Archive for October, 2009

Tracing Your Irish Roots

Tuesday, October 6th, 2009

Writing a book, even a comedy memoir such as Lord of the Rams, requires a certain amount of research—especially when you’re relying on memories from 20-odd years ago. Research can simply involve talking to family members and friends to confirm your recollections, or it can involve looking through books or websites to confirm facts and figures.

Of course research can be a fascinating hobby in its own right:

A work colleague recently sent me a link to the National Archives’ Census of Ireland 1911 (http://www.census.nationalarchives.ie/) website. And once I began looking up my ancestors, I was hooked.

This amazing digitisation of the Census results from 1911 provides information such as name, age, sex, relationship to head of the household, religion, occupation, marital status, and county or country of birth.

Despite the fact that only one of my four grandparents were alive in 1911 (and only one survives today), I was able to track down the Census information for all of their immediate families.

Tracking down my grandfather Smith’s ancestors was especially fun. My grandfather, John Smith, was born in 1912—one year after the Census took place. However, his father’s name was also John. But that didn’t make my search any easier. Anyone with a passing knowledge of Cavan will know that Smith is one of the most common names in the county to this day—and few names more popular it would seem than John Smith. In fact, the census site records 250 John Smiths in Cavan in 1911.

Fortunately, after asking my father a few questions, I was able to narrow down my search by townland and I eventually identified my grandfather’s family for certain by the names of his brothers and sisters (thanks again to my father’s vague but useful memories). And in an eerie twist, my great-grandfather’s handwriting on the Census form was almost identical to my father’s—the resemblance was uncanny.

The Census site also provides other fascinating information on land/buildings owned by a family and the number of children born alive vs. the number still living. It’s an amazing insight into life in Ireland almost 100 years ago. The 1901 Census information will be released in due course. In the meantime, start digging up the past from 1911 at http://www.census.nationalarchives.ie/.



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