Tricks I was afraid to mention in case they stop letting me do them

In the course of grinding one’s way through online haystacks in search of ancestral needles, shortcuts and workarounds sometimes … become evident. Quite often, it’s not clear that these are known to the website owners themselves, so I’m always a bit nervous about broadcasting them. But what the hey … here are are two of my favourites.

Heavy users of the civil records on can get very irritated by being regularly forced to jump through this particular hoop:

An tArd-Chláraitheoir is the Registrar-General, who of course spends most of his day examining the lists of users. “Hmm, I see Grenham is on the go again.”

No. The form is pure civil-service territoriality, the Registrar-General marking these records as belonging to him and not to the Dept of Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht who run the site. My dog does something similar to gateposts and trees every time I take him for a walk.

Just enter anything in the two name fields, tick the box and you’re past: “a “->Tab-> “a”->Tab->spacebar->Enter. It takes about a second, can be rattled off without even lifting your hands from the keyboard and hey presto.

My other favourite is a spectacularly powerful wild-card search available on, still the only absolutely indispensable Irish genealogy subscription site.   Like most search sites, it is apparently necessary to enter a minimum of information, usually at least one surname. So if I want to see everyone with  forename John in Ballinlough registration district, it’s theoretically impossible:

But entering four wild-cards – percentage symbols – in the Townland/Address field gets around this:Which produces:

The uses are endless: reconstructing causes of death in an area over decades from civil death records; picking out all baptisms with the same godparents as evidence for extended family; looking at patterns of use of unusual forenames to pick out wider social or family connections. The world is your oyster.

As long as they don’t decide to stop allowing it.

How I work

Not underwater

Two incidents gave me pause last week. First, at the swimming pool, a stranger approached me and said “You must have put a lot of work into that last edition”. Half-blind without my glasses and almost completely naked, I did not feel inclined to debate. I just submerged.

Second, I had a very pleasant Q & A session in Dublin with a tour group run by the New England Historic and Genealogical Society. But the tour leader introduced me as just plain ‘God’. Now I’m plenty vain (aw shucks), but that’s getting a bit uncomfortable.

The implication of both is that I labour mightily in the vineyards of genealogy, when in fact I don’t work much at all. A large part of my time is spent staring into space, with the occasional upgrade to staring at a wall.

Like most lazy people, I’m a passionate believer in the Twofer, making a single piece of work serve more that one purpose. Back when I was being paid to train National Library staff to run the first incarnation of the genealogical consultation service, I took my innocent charges to the Public Record Office in Belfast. I also took five accumulated research files that needed work done in PRONI, so they got to see what research could be done there by watching me do the research. I still remember the pleasure. Sweet.


Sharp-eyed readers may have noticed the Twofer principle at work in this blog. Quite a few posts bear a strong family resemblance to columns that appeared in The Irish Times some years back.

And Twofer certainly defines the relationship between Tracing Your Irish Ancestors and this site. I spend seven years accumulating new references and slotting them into the forest of pigeon-holes that make up the site’s databases. Then I decant the whole thing into the next edition of the book. Sweet.

To be fair to myself, other talents are also required, in particular a very high boredom threshold, honed, no doubt, by all that staring into space. It stood me in good stead this week as I combed through all the Rootsireland and Representative Church Body listings for any changes.

It takes all sorts, I say. And I’m definitely an AllSort.