Genealogy event has answers to who you are

Jaqueline Costa Ribeiro attended a recent genealogy event at the RDS.

The RDS recently opened its doors to Back to Our Past, which claims to be the biggest and most popular Irish family-history event of its type in Ireland. The event offered an opportunity for visitors to examine the heritage of their family background and find out more about their own story.

Back to Our Past was for anyone curious about their personal and family history, and it was especially for those who might be looking for some help in finding their relations in the most far-flung corners of the world. The event provided access to genealogy professionals, publishers, websites, software and hardware providers, libraries and institutions to trace family history for those who do not know where to start.

Mike Mulligan, Principal Product Manager of Ancestry.com, which sponsored the event, said he has unearthed a very true fact: “We all die twice: once when we die and once when we’re forgotten”. This means that in life we are passing on memories and helping to keep our ancestors alive. He also stressed his participation with Ancestry.com over the last five years and the importance of their commitment to keeping genealogy records alive and available to the new generation.

He shared a personal experience of when he found out about his own family history and about why he started to get involved in genealogical research. He was examining a parental connection from his father’s side who had a heavy-drinking problem. He began researching more deeply into the area because he was always interested in knowing more about that connection and about his family history in general.

“I think that’s how we’re finding that we’re managing to stay in existence because, really, in the past 20 years huge numbers of genealogy and family-history societies have disappeared”

Steven Smyrl, the chairman of the Irish Genealogical Research Society (IGRS) and a member since 1989 of the committee of the Ireland branch, said he was at the event to recruit members in order to keep the society active.

“A few years ago, we realised we needed to take cognizance of the Internet because, however good these events are, the vast majority of our members and the [external] people that we would interact with are carrying out their work on the Internet. So, we have a physical library in London but to tell you the truth, we’re transcribing and scanning some of the older documents […] and putting them on our website so people across the world can have access to that information.

“I think that’s how we’re finding that we’re managing to stay in existence because, really, in the past 20 years huge numbers of genealogy and family-history societies have disappeared. We find it difficult to compete with Ancestry.com and other organisations that do family-tree DNA. It’s a commercial thing, so whereas the IGRS used to be ‘the big cheese’ in Irish genealogy, we’re now really only ‘the big cheese’ among family-history organisations. Among the commercial organisations, we’re actually way behind Ancestry and Find My Past.”

There was also a presentation programme over the course of the three days in the RDS. The presentations were free to those attending. Exhibitors representing Irish and overseas genealogical societies, data providers, record repositories, heritage magazines and heritage sites were on hand to give advice and engage with individual enquirers.

The event was an opportunity to ask various organisations questions relating to family, military and local history. Attending organisations included Accredited Genealogists Ireland, Ancestry, the National Archives, the National Library, Eneclann, FamilyTreeDNA and Findmypast.ie.

Many visitors went to find out about their family connections. “I have been coming to this event every year for the last four years because when I retired I did a course in family history in UCD, so I have a particular interest in genealogy,” said Lucy Walsh, one attendee. “When I finished that course, I was following up on my own family tree and I wanted to find out more about how to do that, so this particular event has a number of lectures and stands where we can find out more about how to research.

“A year ago, I did a DNA test on myself and another one on my brother,” she added. She mentioned that she had recently developed an interest in genetic genealogy. “DNA is very complicated but what it does give you is a connection with other people who have the same DNA and what it shows you is who you are related to.”

She shared the new research that she had discovered about her family history. “I found a lot of surprises. I knew a lot about my mother’s side because they had written a lot down and I also knew where they were all buried. But at the time I knew very very little about my father’s side, even though he probably talked more about his family. But we actually had no information and I found that very interesting but I found it harder to research because the registers in those particular areas go back to only 1860. So, I just can’t get back quite as far as I’d like.

“My great, great grandfather appeared in [petty sessions in the courts] quite a lot. He used to chase people to pay for boots or sometimes he was brought to court himself or had some debt he hadn’t paid himself, so that was very interesting to see”. To her fascination, she also discovered that her great, great grandfather, who was Irish, worked as a shoemaker to the British Army.

This reporter has decided to look into her own genealogy after discovering the existence of an Irish ancestor (see the accompanying illustration). However, she is still looking for more background and trying to locate where her great great grandfather’s mother was from in Ireland. This search will continue with the guidance received at the Back to Our Past event.

For more info on upcoming events see Back to Our Past.

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