BY MARY E. CHOPPA
SPECIAL TO THE BIR
First the disclaimer: I am the current president of The Irish Ancestral Research Association (TIARA). If you haven’t heard of us, we’re a group of like-minded Irish genealogists who try to help each other find our Irish origins. We have an international membership, but our home is in Boston. We hold monthly meetings and participate in festivals and conferences as much as possible for an all-volunteer organization. We also run research trips, sometimes locally or to other locations in the United States. But we almost always run a trip to Dublin every year and trips to Belfast every other year for the benefit of our members.
I never considered myself a “joiner,” as far as travel was concerned. I’ve always felt I can enjoy a trip much more as an independent traveler. Group trips were just not my style. However, that was before I went on my first TIARA trip. I’ve been hooked ever since. For a touring vacation, I’ll still stick with independent travel. But as family researchers, we need to travel in packs.
Why? Four reasons come to mind:
Sunny days spent indoors: Let’s face it: Your non-genealogist family members or traveling companions think you’re fairly normal until you talk about spending a day or more of your vacation in a library or an archive. If those repositories did not have regular operating hours, they would be like casinos to a family researcher. I remember working at the National Library of Ireland straight through dinner and wishing they did not have to close at 8 p.m. I had just come across a mystery in the microfilm and I cursed the flashing light signaling the library’s closing. I couldn’t wait to return the next morning and continue my search. If you’re not a genealogist, you’re questioning my sanity right now. If you are a genealogist, you know exactly what I’m talking about.
Did you try this? We can learn so much from each other. A simple suggestion from a fellow researcher may open a door you had not even seen. TIARA provides tour leaders who are experienced in researching in Ireland and in the USA. We also have “on the ground” researchers who consult with our participants. Valerie Adams in Belfast spent three evenings meeting with our folks and making phone calls to find where certain records were kept and who in the town would be helpful. Eileen O’Duill in Dublin has spent countless hours with our TIARA members navigating them through the General Registers Office. I’m personally grateful for the trip she helped me with in Waterford.
Ah...been there: Camaraderie is one of the best reasons to go on a group research tour. Only a fellow genealogist can understand the joys and sorrows you encounter as you dig for those roots. Breakfasts, teas, and dinners spent talking about what you found or what you didn’t find can be mind-opening. I’ve observed fellow TIARA members helping each other and also helping strangers in reading rooms. Sometimes it’s nice to be able to lean over and ask, “Can you read what this says?” when the Latin scribbles of a baptismal record seem to run together.
The real deal: Lastly, this is more of a reason to go to Ireland to research instead of doing it all online. To hold an actual piece of history in your hands is a unique experience. I was fortunate enough to visit the Waterford County Archives in Dungarven this past October. I was able to read through a Tenant Application Book, in which my ancestor, along with so many others, had requested assistance from the Lismore Castle Estate. In Dublin, I saw a payment receipt from the 1820s for gardening work done by my g-g-g-grandfather, John Sullivan, on the Lismore Castle Estate. In Belfast, I was able to trace the property of my Keeley family in Armagh from Griffith’s through the 1970s in Cancellation Books, where the property transfers were done by a stroke of different colored pens. In the digitized records of the Belfast General Register’s Office, with help from their friendly staff, I foud the birth record of one long-lost relative and the death record of her father.
So yes, I believe history is alive, if you get out there and look for it. Check out future trips on our website (tiara.ie) if you’re ready for a research adventure.