Where the bodies are buried

Of all the records sources I try to keep track of, by far the slipperiest are gravestone inscriptions. Graveyards change name, vanish and can be impossible to pinpoint. The transcripts themselves can be re-transcribed multiple times, often under different cemetery names, and can be partial, inconsistent and generally annoying.

And among gravestone sources there is one monumental collection I’ve never even attempted to master. The baroquely-titled Journal of the Association for the Preservation of the Memorials of the Dead in Ireland was published for over 47 years between 1888 and 1934 and records a vast volume of inscriptions, many of which no longer exist.

There are multiple problems in using it. The Association started out as a pastime for the genteel Anglo-Irish, akin to butterfly collecting. Not surprisingly, many of the inscriptions transcribed were from the headstones of the genteel Anglo-Irish. So the selection, at the outset especially, is a little skewed.

In addition, the content of the Journals is eclectic and unpredictable, not to say downright eccentric, ranging from pull-out pedigree charts to laconic one-liners. The division into volumes, years and sub-parts of years became more inconsistent as publication progressed, making it progressively harder to follow the indexes. Which changed format completely in 1909. And the collections held in various libraries are not identical, with sequences of pages varying from one collection to another.

Little wonder they haven’t been more widely used.

Now however, thanks to the work of genealogist Ciara Chivers, it is at last possible to get an overview of what the Journals contain, where there are copies online, and which bits are indexed where. Her website, Memsdead.com, is a wonderful example of the clarity that single-minded focus can achieve. In particular, her directory of the full set,  complete with direct links to everything that’s online, will be the go-to guide for years to come. Well done.

And no more excuses for me.