Carp, carp, carp, Mr. Grenham

I’ve just spent the last ten days revising and updating my listing of the Catholic registers online at rootsireland and it’s an experience I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy: hour after hour of grinding through mismatched parish names and record dates, testing the ones that look dodgy, amending, adding, correcting … argh.

Nice logo. I had it designed for them back in 1994

Still, it was long overdue – rootsireland is by a mile the most useful site for early Irish church records. I’ve been doing piecemeal updates to the listing for the past twenty years, as new records were covered or came online, but never a full-scale run-through. And it was worth the pain, because I learnt a lot.

First, it’s clear that a lot of fresh transcription work is going on in the heritage centres, Or at least some of the heritage centres. For some areas the transcriptions are now well into the first quarter of the twentieth century, and for others nothing has changed in twenty years.

‘Twas ever thus. The good centres have always been very very good and the bad ones horrid. It’s just that some of the horrid are now good and vice versa. (No names, just for now).

A surprising number of recent transcripts end in 1880. This is the cut-off of the National Library microfilms and the implication is clear: those transcripts are from the (sometimes godawful) films. Which means that rootsireland’s advantage over the transcripts  – copying directly from the originals – doesn’t exist for those transcripts.

South Tipperary, Waterford diocese – all ending in 1880

Fortunately, these are only a small minority. More often, rootsireland actually has registers missed by NLI – Sligo, Roscommon, Carrick-on-Shannon … And one of the central axioms of Irish genealogy is thus confirmed: no generalisation about Irish records is true, including this one.

The rootsireland listings themselves can be deeply peculiar. In some parts of the country, records that used to be online seem to have vanished. In other parts, centres seem to be keeping a wary eye on the Church’s recently-enunciated ban on making public any records less than 100 years old. In most cases, centres with online records later than the offending date have simply amended the public listing to conform, but left the actual records searchable. Waterford, in particular, has solved the difficulty of having some records going up to the 1950s by just hiding all its finish dates. An Irish solution to an Irish problem.

And there are many other idiosyncrasies.  Wicklow has a fine collection of burial records, both Catholic and C of  I. Not a one is online. And many centres have mis-listed their own records, with the wrong dates listed or entire parishes missing.

Antrim RC registers on rootsireland. Not.

Strangely, because the Ulster Historical Foundation is a seriously scholarly outfit, by far the least reliable listings are for Antrim and Down. Whatever the UHF listing might say, there are no Catholic  baptismal registers anywhere on the planet for Aghagallon before 1828, or Ballymoney before 1853 or Ballyclare before 1869. I suspect a longstanding oversight, but it needs some serious attention.

I ran into Bernadette Marks,the doyenne of the Swords Heritage Centre recently and she reminded me of how unkind I’d been about the centres in the past. I reminded her of how I’d changed my tune. But really it’s still carp carp carp, Mr Grenham.

Carp, carp, carp

So be on your guard about what it is you’re actually searching on the site. Or just look at the (Updated! Free!) listings.

And if you see any mistakes, please let me know. All carps gladly received.

More mortuary magic

Most researchers are familiar with two types of record associated with cemeteries, headstone transcripts and church burial registers. But headstones were a luxury and burial registers, where they exist, are usually very uncommunicative about the family of the deceased.

Lovely generic illegible headstone

However, a third class of cemetery record also exists, much less well known and much more informative. These are the local authority interment records.

What are they and why were they created?

The Public Health (Ireland) Act 1878  created public authority sanitary districts under the control of the Poor Law Boards of Guardians, and gave them responsibility for sewage, drains, water supply and … cemeteries.  When county councils came into existence in 1898 they inherited this mortuary responsibility and, it would appear, took it more seriously than their predecessors. At any rate, they began to keep records of every burial in the graveyards they controlled.

And what records they were! Most included the plot, the address, the date of death, the age at death, the cause of death, marital status, occupation, date of burial, next of kin …

Tralee burials in 1902. Poor Kate McQuinn died of a cold.

They were never intended to be public records, their relatively late start made them less obvious as genealogical sources and many have not survived, but over the past few years, some local authorities have begun to open them up for research. As guides to extended families, and clues for possible living relatives, they are wonderful. And sometimes, in the level of personal detail, just a little hair-raising.

Here’s a list of any I know are available, either online or in local archives. If you know of any others, please tell me and I’ll add them.

Cork Five cemeteries online at Cork Archives, another 15 onsite
Dublin (Fingal) Just launched online, a superb collection covering 33 graveyards in north Dublin and including more than 65,000 entries.
Dublin city Online transcript of the registers for Bluebell, Clontarf and Finglas. More please.
Kerry  The mother of all online interment register collections. More than 140 cemeteries with records coming right up to 2010.
Kildare A full collection onsite at Kildare Archives
Laois Registers of 27 graveyards, in the local studies section of Laois County Library.
Limerick Mount St Lawrence, complete from 1855
Mayo Full list of the registers held by the council.
Offaly Scanned copies of all available at the county library.
Waterford Six cemeteries online
Wexford Thirteen sets of graveyard registers on microfilm at the county archives.

Mapping the 1901 census

I got bored last Wednesday and decided to map the 1901 census. By Saturday, it was done.

Having already mapped the District Electoral Divisions for the 1911 census, it was clear that there would be less work for 1901, but I was surprised (to put it mildly) at how little was involved. Most of the effort went into tracking down DEDs which the National Archives had recorded under different spellings for 1901 and 1911.  Grumble, grumble.

McMahon/McMahon in 1901

It’s all too easy to trip over so many maps, so I also introduced a new, maps-only navigation box (e.g. Sugrue). Because it’s now simple to skip from 1850s to 1901 and 1911, one of the unexpected things that’s emerging is how persistent some variant spellings can be in the same area over multiple generations. Have a look at McGrory versus McCrory, for example. Prima facie evidence that, though the Gaelic original of both surnames may have been Mac Ruaidhrí, there were (at least) two distinct family lines by the mid-nineteenth century.

A slight McMahon drift towards Dublin by 1911

(But wait, I hear you say. Don’t you beat everyone around the head about how unreliable Irish surnames are as indicators of lineage? Aren’t you contradicting yourself?

To which the response is that, as well as the slipperiness of surnames, one of my other axioms is that every generalisation you make about Irish genealogy can be contradicted. Even this one.)

Anyway. The 1901 map has all the flaws of the 1911. There’s still the long grind of adding large numbers of long-incidence surnames to my surnames variants tables. My summer holidays.

The site now has maps of Pender’s survey of 1659, Griffith’s (1847-64), the GRO birth indexes 1864-1913 and the 1901 and 1911 censuses.

That’s a long two-century gulf before Griffith’s.  Any suggestions for a good country-wide 18th-century data-set?

A network of new Irish record-holding institutions

The Local Government Act of 2001 provided that every local authority in Ireland had to make arrangements for the proper management, custody, care and conservation of local records and local archives. Before then (with the noble exceptions of Cork, Dublin and Limerick), local record-keeping in Ireland was piecemeal at best.

The imposition of this new role did not have an immediate or uniform effect. Some councils just added the new job to the in-tray of their long-suffering county library. Others went about setting up an archives, but only for the council’s own records. But many, painfully, with prodding and funding assistance from central government, eventually set up dedicated archives with a broad remit, to serve as a focal point for local studies, and to preserve and make available local records.

The Irish Archives Resource provides an online home for many local collections

The fruits of the policy are only now becoming apparent, at least to me. An entire network of new Irish record-holding institutions is coming into existence. As ever in Ireland, when they’re good, they’re very very good. And when they’re bad … we’ll just move on in silence.

More recently, the best have begun to make collections available online, free, naturally. Here are some I’ve come across:

Even where records are not searchable online, most of the new archives have excellent online lists of their records, many of which are only now coming to light: the estate records in Wexford, Waterford and Donegal, the Grand Jury records of Louth and Clare, the historic photographs and maps popping up everywhere.

To find the archive (if there is one) for the area you’re interested in, just google “[county] archives”.

God bless you, Section 80 of the Local Government Act, 2001.

Don’t condescend to your ancestors

There’s a lot of good sense to be had in a lot of reggae lyrics, but not in Junior Murvin’s ‘Solomon’ :

‘Solomon was the wisest man,
But he didn’t know the secrets that I know now.
I am wiser than Solomon …’

Every time I listen to it – frequently – I can’t resist quibbling: Yes, Junior, we now know there are hundreds of billions of galaxies, that Beijing is in China and that potatoes taste good with butter and salt, and poor old Solomon didn’t know any of those things. But that doesn’t mean we’re any wiser than he was.

The late, great Junior Murvin

It’s all too easy to condescend to your ancestors, even if you’re a good Rastafarian. Time and distance naturally simplify things, and there is no doubt that our lives are very different to lives lived even 100 years ago. It is hard not think of people who lived in previous centuries as somehow less complicated than us.

Genealogy is a good cure for such thinking. The more you find out about your ancestors, the more complicated and individual they become. You can’t think of them as quaint, fixed to the one spot, sepia-toned. They moved and worried and loved and lied, and they were just as uncertain about their futures as we are about ours.

The biggest contrast between their lives and ours is comfort: we have central heating and anaesthetics. That doesn’t make us more complex, or smarter, or wiser.

And the most substantial thing that they didn’t know, and that we know now, is what was going to happen to them. There is irony in this, and some sadness, but no basis for disrespect.

The only real difference between us and our ancestors is that they’re dead and we’re not. And that’s not going to last.