Behind The Scenes at the National Library of Ireland.

Behind the scenes in the Genealogy Advisory Service

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, because family history isn’t just about the past, it allows people to construct their own personal identity.

Here are some of the stories we’ve heard from recent visitors to the Library’s Genealogy Room.

In the 1870s Maria Agnes Gerraghty emigrated from Ireland and settled in the Australian goldfields, where she set up a pub.  She married a miner with whom she had a child, Alexander Patrick Ryan born 1884 in Cardwell.  She raised her son and earned a fortune in the goldmines.  In old age, now a wealthy woman, Maria Agnes moved in with the Sisters of Mercy.  On her death, she left her entire fortune to the convent.

The place of origin was Galway, but the actual place-name was garbled over time.  With a little genie ingenuity we identified the parish of Caltra.  Using the National Library’s RC parish registers online, we searched and without tearing our hair out, found the baptismal record of Mary Gerraghty, to the correct parents in this parish.  There were two other baptisms of an older brother Hugh and sister Annie, in the parish registers.

The single greatest repository of Irish historic records online is on  I often compare searching this site, to casting your net as widely as possible in a single search.  I keyed in the name of ‘Thomas Gerraghty’ of Caltra and found a story that gave a real insight into Maria Agnes’ home-life in Ireland, before she sailed for Australia.

There in the Petty Sessions records, we found a case taken by Maria’s father in July 1854.  Thomas Gerraghty brought his employer to court for non-payment of 15 shillings wages.

In 1850s Ireland, the labouring poor had few rights, and were often badly treated by the farmers and middlemen that directly employed them.  The sum involved in this case was 15s – in real terms, 3 weeks wages!

The court records show that the farmer against whom the complaint was made, didn’t even turn up in court to hear the case. The lady whose family it was, was pleased to be able to get this perspective on her ancestors, and to find concrete facts.


A couple from Northern Ireland sought help to trace a grand-uncle, Alexander Hassan born in 1896 in Derry.  Very little was known, other than that he enlisted and served in WWI.

Hassan is an unusual name: it derives from the Irish Ó hOsáin and belongs to Derry.

As the name is *so* rare, I was surprised to find two distinct births of an Alexander Hassan registered in county Londonderry in 1896.

  • Alexander Hassan born in the 1st Quarter 1896 in Limavady, vol. 1, p. 613, and
  • Alexander Hassan born in the 4th Quarter 1896 in Londonderry, vol. 2, p. 174.

So the first question was, which birth was relevant to our search? The evidence of the 1901 and 1911 Census didn’t give us a clear answer, so I cast my net wide and searched the Irish civil records.  I found a civil death for a child Alexander Hassan, aged 5 in the 2nd Quarter of 1901 in the Registrar’s District of L’derry.  So the birth registered in Limavady was almost certainly *our* guy.

I searched military service records but found nothing relevant at first.  This is not a surprise, as the greater number of military service records for the 1914-18 war were destroyed during the Blitz in WWII.  If I can’t get a result by approaching something ‘head-on’, I try to come at it sideways.  I switched research to the Medal Service records available online on the [U.K.] National Archives.  Within minutes we found a medal card of Alexander Hassan, a private in the Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers Regiment.

This online research can only be ‘firmed-up’ by ordering copies of these original records from the archives that hold the originals.  It shows however, how the availability of records online facilitates research and opens it for everyone.




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