The following is a review of the first 10 Twentyx20 talks at the National Library of Ireland this Summer, our very first guest speaker was Eneclann Director Brian Donovan and he was followed by some of the top experts in the world of genealogy. Below you can read a short review on each talk.
1. Brian Donovan:
The digital revolution in Irish family history.
Since 2003, over 120 million Irish historic-records have been digitised and published online. Of these, 75 million were digitised by Eneclann and findmypast in projects led by Brian Donovan. Brian is uniquely placed to provide an overview of the digital revolution in Irish family history.
Online publishing has improved access to the records; democratised research by taking it from the hands of a few professionals; and transformed family history into a popular hobby with a mass audience.
Brian also discussed how Eneclann – a small Irish company, has blazed a trail in placing Irish cultural heritage online, in partnership with the cultural institutions.
“Genealogy is more than just names and dates, it is our family story”.
2. Patrick Comerford:
Hatch, match and beyond: finding trails and tails in parish records.
In a delightfully witty and wise talk, Patrick Comerford informed us there’s more to parish records than registers. Parish records tell us more about our religious identity and social conditions in the past. the records also show that Ireland was a pluralist society before Ne Temere.
Family history has become main-stream because in the modern world, we use it to construct our own personal identity.
For anyone who missed Patrick’s talk on Tuesday, but who would like to hear more of his ideas on family history, see
3. Brian Mitchell
Shipping records and their usefulness when searching for your ancestors.
From the 1700s the main ports of embarcation for Irish immigrants were Dublin, Belfast and Londonderry. Cork only gained importance as a passenger port in the 1800s.
The Province of Ulster saw particularly heavy emigration from the start. Between 1717 and 1776, 250,000 Irish left to settle in the British colonies in North America.
The government in Ireland and Britain was mainly hostile to emigration because they didn’t want to loose skilled tradesmen and craftsmen. Despite this, there are no official registers of passengers leaving Irish ports before 1890, except for the lists of emigrants 1803-06, in the Hardwicke Papers, British Library.
Some records do however survive. Lists of passengers were compiled by the Masters of the passenger ships, and sworn before the Commissioner in the Port of departure. A duplicate of the oaths was sent to Dublin. The survival of passenger lists and shipping records to the present day varies enormously.
“There was an imaginary line that stretched from Sligo on the west coast to Dublin on the east coast. If you lived north of this line you emigrated from Derry, south and you embarked at Queenstown (Cobh).”
4. Lorna Moloney
The genealogy of Gaelic Clans: sources, records and evidence – 11th to 17th Centuries.
Genealogy defined the political landscape in medieval Ireland, and was propaganda by and for the ruling families. The earliest genealogies written down, were recorded in the twelfth century but date from centuries earlier.
By comparing genealogies with the contemporary records, it’s possible to document the rise and fall of dynasties and clans over time.
Lorna discussed some of the main sources for tracing Gaelic families including Duald McFirbise’s Great Book of Irish Genealogies; the Irish Annals; and records of the Dublin government – the Calendar of State Papers Ireland, the Fiants, and the various land surveys taken in the 1650s and 60s, when the Gaelic political system finally ended.
“Ireland as a colony was forgotten as a kingdom.”
5. Aoife O’Connor
Yesterday’s children: discover your ancestors’ childhood.
Aoife O’Connor gave a thought-provoking talk, on where to find children in the historic records.
Children are civilians too, and the first place to look is in the usual records used for family history: civil records of births and deaths, church records of baptism and burial, and census records.
The National School system in Ireland began in 1837, and the largest collection of school registers is held in the National Archives of Ireland, currently digitising these records with findmypast.ie
In the past, children entered the world of work at an earlier age – some as early as eight or nine years, the majority from the age of 12 or 13. It’s possible to find records of children in occupational records.
The National Library of Ireland has photographic collections that show images of childhood in Ireland. Collections by private and commercial photographers show the middle-classes and the wealthy. There are some images of childhood in rural Ireland among the photographic collection of the Congested Districts Board.
Records of children also survive for institutions. Often the first point of contact with any institution, was through the court system. The Petty Sessions records have many cases in which children are involved, from building an ice-slide and raiding orchards, to the darker side of childhood poverty with instances of children up before the courts for vagrancy or burglary.
She concluded with institutional records of orphanages, reformatory and industrial schools, and prisons.
6. Paul McCotter, N.I.I Cork
Researching the history of Irish Surnames and clan-names
Speaking from his own notes, without the aid of overheads, Paul McCotter delivered a bravura performance, at what was one of the best attended talks.
It’s generally accepted by most historians that clan names have an early origin in Ireland, but surnames were only ‘laid-down’ from the 10th Century onwards. Ireland was probably the earliest of all European countries to adopt surnames. Yet we still don’t have a full picture on how surnames and clan-names developed over time here.
The starting point for most researchers is the work of Edward McLysaght, a former Chief Herald of Ireland. MacLysaght’s work though authoritative contains errors. Individual medieval historians – and here Paul gave an honourable mention to Kenneth Nicholls – will occasionally research how names may evolve over time, but even then it’s usually as an aside to their main research work.
Paul explained the influence of languages spoken in Irish regions in the last millennium, and how they contributed to the evolution of surnames. Before the conquest, Irish was the main language. After the Conquest, the political elite families spoke French, but many of the settlers that followed their political leaders to Ireland spoke Welsh, Flemish and an early form of English [Anglo-Saxon?]. Some colonists adopted the practice of Irish patronyms, and later many Irish adopted English versions of their name, to ‘conform to English civility.’ Paul demonstrated serious scholarly credentials, reeling off examples to show how an original name could evolve over centuries, sometimes changing beyond recognition.
7. Else Churchill, Society of Genealogists,
The exile of Erin, researching the poor Irish in Victorian London
Elsa Churchill demonstrated a deep knowledge of her sources, and an absolute mastery of her subject – finding the Irish poor in London in the 1800s.
Emigration from Ireland to England and Wales probably reached it’s high-point in the first half of the 19th Century, specifically 1815 to 1851. There were a number of reasons why migration between Ireland and the rest of the United Kingdom picked up at this time. The conclusion of the Napoleanic Wars led to an agricultural depression, just as many ex-servicemen attempted to return to civilian life and work; the progression of the industrial revolution, and large-scale engineering projects, led to a higher demand for Irish labour; a growth in steam-shipping between Ireland and England made travel cheaper and more easy to avail of; changes to the Poor Laws adversely affected the Irish poor, who could be removed from England or Wales to an Irish port; and, the Irish people fled the Famine via communication lines that linked them to England and Wales.
By 1851 the Irish born population of England and Wales was 520,000 or 2.9% of the population. The Irish settled almost exclusively in cities, where they could find jobs. The greatest concentration of Irish settlement was in London, followed by Liverpool, and then Manchester/ Salford.
Elsa identified the communication lines that brought the Irish into London, and how these shaped the ‘Irish colonies’ – pockets of Irish settlement in the city and suburbs.
She discussed the historic sources of central government (Parliamentary reports); local government (Poor Law Unions) and of the RC church (parish registers); where they can be found; and what information they hold that can be used to trace Irish families.
“[In the early 1800s] The Irish were severely affected in the transition years from the old to the new Poor Laws.”
8. Audrey Collins, National Archives U.K,
Under-used Irish records in the National Archives in England
Audrey opened her talk with a challenging question – the National Archives of ‘where exactly?’ British identity has changed through the centuries, and very many records of Irish people can be found in TNA. She broadly classified these as specific Irish records series, and general series that contained Irish records, for example Military Service records; other Service records such as the Royal Navy, Airforce and Merchant Navy records; Home Office; Probate; migration records; and Census records.
Specific Irish records series such as the records of the Royal Irish Constabulary, the Reproductive Loan Funds, the Irish Sailors and Soldiers Land Trust, Irish Outrage papers and the Dublin Castle records, ended up in TNA for a variety of reasons but essentially because the Irish records were part of central government activity.
The TNA has risen to meet it’s public service remit by digitising many records sets and making them available online through digital downloads, and also in collaboration with commercial partners like findmypast and Ancestry.
Audrey’s talk was delivered with a delicious deadpan sense of humour that produced some of the best belly-laughs of the entire season from our regular audience. A gem
9. Hilary McDonagh, Ancestor Network,
Genealogy and sporting records-from sporting Laurels to Family Trees.
Hilary considered the connection between family history and sport. Almost everyone has ‘done’ sport at some time during their lives, but we don’t often consider sporting records as relevant to research.
Sports-clubs generate records: administrative records including Committee Minute Books; Membership Registers; the club’s Financial records including dues paid, or not, or larger debts around club maintenance or kit; Fixture lists and results/ score-books; programmes and other publications; as well as newspaper cuttings.
Hilary briefly considered some of the challenges in persuading clubs that these records are intrinsically useful, and to either create archives or deposit their records in archival collections. In the former category, she cited the examples of the G.A.A., the F.A.I. and the I.R.F.U.
In the latter category, she discussed the Dublin City Sports Archive collections in the Gilbert Library, of fairly recent origins. In a hilarious aside, she recounted her own experience in preparing a commemorative publication and subsequently archiving the records of the ‘Maids of the Mountain’ Hockey Club
Hilary concluded with a call to arms: to the public to recognise the importance of sporting records, the clubs to be more proactive, and the cultural institutions to widen their definition of popular culture.
10. Jacinta Prunty, N.U.I Maynooth,
Did you come from Dublin dear ? understanding Dublin city through maps
Development of Dublin city over 1000 years in maps. Dublin has always been unusually well documented in maps and surveys. Even the earlier medieval history of the city has been surveyed in retrospect by its’ historians and archaeologists, who have re-created maps and scale models of the city from Viking times and the time of the Conquest.
Jacinta’s basic premise was that maps are a key source with which we can ‘open-up’ the history of people and places at any given time. Researchers can use maps to understand how a village, town or city developed; how a town may be connected to other places by its’ proximity to the sea or rivers; how villages, towns and cities often develop close to fords/ crossings, which may later become the sites of bridges and harbours.
Maps display change over time: in the early 1600s for example the city of Dublin began to develop beyond the limits of its’ medieval walls; or how the status of a neighbourhood can change over time – for example Henrietta Street build from the 1720s as townhouses for the elite, was by the early 1900s a tenement.
Jacinta directed the audience to explore some of the maps she showed on screen, which are widely available in hard-copy or online.
The Down Survey Maps 1650s http://downsurvey.tcd.ie/down-survey-maps.php
The Ordnance Survey Maps from 1837 http://www.osi.ie/Home.aspx
In hard copy, Irish Historic Towns Atlas series http://www.ria.ie/research/ihta.aspx
Jacinta Prunty is an engaging speaker, who has the lucky knack of making her audience feel smarter just by listening.
“The where always matters in family history.”