My father has always been difficult to get presents for. If he needs something, he’ll buy it himself. If he knows he wants something, he’ll do the same. He doesn’t have my mother’s love of certain fabrics or patterns, so that we could just keep getting him Portmeirion china every year (sorry mum!)
And so it was, that many years ago, I drew up our family tree, as a birthday present for dad. I wrote to the Office of the Chief Herald to find out about the Plunkett and O’Callaghan coats of arms. I quizzed my mother and my grandmother to fill in as many details as I could. Unfortunately, I ran out of names before I ran out of paper, but dad smiled and thanked me for the gift anyway. It ended up in the attic and some point, and I have no idea where it is now. I recently threw out the photocopies the Chief Herald had sent me, while clearing through old boxes!
Family is important to me, but I don’t restrict that to blood or legal relatives. My “family” includes a small raft of honorary aunts, uncles and cousins Despite a passing interest in history and genealogy, I’ve never really done the research to find out who my family are beyond the living generations.
I would imagine that Ireland is a pretty awesome country for a genealogist to find herself in. Combine a relatively small population with religious homogeneity, and parochial records suddenly make your job more like looking for a needle in a bureau drawer, rather than a haystack. Add in a relatively small landmass, and you could quite reasonably go around the parishes and just look. Finally, a relatively low level of personal mobility – emigration aside, in an agricultural society if you inherit the farm why would you ever move? – means that if you know your family are from Dublin, or Cork, two generations back, there’s a good chance that’s where they were from three, four, five generations back.
But with all that said, I was always a bit too much of an armchair genealogist to ever go looking through the records, until about a week ago. What happened then? I discovered that the National Archives of Ireland had completed their project to digitise the 1911 census data.
Well, what a job they’ve done! You can find out more at their Census of Ireland 1911 page. They’ve highlighted some fun facts – Oliver St John Gogarty wrote “single” as his marital status, and then had to cross it out when he remembered he was married! And they have an absolutely fantastic interface for browsing and searching the data. Dad and I laughed when we noticed that the Head of Family at Dunsany Castle could not read, although the twelve assorted servants could both read and write. (Little Lord Plunkett was only four at the time – so it’s fair enough really!)
On a personal level, I’ve found the census records for George Plunkett, my paternal great-great-grandfather, the dockmaster at the South Dock in Dublin. I believe I’ve found the records for my maternal great-great-grandmother, who my mother knew as Anne-Marie Buckley Carney, but who the census records as Anne Buckley – she had been married to Patrick Buckley for just a year at the time, and they lived in a house with six windows at the front (and a stable and coach house at the back!)
It’s amazing stuff, and I think huge props should go to the National Archives for their stellar work. I look forward to doing more research when the 1901 census data is released, later this year/early next year. And if you’ve found family records, I’d be fascinated to hear their stories