Updated: Dec 29, 2018
It’s that time of year when people are planning their summer vacation and if you're lucky, it will include some genealogy. I’ve noticed a lot of posts on various Facebook genealogy locality pages of people commenting that they will be in Ireland this summer and asking questions about the area. That’s a great place to find additional information. If your ancestors came from Mayo, it makes sense to join their Facebook group to meet others whose ancestors also came from Mayo. You get the added benefit of the knowledge of those that still live in Mayo and are wonderful about answering questions. Go to Facebook and type in the name of the county and genealogy to find the pages for your county. You may need to “join” the group. They’ll ask you to answer some questions about your ancestors which keeps bots and others without interest off the site.
Another site you might want to look at is Ireland xo. This was set up a few years ago to help the diaspora find their way back to their ancestral townland. You can put information on your ancestor on the site, or post a query on the message boards. In some cases local people monitor the site and will respond with information. They also offer a meet and greet for those traveling to the area.
Last year I wrote a series of blogs on researching in Dublin, Belfast and in the counties where your ancestors lived. If this is a touring vacation, you may not have a great deal of time to research, but soak up the history and beautiful places around Ireland. Your next visit can then be focused on research.
Here’s some information on preparing for your trip.
Analyze your database to determine what information is missing. You need to know the location where your ancestor lived, preferably something more than the county. If possible, sort your database by location, then begin with those close to the area where you will be traveling to create a research plan for the missing information. Can you fill in the missing information using local resources or the Internet? You don’t want to spend your valuable time in Ireland filling in information you could have accessed from home. Prioritize your research by location and family. Focus! Although you want to get as much information as possible, it may be more effective to focus on a single family or location.
Obtain maps of the area. If you will be driving, look at other possibilities for research on your route including museums, cultural exhibits or places of historical interest. Mark the locations of the repositories, cemeteries and churches as well as county libraries and archives.
Understanding the history of Ireland will help you make sense of the records (or lack thereof) and will make your trip more enjoyable whether you are researching or touring. Here’s a link to some recommendations.
Research the repositories (libraries, archives, churches, cemeteries) you plan to visit. Check their hours and any closing information. You don’t want to arrive at your location only to find that the repository is undergoing renovations, or that there is a local holiday and the facility is closed. Currently, for example, the National Library of Ireland is closed on Mondays. Frequently churches or cemeteries only have part time workers and limited hours. Some churches also have restrictions that may prohibit you from viewing their records. Always write to the minister or priest prior to your visit. Most of the main repositories in Ireland require a Reader’s Ticket (which is free). This is a simple matter of filling out an application and providing identification: a passport and sometimes a second form of photo ID with your address. The National Archives of Ireland for example, requires two forms of identification, one of which must have your home address. So even if you’re not driving in Ireland, bring your driver’s license. Check policies on electronics. Will you be able to use your laptop? This is not a problem in the major repositories. You can carry in your laptop, but must leave bags, coats, etc., in a locker. You may not have power close, so make sure your laptop is fully charged. It’s also a good idea to have a security lock for your computer. Some other questions you should ask include: Is there Internet access? Can you use a digital camera or scanner? (Always ask at the repository. Some documents cannot be photographed.) Do they use copy cards or do you have to have change (local currency)? Are the printers paper or digital? If the information is not on their website, send an email.
Once the housekeeping issues are taken care of, use online catalogs to determine what records will answer the questions in your research plan. Find out if the documents are onsite, or whether they need to be ordered prior to your arrival. The National Library, the National Archives and the Public Records Office of Northern Ireland are “closed stack” repositories. With the exception of some general material and microfilms, you will order the material you wish to review using your Reader’s Ticket and it will be pulled by the staff. This also requires some planning so material is waiting for you and not the other way around.
Plan for downtime. Working from 9 am until 5 pm every day without time to analyze and adjust your research plan will leave you overwhelmed. Plan to spend some time each evening reviewing the information you collected and adjusting your research plan as necessary.
Travel light! Overseas flights, and especially those within Europe have strict weight limits. Light weight clothing which can be layered works best (you can never guess whether a repository will be warm or cold). And always carry an umbrella…it’s Ireland! If you’re researching, the most important items are your records and the best system is the one that works for you. I travel with very little paper, but if you’re a paper person, work to get the material in as concise a form as possible. I would recommend folders as opposed to rigid binders since you are not likely to have a great deal of space to work in. Keep your files in your carry-on, along with a change of clothes and any medications. If the airline loses your luggage, you can live without your clothes, but not your files! Since my files are electronic, they’re on my laptop, tablet, my phone, as well as backups in the Cloud.
Make certain you have the correct power adapters for your electronics. Most electronic devices have switching power supplies so you’ll only need a plug converter, but verify with your manufacturer. If you plan to use your phone, check with your carrier about adding international service. Make certain you understand how your phone works, and turn off “roaming” so you don’t get hit with a huge bill on your return. You will usually be able to use the wireless service at your hotel or research facility. You can also call home using a service such as SKYPE® or FaceTime®. Check with your hotel to see if they charge for Internet access.
Finally, notify your bank and credit card companies that you will be traveling in Ireland (or elsewhere). Make sure you understand how these financial institutions charge for international currencies. Here’s an article I posted for the people joining me on my research trip in October.
I always travel with some DNA kits…you never know when you’re going to find a potential cousin. Now is a great time to stock up with all the special deals for Father’s Day. Check out my Current Promotions page for details.