Grenham, John. Tracing Your Irish Ancestors: The Complete Guide.

3d ed. Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Co, 2006. 526p, softcover. Illus, maps. $24.95 ISBN 0-8063-1768-X.

Other than the Germans and the English themselves, the Irish produced more immigrants to America than any other Western culture. Almost all of us (including probably the majority of African Americans) have some Irish blood. But because most of those who left Ireland did so under the pressure of eviction and often outright starvation, they generally came from the bottom rungs of society. Ireland was also an occupied country until the early 20th century (many would regard Northern Ireland as still “occupied”), which meant restrictions on free association and land ownership, and sometimes limits on church records. Add to this the genealogical tragedy of the destruction by fire of nearly all the contents of the Public Record Office in Dublin in 1922 during the War of Independence, and the surviving available resources become relatively thin. The researcher into Irish roots also quickly discovers the intense localization of surnames in Ireland (a remnant of the tribal nature of Celtic society) and the fact that the availability of given names in the 19th century was severely limited (the majority of Irish infants were named John, Patrick, Michael, Mary, and Bridget), which means that a given page in a parish register might include a dozen or more entries for “Mary Riley” or (in my case) “Michael Cronin.” In short, Irish family research can be frustrating and very time-consuming, especially when carried out by long distance. When Grenham published the first edition of this book, it immediately replaced Margaret Falley’s Irish and Scotch-Irish Ancestral Research, the standard work of the previous generation. Now, updated and expanded to include the enormous volume of material available online, this has become an essential combination of textbook and reference work. Part One describes in general terms the sort of records one may expect to find and their relevance to the search, including the census, church records, and property and valuation records. Most of these date to the period after the 1850s, which means hunting for Famine emigrants becomes that much more difficult. Part Two considers broader sources, including emigration records, the Registry of Deeds, newspapers, and town and county directories, as well as wills and the Irish Genealogical Office. Most of these sources, of course, will not include much on common laborers or peasant farmers — categories which contributed many of those who become economic refugees in the United States, Canada, and Australia. Part Three, which comprises the latter two-thirds of the volume, presents county “source-lists,” which are intended as a guide to working research tools. These are very specific as to coverage and availability and do not include much explanation, so you will want to have read the first third of the book first. Each list includes available censuses and substitutes for missing returns, books and journals dealing with local history and families, directories, collections of cemetery inscriptions, and estate records. Specific Internet resources are included. For the larger counties, these lists can be very extensive; the section for Cork runs to fourteen pages. Following the source-lists is an extremely detailed listing of Roman Catholic parish registers, by county, diocese, and parish, with the dates of surviving baptisms, marriages, and burials, the actual locations of the records, and their reference numbers. Online references are included, especially to FamilySearch — though the author notes that Irish transcripts in the IGI are not complete and that it’s “very difficult to pin down exactly what the IGI includes,” so the researcher can still expect to spend a lot of time cranking microfilm. In fact, as you work your way through this book, one thing becomes very clear: While Grenham has likely saved you the cost of a plane ticket to the Olde Sod, and while he has given you an invaluable running start in understanding what records exist and where to look for them, you must still roll up your sleeves and get to it. And this with the understanding that it’s unlikely that most of us will be able to push that Irish line back earlier than 1800. But you will still be far ahead of where you were before you opened Grenham.

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Published in: on 11 January 2010 at 7:12 pm  Leave a Comment  
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