Book Review: “New Pocket Guide to Irish Genealogy”

New Pocket Guide to Irish Genealogy cover

Being the owner of the Second Edition of the “Pocket Guide to Irish Genealogy” (2002), I was glad to review this all-new, revised and expanded version of the book. Irish genealogy can be challenging, and Ireland’s history has had an impact on researching Irish ancestors.

As in previous editions, the book contains a concise outline of the history of Ireland and how it applies to genealogical research. The book contains the maps, as well as definitions of geographical and administrative areas that you will need to know while researching Irish ancestors.

If your ancestors emigrated from Ireland, your research needs to begin at home. The book gives brief insights into how to start in Australia, New Zealand, the United States, Canada and Great Britain.

The author asserts that using seven (7) major record sources, a researcher should be able to go six or seven generations back in their family tree in Ireland. This distance may be impeded when ancestors in the same place have the same or similar names, or the records may not exist. A beginning researcher would benefit from learning of these sources; an intermediate researcher is probably aware of them, but might benefit from knowing more details about how to access and use them. There are also a variety of other records, some of them potentially less obvious, that are introduced and may prove useful for placing an Irish ancestor at a place during a certain time.

The “Pocket Guide to Irish Genealogy” was originally published in 1991, revised in 2002 and revised again in 2008. This new 2020 edition is expanded from previous editions, and Irish researchers may find it worth the investment to upgrade to the 2020 edition.

This 2020 edition represents a major effort to include the ever-growing number of resources that have become accessible online. Although the Second Edition did have a chapter about “Irish Genealogy and the Internet,” this new edition contains more timely and relevant information. A new section that organizes “Insights and Strategies” includes expanded and new content. There is a three-step guide to tracing your Irish ancestors, which is followed by a case study demonstrating how to employ the steps. In the new content includes a brief chapter about when and how to DNA. Identifying genetic cousins and collaborating with them to pool records and held ¬†family is definitely a way to pool

The book includes specific details and expands on how to use the strategies with ample examples. Included in the examples, the author embeds a demonstration of how to extract data from the available records, which readers might find helpful to organize the data they collect during their research. The case study of a Scots-Irish ancestor may be especially helpful if this is an area of your research.

This book is dense with usable information, and it may take a while to digest. A researcher might choose to work through this book as an instructive text. A researcher could benefit from taking the time to read through the book slowly, focusing on a record set or strategy, and then applying what was read to their own research. This approach could be more useful than sitting down and reading the book from cover-to-cover. The book can also serve as a reference for a researcher building a family tree.

The term “pocket guide” is a bit of a misnomer; you would need large pockets to carry this book around with you! Cosmetically, I found the font in this latest version was easier on my eyes than that of the Second Edition.

Mitchell’s work to revise and update this book was worth the amount of work he so obviously invested. With its updated and relevant content, it is worth considering upgrading to the 2020 edition in your genealogical library.

“New Pocket Guide to Irish Genealogy” by Brian Mitchell is available at Genealogical.com.

Genealogical Education

One of our assignments in the Professional Genealogy (ProGen) Study Group was to devise an educational plan. It may be daunting to figure out how to know what you don’t know. You can focus on a specific individual, a geographical area or topics you want to use in your research, and fill in the gaps of your knowledge in those areas. Examples: how to map property in land records or mapping tools. Picking a topic like DNA would be too large, so identify a facet of that field you want to learn. Examples would be what test(s) are available or how to triangulate matches.

Try some of the resources listed below. For maximum benefit, apply the knowledge and use the techniques you learn as soon as possible.

Where to find resources

There are a wide variety of resources to support your genealogical education. Below are some resources that I find useful when tackling a new area. This list does not include genealogical courses or conferences, but for in-depth coverage of topics you should consider them.

Articles. Useful information can be found in genealogical journals, society publications and popular publications. A membership subscription is usually required for journals and society publications. Use an internet search engine to find articles on the web, but you will want to take some time to assess the credibility of the source.   

Books. There are plenty of publications available. You can search for what is held in your local library using their catalog, or for a loner reach search in WorldCat. Be sure to check for reviews and timelessness of the information in them.

Learning Centers. All of the major record providers (e.g. Ancestry Academy, MyHeritage Knowledge Base and FindMyPast) have learning centers on their websites. These companies want to attract your business, so they provide useful information with subjects’ background and on how to use their websites.

Tourist information. Be sure to pick up tourist information about historic sites in an ancestor’s home area. Be of the lookout for useful maps that may be available, as these may have markers for regions and locations of interest that would not be available on driving maps. Look for this information when you visit, or order by mail, or download from a tourist website.

Webinars and Videos. Webinars are a great way to learn. The speakers can offer are more animated explanations than reading words. If you attend live, you may also have an opportunity to ask questions.

There are several places on the web to find webinars. There are many societies that are still having their meetings online and welcome guests. Registration is usually required. The GeneaWebinars page has a calendar of webinars . Conference Keeper contains a listing of genealogy events online. Societies and libraries often advertise their webinars on Facebook, so be sure to like and follow their pages.

The National Archives has a landing page with Resources for Genealogists. NARA hosts a family history conference each year. Since there was no 2020 NARA Family History Day, the National Archives Genealogy Series lectures were broadcast during May and June 2021.

Definitely search YouTube for topics of genealogical interest. For example, Ancestry has a YouTube channel and there are many other videos that could be helpful to you.

NARA’s past Family Genealogy Fairs presentations are also on YouTube, but it is easier to access them and their handouts on their Genealogy Fair Page.

Wikis. A wiki is an online encyclopedia that can be edited by members of the wiki community. With 96,217 articles as of this blog post, the FamilySearch Wiki is the first stop for many genealogists. The articles are educational and contain actionable information to help your research. When researching an ancestor in a new geographic location, consider using this wiki as your first stop to find out the history of the locale and what records are available.

Happy Learning!

“DNA Detectives”

“DNA Detectives” is a New Zealand genealogy program that presents the DNA stories of two celebrities per episode. Two seasons of the program were created, in 2015 and 2017.

Host Richard O’Brien introduces each celebrity, asks about the anticipated DNA results, then briefs the celebrity on the DNA testing results. Finally, he hands the celebrity a device to stay in communication with him. The mysterious device is a smart phone.

The celebrities are given cryptic and entertaining clues as they are sent on missions around the world based on their DNA results. On those missions, they travel all over the planet to meet people with whom they share DNA to explore the stories locked in that DNA. These people sharing DNA matches have information about their shared ancestors.

While not all the celebrities may be recognizable to US audiences, the host may seem a bit familiar. He wrote the musical stage show, “The Rocky Horror Show” and co-wrote the screenplay of the film adaptation, “The Rocky Horror Picture Show,” in which he appeared as Riff Raff. Additionally, Jacinda Ardern, the Prime Minister of New Zealand, is featured on an episode in Season 2.

This program differs from other genealogy programs because of its focus on the personal connections with living people as well as the shared stories. Even when a celebrity visits an archive, personal connections are involved. Even though the majority of the celebrities may not be recognizable to US audiences, the stories are entertaining, interesting and at times very touching. Thinking about the connections we all share around the world can be inspiring. The forgotten stories are also thought provoking. I am not sure that I had heard the word “grancestors” (ancestors of grandparents) used on a genealogy program before.

Two seasons are available on Amazon Prime (2015, 2017), with Season 2 having commercials.

Book Review: “Guns and Gods in My Genes”

Cover of "Guns and Gods in My Genes"

Disclaimer: I have always considered Canada to be our neighbor to the north. It is more than the fact that we share the longest undefended border in the world. It could be all the years I played ice hockey, or all the Canadians I met both on the ice and professionally. Maybe it was what the U.S. did for Canada in the world wars, even serving in their military. Maybe it was the favor Canada did for the U.S. when the Iranian Revolution began. More than these reasons, of all the people I have met from around the world, Canadians and Americans seem to have the most in common. They share a history of leaving their ancestral homelands and struggling to settle in the new cities and frontiers in North America.

As a writer and documentary film maker, Mr. McKee weaves the themes from the title in the narrative of the book. He considers his feelings about guns and potential U.S. citizenship as someone approaches leaving the faith of one’s forebearers.

Mr. McKee took an interesting road to uncovering the stories of his ancestors. His research trips are the stuff from which legends are made. Fate certainly does favor the prepared, as he had worked to increase the odds of putting himself in the path of the cousins he met, and those people willing to share their passion for history with him.

In the book, the author shares his ancestors with us, complete with themes of sacrifices, successes and chance meetings. Chance meetings are another thing in common for North Americans, because so many couples might not have met had they stayed in the Old World. Among his ancestors we meet some who did serve God as religious leaders. Others fought in wars and hunted with guns.

The book includes the author’s research and travels, as well as highlighted vignettes based on the source material he uncovered. He takes the time to explore the context of his ancestors lives, and presents summaries of the historic events and battles. These historical sketches do bring depth to the lives of his ancestors and those who shared the times. There are boots-on-the-ground insights into the history that shaped his family and his two countries. If your ancestors crossed paths with his, these stories will be more relevant and deepen your understanding of their lives and times. (My husband’s ancestors crossed paths with Mr. McKee’s on a ship (the Mayflower), living in Colonial Connecticut and serving in Albany’s Third Militia.) He also reminds us that the times of our troubles with England caused the U.S. and Canada to be at odds.

The views into the real lives of people living in both Canada and the U.S. are interesting. Family historians may be motivated to Mr. McKee’s persistence and dedication. He traveled over 15,000 miles in North America in pursuit of his ancestors’ stories. He did his own research, but also leveraged the use of expert researchers to solve specific problems he experienced. His friendliness and willingness to ask questions were often rewarded with new cousins, or at least, new stories and understanding. The story of these ancestors illustrate how the author is undeniably a product of both Canada and the U.S.

I especially enjoyed the metaphor of stripping down the outside layers of a family’s farmhouse and finding letters in the walls. Isn’t that what all family historians seek to do, and seek to find, as they work backwards through the generations?

There is no doubt that this book will make you want to jump in your car to hunt for your ancestors, but always prepare before you leave!

Find out where to buy “Guns and Gods in My Genes: A 15,000-mile North American search through four centuries of history, to the Mayflower” by Neill McKee at: https://www.neillmckeeauthor.com/buy-the-book-2

Book Review: “The Sleuth Book for Genealogists”

"The Sleuth Book for Genealogists"

For those who have been genealogists for many years, the name of Emily Anne Croom is recognizable. With books like “Unpuzzling Your Past” and “The Genealogist’s Companion & Sourcebook,” she has written several genealogical library fundamentals.

Although first published in 2000, this latest publishing of “The Sleuth Book for Genealogists” is as valuable to genealogists as it was when it was first published. The difference between the two versions is that the 2008 version is printed on thinner paper and has an errata notice about unavailability of the catalog and rental program of Heritage Quest.

While the book’s content has not changed, the concepts taught in the book are absolutely timeless; they do not rely on a current set of links to websites. In fact, taking a step back from clicking on links can encourage genealogists to develop skills and approaches used by detectives to locate and analyze data about their ancestors.

The hunt is on for the “missing persons” who are our ancestors, guided by quotes from famous literary detectives and real people. This is a full-strength guide to genealogical research, written in an approachable manner that even a beginning genealogist can appreciate. The book takes genealogists through important concepts in research, potentially brick wall-busting strategies and examples. It contains important topics, such as census research, but digs into deeds and the complications of dates. One appendix reviews the basics of genealogical studies, while the other appendix contains a guide to documentation that steers a genealogist through the important task of citing sources with extensive examples. Although the book is thorough, the information in it is not presented at the potentially intimidating depth of other comprehensive books about genealogical research.

From planning, through a variety of techniques including cluster research, to reporting results, this book walks you through the research process. An important part of meaningful research is asking questions, and throughout the process a genealogist is presented with sets of meaningful questions to ask at each stage of solving a mystery. The book also stimulates the critical thinking process by covering what a genealogist can do with what is found, no matter how it is found.

Three thorough case studies are presented in the book to illustrate the research methodology. Each begins with an inventory of what was known prior to beginning the research, then shows the questions that were asked, how they were answered and what was learned at each step. Genealogists can follow along with Ms. Croom investigating these cases to experience the process, think about the questions that should be asked and how to organize, interpret and analyze the results of each step. After studying this book, genealogists can take what they have learned and apply it to their own research problems.  

For all the useful content in this book, there is some matter that could benefit from being updated. The idea that a computer is only useful in genealogy for storage and presentation of results is outdated. The use of computers to support genealogical research has been transformed by valuable software programs written to organize and analyze data. In addition to family tree building computer programs, even common applications such as word processing and spreadsheets programs are useful to a researcher. Sadly, for newer genealogists, an anecdote about using Soundex codes to look up a census entry may not be meaningful in this age of online databases.

I was relatively new to genealogy when I read the first version of this book, and rereading it reminded me of the many good practices that I still follow in my own research. It was good to review those example questions to ask at each point of the research process. It would be great to have an automated system with this knowledge that would help me throughout my research activities, but until that happens, I am happy to have this book on a nearby shelf.

“The Sleuth Book for Genealogists” by Emily Anne Croom is available from the Genealogical Publishing Company.