Thinking Outside the Box

When people start their Irish family history research, they tend to go in search of birth, marriage, death and census records.  This is absolutely a great place to start but people often stop there.

Family history research is not just about the records that documented key life events.  It is also about understanding where they lived, what they worked at and if possible, what type of people they were.

From doing research for many years, I have had to ‘think outside the box’ to get the information I was looking for.  Remember, not all information is online nor will it ever be.  Here are some the of the usual records I have used to find out more about my Irish ancestry:

Phone Books – Dublin City Archive in Pearse Street has a great selection of old phone directories. At the time, I was looking for someone who was possibly still alive.  As I had a potential name and address, I was able to search for them in the records.  Not everyone had a phone in the 1960s/1970s so wasn’t surprised that I didn’t locate the person but it was handy for other research to know the phone books existed.

University & Professional Organsation Archives – My great grandmother and her brother when to the Royal University of Ireland. It was very unusual at the time for women to go to university and they could not be conferred in public.  In a lot of the records, they are only identifiable by their initials.  I visited the Royal University of Ireland in Merrion Square which is still in the same building as it was when my great grandmother and great granduncle attended the college.  I found lots of information about my great granduncle; his application to attend the college, his results for various semesters (see image below highlighting Joseph Kirwan Bridgeman). Unfortunately I didn’t find records for my great grandmother.  The staff couldn’t have been more helpful so always check online, or phone universities or other organisations to see what records they have.  My grandfather Patrick Joseph Farrell was a pharmacist so I got in touch with the Pharmaceutical Society of Ireland (PSI) who happily sent me a copy of my grandfather’s records.  This was invaluable information as it listed all the addresses that he practiced in around Ireland.

Royal University of Ireland

Local Historical Society Publications – you might be surprised what you might find in local history books. The internet is very good for this type of material or will point you in the direction of where the information might be.  You can also reach out to local historical societies  who generally have websites and/or Facebook groups that you can join.  I was lucky to come across a book by Garry Ahern called ‘Portmarnock Its People and Townlands’.  My husband’s family, the Donnellys, were from Portmarnock and there is a lot of information in the book about them, the forge the ran in the village and information on generations of Donnellys.  Another book ‘Portmarnock A Closer Book’ by the Portmarnock Youth Project Team also gave great detail about one of my husbands ancestors John Donnelly.  You can understand the type of person John was from the extract below.

Dad (John) was a kindly man and well known because of his trade.  He could re-shoe a horse within a couple of minutes, and at the same time was able to tell you whether the horse was well or not, by checking its mouth and legs.  The farmers would always be able to drop in, no matter what time of the day or night it was.  In winter, they would sometimes get him out of bed to put nails in the horses’ shoes  He would run in to wake one of the boys, to hold a candle for him.  Some winter mornings there would be ice on the roads, and the nails would keep the horses from slipping.  This was called ‘cocking’ the horse. 

The forge was situated to the right of the house.  Inside, the first thing you’d notice was the furnace.  This was always kept roaring hot so that Dad could melt iron or steel, depending on what he was making.  Among Dad’s regular customers were Cyril Wilson, James Kealy – the local coalman, the Jamesons, and the locals who had ponies for Sunday mass.

Dad died on the 17th July 1937.  It was a Saturday.  The coffin was brought to Baldoyle Church on Sunday for the night.  As the coffin was approaching Moyne Bridge, the men and the tinkers were all lining the road on their knees, praying.  We were very touched that people had so much respect for him.

Newspaper Archives – lots of records are online but most of them are not. I visited the Wexford County Archives to find out more about my great grandmother’s family in Enniscorthy as I knew they were very well known and respected in the town.  I had some dates of key events like marriage and death so was delighted to find articles about the Whelan family.  It was lovely to hold the same newspapers as my ancestors would have read 100 years previous. This is another example of getting a sense about the type of person your ancestors were.  This is the obituary for my maternal great grandmother Julia O’Farrell.  There is so much additional information I learnt about Julia, her family and the comunity she lived in and my missing great grandfather Michael O’Farrell.

Enniscorthy Echo 10th June 1940

This type of information is priceless.

Happy Hunting


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