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Research Trip Preparation

Valuation Office - Dublin

I am starting to get ready for my Research Trip to Ireland. Although I don’t have a lot of time to do my own research during the week of the trip, I go over early and stay late to get some of my own research done. As I have cut back on lectures and client research, I finally have some time to work on my own family. If you’re getting ready to research in Ireland (or anywhere else) here are some steps to help you prepare.

First, decide on the primary family you are going to research. I see people arrive with a list of every surname they have identified and jump from place to place. You need to focus. Pick one primary family and then a backup. You might also have some specific items you want to look at on your to do list but don't let that distract you. You won't be able to get everything done during one trip.

Once you decide on a family create a Research Plan (you’ll also need a research plan for your backup family). You can use the form on my website, or create your own, but the plan should specify your research question. “Find everything on the Johnston family” is NOT a research question. It needs to be specific so you will know when you have answered the question and can move on. For my trip in May, my Research Question(s) are: (1) Who was the mother of Rachel Johnston b. About 1845 in Leitrim? (2) Who were Rachel’s siblings? (3) How are James Johnston and Arthur Johnston related? I have one other goal which is to find a male descendant of James Johnston who would be willing to take a Y-DNA test.

Once you have defined your research question, what do you already know that relates to the question(s). This is where it is important to review all of your previous research. I haven’t really worked much on this family since the 1990s. Rachel Johnston is my 2x great grandmother. She married James Mackay/Mackey on 12 July 1866 in the Parish Church of Rossinver (COI) in northern Leitrim. At the time of her marriage she listed her residence as Cornagee and her father as James Mackay.

Rachel had a sister, Margaret who in 1864 married John Curry. Her marriage record also lists Cornagee as her residence and her father as James. There was, however no James in Cornagee (official townland name was Cornageeha). There were James' in Unshinagh and Moneen. (Here's a blog I wrote earlier this year about the Johnstons in Rossinver Parish in Leitrim. I always find it helpful to write...sometimes in a Register format and sometimes in a blog.) The family story passed down through my uncle states that Rachel Johnston’s family was from Unshinagh.

I’m currently working on the “what I know” section for the Johnstons. I begin by printing a Register Report from my genealogical software. The Register Report includes all of my research notes as well as the standard name, events and children. As I re-read everything in my files, I make notes on anything else I find…some of the information can be documented with various sources, other information may be a hypothesis and require further research. Those are the items that go onto the list of research items.

Although I have documented two children of James, Rachel and Margaret, I have a hypothesis that William who appears in the 1901 and 1911 census in Unshinagh is another sibling. If that is true, then Eliza, who is listed in census records as the sister of William is also a sibling. Margaret and Rachel would fall nicely between Eliza and William. Since all of these individuals died in Ireland, the death record does not provide the name of the parents.

Now that I have my research question, and know what I already have, my next step is to determine what records exist for the time and place that might answer my research question. The roadblock here is that all of the Church of Ireland records for this area were destroyed in the Public Records Office Fire in 1922…so church records don’t begin until 1876. If I’m going to be able to answer the research question it will require an exhaustive search and a written proof summary to document my conclusions. Next week I’ll continue with my research into what records might provide the answers.

Happy Hunting and Stay Safe!

A Digital Bundle of the Quick Reference Guides is on sale through the end of

December at half price. Check it out on my Store.

Also check the Promotions page for special offers from various companies on

DNA and subscriptions.

Space is still available for the October Dublin and Belfast Research Trips. The May Dublin Research Trip is sold out, but there is still a couple of spaces left for Belfast.

Ends December 10th

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