Friday, June 2, 2017

Claire Santry's "The Family Tree Irish Genealogical Guide": Book Review

The Family Tree Irish Genealogy Guide: How to Trace Your Ancestors in Ireland
This is the best resource in print on Irish genealogical research that I have found. I had to learn some of this advice the hard way, before the internet eased the process. Claire Santry had the advantage of accessing much online as well as onsite, and she shows how the first stage can be done before one visits Ireland. Key to success is matching the surname back to its townland--the small area that as she informs, was what a cow could graze on. This focuses an investigation on its narrowest set of data.

She intersperses her suggestions with a general history of Irish events and situations that affected the records extant. While for many of Catholic origins, the trail will end around the middle of the 19th century, she shows how landlords, neighbors, witnesses at marriages and baptisms, and other friends of the family, so to say, can orient a seeker who may have a common surname, common first names, and many families of that line in the same region, or different ones. Particularly helpful are patterns of naming children based on their relatives and ancestors: the reason why so few names are often used, and why they keep repeating down the generations in records or lore, complicating the quest.

The records transcribed or microfilmed are gradually archived online, some free, some not. Santry gives detailed directions on how to organize one's notes, and how best to proceed online so as to get as much of a sense of the local area as possible, before ideally a visit. Civil registrations, church records, census, land and property, newspaper, police gazette, military, and probate documents all are mentioned and often illustrated. Deciphering Latin abbreviations in parish registers is challenging; the appendix provides help. From my experience and I assume hers, the state of the online uploads as to legibility does not improve at all on the physical microfilm in many cases, so be forewarned.

From Santry's book, I learned a few new tricks. Findmypast is a site I'd never seen, linked to the 1749 Diocese of Elphin census, valuable for Co. Roscommon information in my own case. Griffiths Valuations are a lot easier to read than when I needed them on microfilm, and the National Archives of Ireland now has some land valuation notebooks I spent hours paging through in person uploaded.

Connaught and Munster databases for landed estates are now online, as are some Irish and British newspapers (some in my search behind paywalls). Finally, headstones by the thousands in photos and transcriptions are now also on the web. Such tidbits collect rich knowledge in one handy guidebook.

Therefore, lists of genealogy centers, local history organizations, libraries and government offices are also appended, as firsthand encounters may have to be done when net-working only takes one so far. Both American and Irish databases are covered, as well as some British ones, which will please the many millions descended from mid-19c emigrants. The book's narrative concludes with a couple of case studies, showing from researchers how they successfully navigated their way through the data.

I'd add that for certain surnames, blogs or discussion groups or websites are often recommended, as you may find that others have preceded or paralleled your path. I found this out years after my own search of primary records seen in Irish record keeping offices, but at least that then verified my own findings--and that the "tree" on Ancestry-com had an error due to that mixing of common first names and surnames that may likely bedevil even the most diligent tracker, due to traditional naming patterns. I'd add a final caution that even at the parish or townland level, you may find repetition among different families, often related of course, sharing surnames that concentrate very locally. (Amazon US 5-18-17)

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