Tuesday, September 30, 2014

It’s All About the Dash

By the time you read this, I likely will have landed in Dublin. While I have had many ideas about what should be ahead of us on this trip—I have, after all, worked on the corresponding research for this event for nearly a year—they have all been thoughts about the doing of the days, the content of the occasions, the requisite itinerary. Settling in to let the event just wash over me as passive passenger, I now start to see everything from the perspective of process rather than as the search for content that has riveted my attention with its incessant demands.

This is only the second time I’ve been to Europe: the first time on the eve of welcoming our daughter into the world, the second on the cusp of launching her back out into that world. And so it becomes that such travel indelibly imprints on my mind as coupled with life’s pivotal phases. Perhaps, among such shifts in attention, I stumble upon the philosophical as I review what’s been accomplished already in the face of what is yet to achieve.

The curse of content-gathering is that we focus on the doing of our project: all the deadlines that cry for completion, all the demands, all the details. To find our ancestors in Ireland, we need to construct that eternal chain of events, the litany of his-father-who-was-son-of, and marry it with obligatory names, dates, and life events. Duly documented. We take up the chain only to forge another link. When will we be satisfied? Just one more. Just one more.

At some point, back through the ages, the paper will crumble. There will be no more documentation. Not, at least, for those lowly tenant farmers who owed everybody something but could claim nothing of their own. Yet those are the very people whose ages-old life details we seek. We will at some point encounter disappointment.

As I shift to the process of traveling there—there being that dream destination once called home by those generations far removed from our lifetime—there is nothing more that can be done about gathering such details. Other than one glorious week at the national repositories of Irish history and documents, what we will glean at this point in our journey will be the sense of being where these ancestors once walked. It will no longer be a time in which I, the researcher, am in control, but a time in which we must sit back and take it all in: the sights, the sounds, the signs of history. We no longer go to the books to extract its proof; the details will ooze from the ambience of the places where we’ve chosen to visit. “It” must come to us—whatever that unanticipated “it” might be.

This is a type of process for which we cannot make plans. It only comes packaged with serendipity. There may be a Tully or a Falvey or a Flanagan at the village market who knows just what we are seeking but could never find in a book. Or not. How can you plan to rendezvous with the answer to a mystery? You can only keep your eyes open, your ears perked, and be astute about connecting the dots. Any lead can become a viable clue.

You cannot command process. You can prepare for it solely by gathering the content to fill out all the requisite forms. But the answers we really seek only unfold. You cannot command an unknown to “fetch.”

As we enter into this unexplored research territory, it becomes all the more obvious that we need the permission to slack off those demands of content and free ourselves to go with the flow of the process. We may have once planned to travel to obtain long-sought-after content, but it’s the process of the journey alone which can immerse us in a fuller understanding of the lives these ancestors lived. John Tully, 1842 – 1907: it’s the dash, not the dates we pursue now.

Above: "The Red Houses," a 1912 oil on canvas by County Limerick native, Norman Garstin; courtesy Wikipedia; in the public domain.

Monday, September 29, 2014

On Our Way to Ireland

While madly dashing about—despite best-laid plans—with last minute preparations for our imminent departure for the homeland of my husband’s forebears, I couldn’t help but dwell on one thought: the difference between our trip across the Atlantic and that of our ancestors.

Granted, times have changed. Much. Today, we will board a jetliner, while they boarded the evolutionary precursor to the ocean liner. Today, our belongings will fit into two suitcases—and the obligatory carry-on bags, without which I couldn’t possibly travel—and, though temporarily, we’ll leave the vast majority of our personal belongings behind. Our ancestors likely could fit all their life’s belongings into the same baggage over which I gripe about such things as fifty pound weight limits.

Our non-stop journey will cost us a good night’s sleep but after ten hours' travel time, will deposit us at our destination in only slightly bedraggled condition. Theirs? Apparently the weeks it took to navigate the Atlantic Ocean were only the beginning of their travel woes.

I ran across an informative essay on the many aspects of emigration from Ireland, thanks to a file in one of those Facebook genealogy groups I told you about. A member had provided the link to this website in a document—“Useful Genealogy Websites"—posted on the Tipperary Genealogy Facebook group. If you have a few minutes to absorb the content, it is well worth the read.

The value of the composition is in its accounting of the many steps prerequisite to the actual emigration journey. Though sympathetic to the plight of those having to leave their homeland and face the hazards of trans-Atlantic crossing, I had never realized how exhausted these people had to have been at the start of their journey. Yes, there was the impact of the deplorable famine weakening many—plus the ravages by the diseases which often accompany such deprivation. But in addition to that, it was apparently a marathon these emigrants endured, just in the processes required of them merely to leave their homeland.

From travel beginning in their rural townlands to the Irish port from which they would connect to England, to the obstacles they faced in trying to secure passage on the ocean-going vessel itself, let alone the hardships of third or fourth class passage (hint: the class where cattle are given preference over human passengers) across the Atlantic, the challenges seemed insurmountable. Our Irish ancestors who made it across—I ruefully note the “poorer emigrants” heading not to New York but to destinations in Canada—were indeed Olympians at their endurance trials, world class travelers of a very different sort.

As for me and my traveling companion, all we will have to complain about will be the lack of one night’s sleep. A small price to pay in comparison.

By the time you join me here tomorrow, I’ll likely be grabbing my bags at the luggage carousel in Dublin. If all goes well despite the unpredictable rendezvous with wifi services coupled with time zone disparities, the following days will bring you brief posts—including photos of a rather amateurish sort—of our travel and research progress.

Above: "An emigrant ship, Dublin bay, sunset," 1853 oil on canvas by Dublin resident Edwin Hayes; courtesy Wikipedia; in the public domain.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Mapping Out a
Hundred Fifty Five Year Old Meeting

The very few details still available today—from the 1859 marriage of John Kelly and Johanna Falvey through the 1860s births of their children in County Kerry—give a mixed message as to the specific location of this family’s home. Yet, in little over a week, we will be in the vicinity of Killarney, hoping to uncover the very paths once walked by our ancestors. How to determine that location, when each document seems to report a different place?

The problem is this:

  • One record gives the marriage location of John and Johanna as Kilcummin.
  • That record lists John’s residence as Knockancore.
  • A baptismal record for 1864 comes from a parish called Killeentierna.
  • That 1864 document shows the Kelly address as Currow.
  • Another baptismal record, in 1867, shows the same parish, but address in Barnfield.
  • The Griffith’s Valuation shows John Kelly in civil parish Molahiffe, in the townland of Lisheenacannina.

Question: Where are all these places? More to the point, is it feasible for the same family to have been in each of these locations from the time of their courtship through the course of their early married life?

Obviously, the answer to these questions would be easily had if I could produce a map of the area including all these details—including those of any towns that might no longer be in existence.

However, that obvious solution did not occur to me. It took a tip, kindly offered by a denizen of the Facebook genealogy groups I’ve already mentioned, to knock some research sense into me. A member of the County Kerry group suggested, basically, that I take a map and check out the distances between each of the places named on these various family records.

Working on the assumption that, back in that era, a person would either travel by foot or with a horse and cart, this researcher figured a person could cover somewhere between ten to twenty miles in a day, one way, to travel to market. The possibility that said person could meet—and eventually fall in love with—a person traveling a like distance from the opposite direction means the two parties, though now in a relationship, might have originated from places which were up to forty miles apart.

Given that scenario, diagramming the possibilities on a map by encircling each town using a twenty mile radius would reveal any overlaps indicating likely pairings of origin. If the place names I’ve already encountered—Kilcummin, Knockancore, Killeentierna, Currow, Barnfield, Lisheenacannina—fall within those realms of possibility, then I likely have the same person moving from place to place.

Or, I might just be dealing with two different John Kelly families, both having a wife’s maiden name as Falvey.

Whichever result turns out to be the more likely scenario, I’m still keen on a visit to Lisheenacannina. If nothing else, it’s just fun to say it.  

 Above: Painting of a Ringed Plover by Irish artist and naturalist, Mary Battersby; courtesy Wikipedia; in the public domain.

Saturday, September 27, 2014

The Changing Face of Genealogy Networks

Face it: genealogy researchers like to share what they’ve found almost as much as they liked the finding of it. And that means they’ve always needed a way to connect.

Remember queries, those hopeful letters sent to society newsletters and genealogical publications, probably by the thousands? I remember sitting in our local library, with stacks of pertinent society publications—plus Everton’s Genealogical Helper—poring over the listings in the back of each issue, hoping to find a match.

It’s been a long time since I tried that routine.

How about the listserv? Have you ever played that game? I remember one electronic mailing list I subscribed to, hosted at the University of Pennsylvania. I think I was on others through the University of Virginia. Whoever the administrators were, they became the middlemen enabling each of us to pass along genealogical information to hordes of desperate researchers.

Once online forums made their debut, they became the logical next step in assuaging that ever-increasing hunger for more genealogical information. I played my part in the early days of both Rootsweb and GenForum, both now greatly fallen from use—and GenForum about to become a read-only archive. They, too, served their purpose in their own time as the means with which genealogy researchers connected to compare notes.

With the advent of social media, it only made sense that we would once again congregate and do what we’ve always done: share and compare notes. The #genealogy hashtag is alive and well at Twitter. I’m sure Google+ has its own set of genealogical communities. There is even an APG chapter which virtually meets at Second Life.

And then there is Facebook.

While I’ve been on Facebook for a number of years, I hesitated to dive in to the genealogy scene there. I dunno…maybe because I always saw Facebook as a place to share more privately with people I really knew, face to face. I’ve always had that need to have a secluded space to call my own, even in the midst of all the public hubbub. So I resisted the urge to even go exploring.

Now, Facebook has experienced widespread use by genealogical organizations. Many societies boast their own Facebook page. And many Facebook “groups” have been set up—whether sponsored by a society or through other means—to facilitate communication between long-distance researchers who want to know more about a specific area.

That’s where Facebook started calling me back for a second look. I’ve been desperately seeking some local input on where to find resources on site in each of the Irish counties we’ll be visiting in the next few weeks. While I’ll spend a solid week poring over books, microfilms and records in Dublin, I have two additional weeks for leisurely journeys to the counties from which some of my husband’s ancestors emigrated. I want to get some suggestions from locals on where to go and what to see—not of a tourist nature, but regarding the local history and local resources.

For those kinds of questions, Facebook became my sole answer. I started entering the name of each county in the search bar at Facebook, and found at least one group for each destination. Granted, each was a “closed” group, but it involved the simple matter of requesting permission to join. One group even turned out to have, as its administrator, an American-based genealogist I’ve already met online: Terri O’Connell, co-founder of The In-Depth Genealogist.

In the few days I’ve been a member of each of these Facebook groups, I’ve gleaned several great suggestions and been directed to some worthwhile resources. One gentleman in a Tipperary group opened my eyes to the fact that our Denis Tully family came from a townland—Tountinna—which was (contrary to my assumption) high up in the mountains. Another member shared his work on maps, graphically demonstrating the surname distribution of his Carroll surnames; while this is not a surname I’m pursuing for this trip, it was enlightening to read about his work.

No matter which way we’ve done it—electronic email lists, online forums, or social media—it’s always been great to have a way to pose a question and see its answer come back at us almost instantaneously. On the eve of our trip to Ireland, I know it’s been a gratifying experience for me. Right now, I certainly can use the last-minute advice!

Above: "Rock of Cashel" in County Tipperary, mid-1850s drawing by geological surveyor and Dublin-born artist of Huguenot descent, George Victor Du Noyer; courtesy Wikipedia; in the public domain.  

Friday, September 26, 2014

If You Need an Attorney to Do It,
It Can’t Be Fun Anymore

Gah. This latest development couldn’t have come at a worse moment. I really didn’t have time for fine print. And yet, that is exactly what I found myself muddling over last night.

It all happened in an innocuous way. It was on the cool-down period after one solitary meltdown over realizing I leave for Ireland in three days, and I am way not prepared to go. I thought, I’ll just cool my heels for a while and wander around some of my favorite blogs. After all, I’ve been so busy lately, I haven’t had time to stop by and read what’s been going on with my blogging friends.

I made it all the way to the Es—and no, I do not generally read my subscriptions in alphabetical order; it just happened that way—when I realized this might not have been a good idea.

It was E for Ellie’s Ancestors that broke the news to me: that online genealogy resource I’ve already written a rant about has decided to change their policy on charges, from pay-as-you-go to subscription.

Oh? This could be an improvement.

Or not.

It wasn’t lost on me that I had already laid money down on the books. What was to become of that?

As it turned out, the company had a handy dandy device with which to convert one’s current balance to the new balance. But not so fast—this was the same nickel-and-dime-you company over which I had already been frustrated. I decided to take my time and—groan—read through their updated terms of service. After all, “buyer beware” and all that. This is the type of late night reading that cannot possibly be termed as fun. And, of course, a little surge of ye olde blood pressure ensued upon stumbling upon that rock of offense that reminded me
Online or other republication of content is prohibited except as unique data elements that are part of a unique family history or genealogy.

What is that supposed to mean? That I am bound and gagged and prevented from mentioning anything I find about my family? What is the use of looking, if you can’t share what you find? It’s a reward of the chase to be able to gloat over fresh discoveries, isn’t it?

And how can one have a “unique family history”? Even an only child could not boast of such a thing. After all, it takes two to tango.

This is where I started realizing that only through the professional guidance of my unique personal attorney could I safely navigate this mined field of words. And if it takes an attorney to make it safely to the other side of my genealogical research quest, it isn’t a fun journey anymore.

Yes, I know everyone needs to look out for number one. What better way to do so than to hire a passel of attorneys to insure your every right is thoroughly protected? But if I have to hire an attorney so that my attorney can talk to your attorney, I stop wanting to play this game.

I had once read that none other than John Grenham had labeled the site “clunky” or “byzantine” or another such term. Though I failed to locate that comment via a Google search, I was nonetheless rewarded for my efforts with two other Grenham commentaries on the site’s past charging policies which I found here and here. Click through and see what you think. Apparently, I am not alone in my longstanding frustration.

There is, however, another way. When I think about this current distress, my mind flies immediately to another company’s terms of service, the spirit of which I vastly prefer. A while back, I took up an offer to subscribe to findmypast Ireland. While the company’s genealogical documentation didn’t meet my needs at the time, I wish it had—not just because of the disappointment of those still-elusive records, but on account of how the company conducted its business.

Take their terms of service. I was almost positive I saw phrases in their terms directing the customer to “kindly” do certain things. Their genial demeanor shone through their straightforward and fair wording on their terms of service. How can one not help but like a company that makes statements like
These Terms & Conditions are made under Irish law and any arguments about them (heaven forbid) will only be heard in Irish courts.

At the outset, findmypast Ireland stated in their terms,
We hate jargon as much as you do, so our Terms & Conditions are written in plain English.

And they kept their promise. Kindly.

Why can’t everyone conduct business like this? Especially in Ireland. After all, the Emerald Isle has a reputation to uphold. We customers of Irish descent always heard it was that way back in the Old Country. And we’re not ready to be disappointed.

Above: County Limerick native Norman Garstin, "Autumn," 1882 oil on canvas; courtesy Wikipedia; in the public domain. 

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Who, Me? Organized?

It appears the intrepid traveling genealogical researcher must be at the peak of perfection, when it comes to organization. After all, considering the resources poured into such a trip, there ought to be some return on investment.

That line of reasoning might lead one to think, “She is going on a genealogical research trip; ergo she is organized.”


Not this genealogical researcher.

So when Wendy asked, in a comment a couple days back, for my secret sauce for staying organized, I couldn’t say anything.

Wendy mentioned,
I am curious how you are organizing your notes for this trip. Notebook? Flashdrive? Excel spread sheet? How will you make sure you're not a half-hour down the road from Tipperary and suddenly remember, Oh—I wanted to look for....

Granted, she has a valid point. After all, who wants to remember what she forgot, just after the gates close and you have to head home?

I’m not the one to answer that question. I’m the one who used to be able to keep everything in my head, so list-making and spreadsheet wizardry are skills I’ve never taken the opportunity to develop. Besides, I never started this blog under the assumption that it is to be written by an expert. You know that. I’m the perpetual guinea pig. And I’m about to demonstrate that, yes, you should make a list. And yes, you should have other ingenious ways to preserve your sanity and never fail to remember everything.

I will say I’ve learned one lesson: to always have a back-up plan. Case in point: I once attended an out-of-town workshop in which I planned to share some data which was accessible on my tablet. While I carry a hotspot for back-up wifi access, I had thought the workshop location would provide Internet access. It didn’t. And though I needed to re-load the hotspot service, the time I had that morning should have been sufficient. It wasn’t: the site was down for half the day—the very hours I had left to try and re-up my service. If I had known, ahead of time, that I’d be faced with those two roadblocks, I would have just printed the material on my desktop before I left home. Sometimes, we just have to make room for “Plan C.”

For our Ireland trip, you can be sure I’ll be bringing printed copies of the pertinent data I want to have at my fingertips. You never know when the old-fashioned way will be the only way you can access what you need.

Sometimes, in the midst of research, it’s possible to find an unexpected fact that leads to the kind of questions that make you wish you had brought along a lot more of your family records. That’s when I like to have my entire database on hand. Face it, though: mine is one of those collections that contains records for upwards of thirteen thousand individuals. I won’t be printing all that out and carrying it around. Being able to tap into my Ancestry account will make the difference there.

Thanks to Far Side’s prodding, I do have lists of what I’m seeking in each county location. But even those I'll treat as a fluid read-out. Some of these journeys, I will be going in blind. I’m not sure what’s available, and what I can find. The lists are more amorphous than some people might prefer to see. That’s where flexibility comes in.

Of course, I’ve rehearsed the lines of these eight Irish individuals countless times, in my mind and out loud in explanations to family, friends and anyone else crazy enough to give me the time to listen. By this point, the quest seems rather straightforward to me. And yet, just as convoluted. Sometimes, I feel confident that I’ll find everything. And then, sometimes, I freak out that I will find nothing.

Perhaps, rather than pose as the expert and answer Wendy’s query myself, it would be better to crowdsource the answer. After all, you are just as likely—take that back; even more likely—to have some good suggestions for how to keep organized in the midst of The Big Research Trip. What do you feel is helpful? What has saved your skin, when you thought the whole trip was a bust? What tricks do you use to keep yourself on the right track?

It’s your turn to write a blog post here. Add your comments, or link back with a post on your own blog. I’m curious to see what has been helpful to you on your research trips, be they grand adventures or more modest excursions.

Above: County Clare native William Mulready's illustration to chapter one of Oliver Goldsmith's Victorian novel, The Vicar of Wakefield, "Choosing the Wedding Gown." Courtesy Wikipedia; in the public domain.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Of Technology and Tantrums

Let’s just say I sometimes do my genealogical research online at a rather late hour. And let’s just suppose, as a figure of speech, that such late hours are times when it might be more likely for cyber-spirits, ghosts and such to exert their influence on the unwary tech services of the databases I prefer to haunt.

Now, pre-midnight hours aren’t exactly what I’d consider late hours, but we have to consider one additional fact: the online services I’m utilizing are not located here where I reside, but eight time zones away, where I am seeking research bonanzas.

My mental math is getting pretty sharp lately. After all, I’ve had nearly two months of practice at adding eight hours to what is essentially a base-twelve counting system.

The woes I am about to recount to you began when I started getting irritated over a particular Irish website. Every time I tried to access that particular server, the system was down. Down, as in:
The site could be temporarily unavailable or too busy. Try again in a few moments.

Now, that would have been fine if it were a visit to a mere curiosity I had stumbled upon while cruising around on Pinterest, but it wasn’t. It was a research mission to a website offering a searchable version of Griffith’s Valuation, and I needed to access it in preparation for our research trip to Ireland.

After several nights of failed attempts to recreate a search I had once—note, that’s once—completed, it finally dawned on me that I usually did my trials when it was approaching four in the morning. Over there.

I’ll let you do the math to figure out what time it was on my side of the equation.

How could the site be “too busy” at four in the morning? Could it be that the tech people over there actually took their system offline at that time of night? And I just happened to get on the wrong side of that wavelength?

So the other night I was at my computer, doing what I usually do in the evenings: search the Net to locate what else I’m missing before we head to Ireland. I wanted to look up something on Griffith’s Valuation. Again.

Yep, it was offline. Again. And since I just couldn’t stand it, I went Googling to find an alternative. Which I did: Ancestry.com.

For those of you who follow along here at A Family Tapestry, you know when I find something I would have needed to footnote, if this were a research journal, I try to hyperlink the key terms back to the online resource, so you can follow my tracks. Since not everyone pays for—or can afford to pay for—subscription services, I try to find a free version of that same resource to use for my links. That’s why the Irish site for Griffith’s was superb—when it was up.

But hey. Bird in hand. I’m shameless when it comes to loyalties. I headed to Ancestry’s version of Griffith’s Valuation to check things out there. And what did I find?

Not the same stuff I found at the other Griffith’s site.

For instance, when I looked up Denis Tully—you know, the one I found in the County Tipperary civil parish of Templeachally—he was nowhere to be found on Ancestry’s version. The only Denis Tully to pop up there was a gent renting land in Dublin.

Wrong side of the island.

I felt like my eyes were playing tricks on me. Surely, I saw Denis in County Tipperary. Didn’t I? I went back to look, but—you guessed it—it was after four in the morning in Ireland and there was no Griffith’s website to be had.

I went on working and, as sometimes happens when I get to doing genealogical research, it started approaching the wee small hours of the morning around here. And it occurred to me, hey, it isn’t four o’clock in the morning in Ireland anymore.

So I checked on it again, and the site was back up. And Denis Tully was right there in Templeachally, just like he always was.

Now, the clincher was this: I got to thinking, if Ancestry seems to have different records for the same (?) Griffith’s Valuation, and if I couldn’t find some of our ancestors on the Irish website’s version, might I find them on the Ancestry version?

I gave it a try. And the answer to my question became a resounding “Yes!”

So what gives, here? I mean, Sir Richard Griffith did his accounting well over a century ago. It’s not like the electrons got up and re-arranged themselves on the original document. I realize there were some records which were published in the years following the original issue, so I went back to the notes for each site, trying to find any explanation like that. No such luck.

Part of me wants to be glad for what’s been found, using each version, but part of me loses confidence in the data provided by a website when it disagrees with data from another website claiming the exact same source. Something is obviously missing here. Some sort of likely explanation.

Or maybe late night hours in Ireland are closer to the Twilight Zone than we’d originally assumed.

Above: "From Pentonville Road Looking West, Evening," by Irish painter John O'Connor; orphaned as a young man, he started as a scene-painter first at theaters in Belfast, then London; courtesy Wikipedia; in the public domain.
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