to meet with those who had been gifted such a clue by their ancestors in the UK census. The pride we Irish take in place is very evident in these census entries and is the most enormous help to their English descendants.
This time at the show, we could direct our visitors to two record sets whose ready availability has changed the face of Irish genealogy. It was so great to be able point the family historians to the website of irishgenealogy.ie, where so many records are now imaged and available to view. We have become quite spoiled with births imaged up to 1916, marriages from 1882 to 1940 and deaths from 1891 to 1965. We can even indulge ourselves with mild annoyance with the differing start dates for these images. Married before 1882? Too bad, you must go back to the GRO. Died before 1891? then its back to the lottery of guess the ancestor. These dates are front, centre and back of all our searches of irishgenealogy
The other record set is of course Irish catholic parish registers, the holdings of the National Library of Ireland. For most of those I met in Birmingham, the parish of origin of their Irish ancestors was not known and so the Library’s website would not be their first port of call. However, I could direct them to the main commercial websites, both exhibiting at the show. With the entire National Library’s catholic parish collection all now together, searching is more streamlined.
Of course catholic parish registers were not relevant to all visitors and much discussion time was spent determining where church records for protestant ancestors (of whatever denomination ) might be accessed in Irish repositories.
It was special to have the chance, presented by the show, to flesh some of the theories of family history and see it played out in the real time lives of our visitors’ families. One of the key components of the study of family history is the movement of people through the ages. The show proved to be an occasion to validate – or otherwise! the discernible patterns of migration. Whilst in large measure the settlement patters of the Irish in Britain corresponded to the theory, the absolute beauty of working at micro level are the wonderful exceptions to the rules. The Irish ventured everywhere and whilst some left a clear evidence of their origins in Ireland, many did not. I was glad to could discuss the thorny problems of Irish genealogy with so many of Ireland’s diaspora.
What was also evident from these family stories was the mobility of the Irish. For some, their ancestors’ move in England was only a precursor to a further emigration, which saw them move on to the USA, Australia, Canada or New Zealand. Proving the point that families know no boundaries. Many of our visitors at Birmingham were up for the challenge and had achieved great results with families with a two step migration in their history.
Attendance at the show provided a sharp contrast to my daily desk bound work. Commissioned research involves wrestling with the clues provided from various resources and seeing things through to completion The many visitors to our stand provided us with the most tantalising glimpses in to the lives of their families.
It was striking, in Birmingham, to see such enthusiasm , organisation and focus. There was a sense this time of people making breakthroughs in their family history research. I sincerely hope that my suggested signposts successfully lead our visitors through the thicket of Irish genealogy to identifying your families in Irish records.