Claire Santry advises
Family historians could be forgiven for thinking that resources – whether on-line or not – are the be-all-and-end-all of genealogy research. Certainly all the headline stories tend to focus on the latest brand new or upgraded digital releases or the newly accessible collections increasingly being made available through national, county and city archives.
Now, I’m not going to deny that learning of a new resource doesn’t send a tingle of excitement down my spine. Of course it does. But resources, new or old, are not all that family history is about these days. There are now a great many alternative ways to get involved, to enjoy your research and to extend or share your knowledge of your ancestors’ lives.
You might, for example, want to connect with a sociable genealogical community in your own neighbourhood, or you might choose to seek out and share information with like-minded folk on-line. Or maybe you’re a truly generous soul who wants to donate some spare time in transcription and similar projects to help other researchers, or perhaps you simply prefer a bespoke approach to extending your understanding of your family.
Today, genealogy and the Internet seem natural partners. So much so that ‘going off-line’ can feel a little like ‘going off-piste’ – altogether too adventurous for the novice! But it’s worth remembering that family history research and a genealogy community existed long before www slipped so effortlessly into our everyday language.
As the popularity of ancestral research has grown, so that community has become better organised. There are now three genealogical societies with an island-wide remit, plus a healthy number of more localised or regional groups; collectively they provide the life-blood of Irish family history research. Most are members of the Council of Irish Genealogical Organisations (CIGO), a lobby group that campaigns on behalf of all Irish genealogy researchers – no matter where they live – for better and greater access to source material.
Joining a local or national group brings the opportunity to meet up with like-minded people, and to attend regular lectures or outings on research issues or specialised social or family history themes.
Most organisations also publish newsletters, journals and books crammed with valuable insights, and many work closely with their local and regional archives on transcription and indexing projects.
Aside of genealogical groups, there are also many historical societies across the country. They have a different focus, but one that complements the genealogist’s curiosity about the area and community where their ancestors lived, loved, worked and died. Some even run their own heritage centre or town museum.
Historical and family history societies give you the chance to put something back into the growing pot of accessible genealogy records or to simply keep local knowledge and memories flowing. Whether you’re best suited to transcribing old documents, helping to organise the lecture diary, or making tea and buns for members’ meetings, you’ll find such groups will always be happy to have another volunteer. Local, regional or national, they’ll snap up your skills and enthusiasm.
Give and take online
If membership of such groups isn’t for you, an on-line community may suit you better. They come in many guises. Probably the most obvious are genealogy forums where you can respond to the questions of other researchers and get answers to your own queries. RootsChat.com and Boards.ie are the two that I happily recommend; they both have some very knowledgeable regulars.
Blogs are another way of extending your grasp of history, genealogical techniques and myriad Irish heritage and culture issues. There are loads of them. Some are niche, some have a wider remit. Some are professionally produced, some are published by enthusiastic amateurs who may (or may not!) be true experts in their field. Most allow comments where you can pose questions or add your own views on the subjects under discussion.
Of course, you could always start up your own blog to tell the world about the highs and lows of your personal ancestral hunt, to discuss the trials and tribulations of a family historian, or to offer advice via your own experiences.
Twitter is another route to a worldwide genealogical community. While ‘what I had for breakfast’ tweeters do exist, they are easy to avoid if you take your time in deciding who to ‘follow’. Soon enough, you’ll be making friends (if you want to) with people whose interests you share, and swapping news and ideas for further investigation.
Still on-line, you could connect with one of the free Internet-based archives for volunteer-donated records and materials. Ireland Genealogy Projects Archives is a great example of a website that uploads photos of gravestones, transcriptions of records, obituaries and newspaper reports that researchers have come across. Facebook, too, has several Irish genealogical groups that meet in cyberspace.
There really is a big wide genealogical world beyond the record collections, and it’s worth venturing into it!
Claire Santry runs the very popular Irish Genealogy News blog and the Irish Genealogy Toolkit website. She is on the Council of the Irish Genealogical Research Society
TAKING IT FURTHER
National and local genealogical groups:
Local history groups:
Enquire at your local library