Wednesday, February 19, 2014

A Genealogical Journey- Then and Now

I’m finally going back to Ireland on April 10.  My last trip there was in November 1999.  That’s 14 years of waiting to finally get back “home” again.  A lot has changed in 14 years for me- I’m a mom now, my former genealogy hobby has turned into a career, I’ve accumulated a lot more knowledge (and paper!)  But the biggest change has got to be how technology has affected how we do everything- from trip planning to ticket purchase to reading restaurant reviews.  Genealogy research has changed a lot, too, and definitely for the better.
Back in 1999, email was reigned supreme.  It was enough to be able to email the people we were staying with in Laois, have them do a little fact-finding for us and arrange meetings with some of my relatives who lived nearby.  Church records had been computerized, but access was only through the county heritage centers (who would be glad to search them for you- for a fee!) or the benevolence of the local priest.  If you wanted to see where your ancestor lived before emigrating, the Griffith’s Valuation maps were available in Dublin at the Valuation Office, then you took your paper road map and tried your best to pinpoint locations comparing the 19th century map with your airport-purchased tourist map. 
Despite these old school methods, we did pretty well in visiting places and meeting distant relatives of both my husband and myself.  I got to walk the countryside of County Laois through the Slieve Bloom mountains and see the remaining stone wall of the cottage my great great grandmother Ann (Mortimer) Walsh was likely born in before her journey took her to Troy, NY.  My husband was able to pour his own pint in pub around the corner from where his great great grandmother Ann (Myles) Doherty lived shortly before joining her sons in Providence, Rhode Island.  All this with limited computer access, and no GPS or wifi!
Our 2014 trip will be pretty different.  Our airline tickets, car rental and accommodations were all arranged online.  No longer do we have to rely on a typed description of a cottage we want to rent, there is a web page, plenty of pictures, reviews, and a“Google Maps” street view to satisfy our curiosity.   
Access to records in Ireland has improved significantly in the last few years, making it possible to see Ann Mortimer’s baptism record in an online database at the RootsIreland website, and to access the map showing Ann Doherty’s cottage in County Galway where it stood in the 1850’s with an overlay of today’s roadmap.  Countless family historians all over the world have done research on their Irish families, making it easier than ever to connect and compare notes through Ancestry message boards, Facebook, the Ireland XO website, or a simple Google search.
So what will be my strategy for seeking out my roots on this trip?  Visit the local pub, seek out the oldest, most knowledgeable person in the townland, pick the brain of my B&B host, walk the back roads.  Not so different than in 1999.  Some things never change!

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