Wednesday, June 27, 2012

When inspiration is gone

On this blog in times past I have written about my dad inspiring me to begin in earnest my family history research.  In this post written in April, I talk about the push toward research that I felt after two conversations with my father. After Dad passed away in 2000, for a while it seemed as though my drive to do more research came from my desire to keep a promise made, to find out as much about my father's family as I possibly could.

With my dad gone, along the way with my research, my mother was the one who became more and more excited with each discovery I made. Oddly enough it is my mom's line which I have so far been able to trace the furthest, with evidence which takes me back into the early 1740s. Sharing these family finds with my mom led to conversations we would never have had otherwise, little talks about the small moments of life, and the significant ones too. Mom's interest in my finds, stories that she shared, and conversations with her, all served as inspiration to push me further in my research.

Now Mom is gone too; my inspiration is gone. At times I am so caught by grief, it is as though I am drowning in it. It comes over me in huge crashing grey waves. Some days it will not let me be. The wisdom of a grief counsellor tells me to let the memories be the buoy that saves me, but in truth that suggestion only caroms off my mind. I find myself irrationally longing for more of those conversations, more of something I cannot possibly have. I miss the sound of my mother's voice. Daily I struggle to remember each intonation, the sounds of happiness playing on her words, and the sounds of sadness too.

On my desk there is a pile of documents all related to family history. I have not touched them in weeks, and feel little compunction to go through them.

When memories are not enough, where do I find inspiration now?

This afternoon, something changed in me. Alone in my home I began to look through my parents' wedding album. I found myself learning things I do not remember having known before.

One of my favourite photographs in the album is one in which my parents are cutting their wedding cake at their reception. I knew they had a reception, but I do not recall learning that it took place in the Cumberland Hotel on Westland Row in Dublin, a hotel which stood at Number 17 Westland Row from 1941 until 1967. I knew my parents married on 2 August 1954, but did not know they married on a Monday. Like many people, Monday is not my favourite day of the week, but now I have a reason to view it differently.

Outside St. Patrick's Church, Ringsend, Dublin, Ireland
Also, there is one photograph in the album that I do not recall seeing before. It is the one pictured above. Some of the faces in the photograph are familiar and others are not. For me what is most remarkable about the picture is the joy on almost every one of the faces of the people surrounding my mom and dad at the very beginning of their married life. No one knew what challenges they might face, or what sorrows might befall them, but there it is, Joy.

There is no denying it will be difficult, but when my memories are not enough, I will 'climb' inside that photograph album and try to feel the joy they felt on that day. When the time is right I will continue to seek and to build our family history, knowing the joy it brought to my mom and my dad.

Click on photograph to view larger version.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Tuesday's Tips: The north, the south? It's all just Ireland isn't it?

To those unfamiliar with the long and violent history of the island of Ireland, it may seem as though it has always been one big happy place populated with fairies and leprechauns; however, this is most certainly not the case. When you are doing family history research, if any of the limbs of your family tree cross the border from the Republic of Ireland into the state of Northern Ireland, or vice versa, then there are a number of options about which you will want to be aware when seeking documents which will help you in your research.

First of all, a quick look at the geography.

Map please...

View The two Irelands in a larger map

The odd little purple line which I have put in place on this map approximates the border between the state of Northern Ireland and the country of the Republic of Ireland. Northern Ireland is bordered by the Republic on both the south and west sides. Northern Ireland is made up of six counties, Antrim, Armagh, Down, Fermanagh, Londonderry/Derry, and Tyrone. The Republic of Ireland comprises twenty-six counties. (Look here for a complete listing of all counties on the island of Ireland).

One thing about which you must be keenly aware when you are either corresponding with organizations on the island of Ireland, or conducting in-person research, is the fact that Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland remain TWO distinct entities. Despite the 1998 Good Friday Accord which established the Northern Ireland Assembly with its devolved legislative powers, and changes in the constitution of the Republic of Ireland which acknowledge Northern Ireland as a legitimate state, Northern Ireland remains under British rule.

The Republic of Ireland is an entirely separate country. Citizens in the Republic began dissolution of its connection with Britain in 1916, although that dissolution was not recognized until 1922, with the establishment of the Irish Free State following the Irish War of Independence. Although Ireland has had its own constitution since 1937, Ireland has been a constitutional Republic only since 1949, with a President and Taoiseach (pronounced Tea-shock: equivalent to Prime Minister), and no political connection to the English crown. It is very important to understand these facts, and be sensitive to them when conducting research.

If you are conducting research in person, one thing which serves as a good reminder of these separate entities is the legal tender. The Republic of Ireland is part of the European Union, thus the legal tender is the Euro(€). Northern Ireland uses the British Pound Sterling(£).

"So what does this all mean when I'm looking for records?"

Searching in the State of Northern Ireland

If you have ancestors who were born, lived, and died in any of the SIX counties in the State of Northern Ireland, in addition to going directly to the parish which may hold the records of their life's passages, you will want to visit the following:



The General Register Office of Northern Ireland. It is responsible for the registers of births, marriages and deaths in Northern Ireland from 1864, and non-Roman Catholic marriages from 1845, to the present day.

This LINK includes a list of registration indexes for births, marriages, and deaths in Northern Ireland.


The Public Record Office of Northern Ireland. It holds documents which relate chiefly, but not exclusively, to Northern Ireland. There are also some records from counties in what is now the Republic of Ireland. These records cover a period from c.1600 (with a few dating back as far as the early 13th century) to the present day.

This LINK will tell you which records ARE held by PRONI.

This LINK will tell you which records are NOT held by PRONI.

This LINK for PRONI's page of Online guides and indexes is also very helpful, and includes an excellent guide to Church Records.

PRONI also has an excellent 'Useful Links' page which provides with links for research for the entire island of Ireland.

Searching in the Republic of Ireland

If you have ancestors who were born, lived, and died in any of the TWENTY-SIX counties of the Republic of Ireland, in addition to going directly to the parish which may hold the records of their life's passages, you will want to visit the following:

The GRO, The National Library of Ireland, The National Archives of Ireland

GRO is:

The General Register Office of the Republic of Ireland, located in the Irish Life Centre, Dublin. It is responsible for the registers of births, marriages, and deaths in the Republic of Ireland from 1864, as well as a long list of other records as detailed in the link below. It also holds records dating from 1864 to 31 December 1921 for the six counties which comprise Northern Ireland.

This LINK will tell you which records are held by the GRO.

This LINK will tell you how you may order certificates of birth, adoption, stillbirth, marriage, civil partnership or death. Be sure to check the information about exactly which dates are included for online ordering.

The National Archives of Ireland

The National Archives of Ireland, located on Bishop Street in Dublin, holds records which they describe in the following way, "the records of the modern Irish State [i.e. The Republic of Ireland] which document its historical evolution and the creation of our national identity". The NAI also offers a free Genealogy Advisory Service for those visiting in person.

This LINK provides information about the family history and genealogy materials held by the National Archives, as well as a list of its most popular online genealogy resources.

The National Library of Ireland

Located on Kildare Street in Dublin, the National Library of Ireland (NLI) is an important stop for anyone conducting in-person family history research. Library material includes the microfilms of Catholic parish registers, copies of the important nineteenth century land valuations (the Tithe Applotment Books and Griffith's Valuation), trade and social directories, estate records and newspapers. The NLI also offers a free Genealogy Advisory Service for those visiting in person. Also, important to note, that on 8 July 2015 the NLI will be releasing online digitized copies of the microfilm images of the Catholic parish registers.

Visit this LINK for more details.

Using the resources of National Archives United Kingdom

In addition to the resources on the island of Ireland, make use of the resources available through the National Archives UK at Kew, England. Ireland was under British rule for over 700 years, so if you are looking for information which is held by neither Northern Ireland nor The Republic of Ireland, then you may find it here.

The LINK provides a summary of family history information available through NAUK.


Sunday, June 17, 2012

Happy Father's Day!: Fathers of our family


to lift, never to falter
to care, without fail
to love and support without error
these are dream words
these are not father.

to try, and then fail,
but try again
to love, and have trouble showing it,
but love anyway
to be strong, but allow frailty,
these are human words
these are Father.

Happy Father's Day to all the fathers of our families!

Copyright©irisheyesjg2012. All Rights Reserved.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Tuesday's Tips: Family Medical History: The life you save may be your own

Including family medical history in your family history and genealogy research offers a fascinating and possibly beneficial glimpse into the life of your family. The sum total of all family medical history can be very helpful when looking at your own health issues. You may want to use the information you uncover to determine if there is a risk of inherited disease.  When all is said and done, the life you save may be your own.

As with all genealogy and family history the best place to start is with living relatives who may recollect certain health issues suffered by deceased family members; however, they may not always be forthcoming with the details. For example in my own family the fact that undiagnosed diabetes was principally the cause of my paternal grandmother's death was kept a secret for many years. Some family members viewed the fact of diabetes as somehow shameful. The same goes for cancer. Many will not even utter the 'C' word, as some call it, preferring to refer to it as 'his illness' or 'her battle'. It may be difficult for us to understand such feelings of shame, but whether or not we understand it, it does exist.

Family documents offer a good starting point. Letters, memoirs, even family bibles, and other documents of this nature may include details of illnesses and causes of death. Sometimes a off hand remark in a letter or document may lead you to uncover a chronic illness or general pattern of ill health. Of course, it is important to respect the privacy of family members as you conduct this research, particularly if you plan to post it on a blog. I prefer to post about those long dead, as opposed to the recently departed.

Sources for gathering information about the medical history of your ancestors

1. Tombstones:

Always an interesting source and some may bear the cause of death. You might see Malaria as the cause of death listed on the stones of loved ones who died in so called 'exotic' or 'overseas' locales. If the death was the result of an accident, a gravestone, such as the one pictured below, may give the entire history of the matter in the ending of a life. In this case Henry Coff, a railway fireman, "lost his life near Glencairn Station by the breaking of the leading wheel of the engine truck".

2. Death certificates, death registrations, and parish burial registers:

Of course, these include a statement of the cause of death; however, some may mention diseases or ailments with which we may not be familiar today, such as 'General Debility', or may state different names for similar causes of death. For example typhoid fever may appear as enteric fever, gastric fever, abdominal typhus, infantile remittent fever, slow fever, nervous fever, or pythogenic fever. It is helpful to consult a medical dictionary from the period and region in question in order to best understand what is stated on the death certificate. Take a look at Antiquus Morbus, an excellent site which lists and defines thousands of archaic terms for diseases and causes of death.

The Liverpool death certificate of little Joseph Fitzpatrick 1901, brother of my maternal grandmother.
Cause of death given is 'General Debility'.
1864 death registration for Nicholas Fitzpatrick, twin brother of my maternal great-grandfather Thomas.
Cause of death is 'Cynanche Trachealis', which is better known to us today as 'the croup'. 

3. Workhouse records:

The National Archives of Ireland is a repository for some extant workhouse records including the North and South Dublin Union workhouses. For any other extant workhouse records check the libraries and archives of the county in which your ancestor lived (see Irish Archives Resource). While your ancestor may not have been an inmate of the workhouse proper, if he/she was poor, then he/she may have received medical treatment in the workhouse infirmary, and that treatment may have been noted in the workhouse register. These registers are not currently available online, and so must be consulted in person. 

UPDATE: As of May 2015, Dublin workhouse records are now available online via the website FindMyPast.

Registration of death for Francis Ball who died in the South Dublin Union Workhouse Infirmary.
4. Cemetery Burial Registers:

Some of these may include not only details relating to the burial site, but also to the cause of death. This record available through Glasnevin Trust in Dublin is a good example of such a record. Use the search page on the Glasnevin Trust website to find information for those interred in The Prospect Cemetery at Glasnevin, Goldenbridge Cemetery, as well as Dardistown, Newlands Cross, and Palmerstown cemeteries. There is a fee for viewing records.

Cause of death given is 'Phthisis', a more benign name for Tuberculosis.
5. Obituaries:

While they may not specifically mention the cause of death, clues can be gleaned from statements such as "after a long illness". Information is sometimes given about charities which will accept donations in memory of the loved one. For example if a cancer society is mentioned, it may mean the loved one suffered from cancer. Also, there may be a mention of a hospice which might hold records. (Hospices in Ireland have been in operation since the mid 19th century). Although such information offered in an obituary is by no means proof of a particular illness, it does offer a starting point. The Irish Newspaper Archives is a good resource for finding obituaries for persons who died on the island of Ireland.

6. Pension documents:

If a member of your family applied for a survivor's pension, the cause of death of the loved one may be listed.

7. Old Age Benefit Applications:

These may include information about the cause of death of deceased spouses.

8. Military records:

In addition to the familiar 'killed in action', a full military record will likely list all medical care delivered to the service member while he or she was on active duty. Some extant military records for Irish citizens who fought in World War 1 can be accessed through Ancestry and also through the National Archives UK site.


When I review the sum total of my own family medical history, it can be a bit daunting. Between the eye disease, cardiac troubles, diabetes, alcoholism, dementia and depression, I feel a bit unnerved; however, I view it all as encouragement to take the best possible care of myself so that I live a long and healthy life. Whether or not you use the medical history of your family for your own benefit, I believe you will find conducting this research to be a very interesting and challenging exercise.


Click on images to view larger version.
All materials and photographs ©Copyright©irisheyesjg2012.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Love, loss, and what she wore...

When 'Love, Loss, and What I Wore' played the Westside Theatre in New York City in November of 2009, I felt drawn to go see it. Written by sisters Nora and Delia Ephron, and based on the book by Ilene Beckermann, the female-centred play relates the life stories of the characters to the clothes they wore on various landmark occasions in their lives, such as a wedding, the birth of a child, the taking of a lover, the end of a divorce, the loss of a family member.

Going through my mam's clothes cupboards and dressers during this past week, and sorting through the items which mark the life that was my mother's, I had my own 'love, loss and what she wore' moments.

My mam was an elegant and stylish woman who always wore good quality clothing which she kept in immaculate condition. In each bedroom of her home, as I opened the cupboard, I looked at the sum total of its contents before touching anything. With a heavy heart I began the ritual of carefully taking out each piece of clothing, looking it over, folding it up, setting it aside, and remembering.

Some of the oldest clothes are imbued with the scent of Chanel No. 5, the fragrance my mother always wore when I was a child. Standing inside the small cupboard of the bedroom which she once shared with my father, I found myself drawing the dresses, jackets and sweaters close up to my face. With eyes closed, I breathed in the fragrance of Mother, and remembered the small moments: Mam touching the stopper of the tiny Chanel bottle to the pulse points on her wrists; Mam dabbing a touch of perfume just beneath the lobe of each ear.

Mam with Dad looking stylish in Casablanca, Morocco

In later years my mother developed a love for solid perfume, and I would buy one for her every Christmas. In the pocket of a couple of her jackets I found some of the solid perfume compacts. The perfume had long ago been used up, but the compacts are still there, small and lovely, with just the slightest hint of fragrance remaining. I picked up each one, ran my fingers over their smooth covers, and held them close to draw in the sweet scent. The soft click as I closed each one evoked memories of the joy I felt in choosing them just for her, and the smile that came over her face when she opened them each Christmas.

There are the soft pastel coloured sweaters in cable knit, the finely embroidered blouses in silk, the tweed suits and wool dress jackets. There are the tops and t-shirts from her world travels. There are the simple cotton shirts and trousers which were used only for gardening. Every piece brings me to a place of memory.

At the back of her closet there is the black suit Mam wore to my dad's funeral. I recall the deep quiet of the shopping trip to choose that suit. There was no joy; it was a task of utility. Mam never again donned that black suit.

In the cupboard of my old bedroom hangs the lovely black and white dress I persuaded her to buy for a dinner/dance. Mam didn't want to try it on because it has short sleeves. As she aged, my mam disliked the way her arms looked in short sleeves, but I talked her into buying the dress because she looked wonderful in it. I recall my father's eyes wrinkling with laughter on the evening of the dance, as he watched her in that dress move down the stairs toward him.

In a dresser drawer, layers of silk slips lie silent, in shades of muted pink and ecru. In another, a sea of beautifully tinted silk scarves sit square at attention, waiting for her to draw one out and gently wrap it around her throat.

In the lapels of dress jackets there are small jewelled pins just waiting for Mam to come unpin them, and return them to their place in her lingerie drawer. Instead that task has fallen to me. I gently unclip each pin and draw it from the lapel, carefully smoothing the fabric so it looks as though no pin had ever pierced it.

Soon all the clothing Mam had will be gone from her home, given to charity, passed on to others, but locked within each piece is a memory. The wearer may not know that it is there, but still it will remain, as another woman creates her own memories in the clothes once worn by Mam.


Saturday, June 9, 2012

Thank You Family Tree Magazine

This morning I awoke to an announcement on the Twitter-verse that my blog has been included in Family Tree Magazine's Top 40 Genealogy Blogs for International Research. I feel honoured to be included, and offer my congratulations to all bloggers on the list. Thank You Family Tree Magazine!

Also my thanks and deep gratitude to all of you who continue to follow this blog. As you know life has been a bit rough for me lately, so to know I have your support means the world to me.

Thank You.

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