BillionGraves for Genealogy: YouTube Video Interview

Using BillionGraves for genealogy research has never been easier. 

BillionGraves aims to document and preserve the world’s cemeteries. They provide a platform for volunteers around the world (and their smartphones!) to capture headstone images and their GPS locations. The images are transcribed and the index is searchable on the BillionGraves website and other leading genealogy sites.

Learn more on using BillionGraves for genealogy, what it offers now and its hopes for the future in this video interview by Lisa Louise Cooke with Hudson Gunn. Then keep reading below to learn a few more tips from us here at Genealogy Gems on using Billiongraves for genealogy.

Ready to learn more about using BillionGraves for genealogy?

We’ve blogged about it before:

Click here to learn how to request a cemetery headstone image from a BillionGraves volunteer.

Click here to read about how BillionGraves is now accepting source documentation uploads for tombstone records.

Click here to read my experience (together with my young son) in taking photos for BillionGraves.

 

 

New Netflix Documentary: Twins Separated at Birth Reunited by Social Media

A new documentary on Netflix tells the story of twins who were separated at birth–sent to different countries–who rediscovered each other through YouTube and Facebook. Become inspired and learn the remarkable story of how they were reunited by social media.

Twins reunited by social media

A new Netflix documentary on twins separated at birth is getting great reviews–and it’s a great story. We’ve all heard about twins being separated at birth before, but these were sent halfway across the world from each other. They only reconnected because a friend of one twin saw the other in a YouTube video.

I first read this story in the Irish Mirror. Anais, now a college student, grew up in France. She always knew she was adopted and that her biological mother was a single woman in Korea. One day, a friend sent her a YouTube comedy sketch performed by someone who looked just like her. She watched the video over and over. There was no contact information on it. Eventually, the same friend spotted the mystery girl again in a movie trailer. Suddenly, Anais was able to learn more about her from the IMBD database. Her name was Samantha and her birthday was the same as her own.

Anais reached out to Samantha on Facebook, saying she thought they were twins. Samantha replied with a copy of her adoption paperwork—from the same clinic. Three months later, they met in London where Anais lived. Each young woman took a DNA test and traveled to Korea to attend an adoptee conference together.

Throughout it all, Samantha had the video camera running. She’d already been on-screen in Memoirs of a Geisha and now she took a shot at directing herself and her sister as they were getting to know each other. The result is Twinsters and it’s on Netflix. The show is getting some awesome reviews from critics and audience members alike. If you’ve got Netflix, check it out!

This unlikely reunion started entirely on social media: YouTube, Facebook, and Skype. Just goes to show you the amazing power of these technologies to bring family members together!

More Stories Like This One: Reunited by Social Media

siblings reunited by social mediaScottish Birth Siblings Reunited: “When You Are Fostered, You Don’t Know Who You Are”

Twins Reunited 78 Years After Separation at Birth

YouTube for Family History: Documentaries You’ll Love

Genealogy Case Study: Where did my ancestor get married?

If you want to find the marriage records of your ancestors, you may need to look somewhere besides where they lived. This genealogy case study with professional genealogist J. Mark Lowe demonstrates how the concept of a Gretna Green can solve this marriage mystery.

This is part 2 of a 2 part series on marriage records. Watch part 1 Gretna Green and Marriage Records

Watch Live: Thursday, March 31, 2021 at 11:00 am CT 
(calculate your time zone

My Guest: J. Mark Lowe. You can contact Mark through the Kentucky – Tennessee Research Associates

Three ways to watch:

  1. Video Player (Live) – Watch video premiere at the appointed time in the video player above.
  2. On YouTube (Live) – Click the Watch on YouTube button to watch the YouTube premiere with Live Chat at the appointed time above at the Genealogy Gems YouTube channel. Log into YouTube with your free Google account to participate in the live chat. 
  3. Video Player above (Replay) – Available immediately after the live premiere and chat. 

Show Notes

If you want to find the marriage records of your ancestors, you may need to look somewhere besides where they lived. This genealogy case study with professional genealogist J. Mark Lowe demonstrates how the concept of a Gretna Green can solve this marriage mystery.

(This transcription was edited for clarity)

In our last video, J Mark Lowe was here and he explained that Gretna Green is a place in Scotland and it was a place well known for being very easy to get married, a lot fewer marriage restrictions than other locations. Well, that name has actually become synonymous with any place where it’s much easier to get married. And that means also here in the United States. So when you’re looking for a marriage record, and you’re not finding it, there’s a possibility that Gretna Green is playing a role. In this video, Mark Lowe is back and he is going to walk us through a case study that really illustrates the power of understanding Gretna Green, when you’re looking for marriage records.

(01:26) Mark: This case involves my grandparents, Papa Lowe and Mama Lowe. That’s what we call them. They were a very, very sweet couple. My dad knew a lot about his parents, and he was the oldest child. But do you know what he did not know? He thought they got married in Bowling Green where they lived. He just said they got married in Bowling Green. So, there I was with the county court clerk and there wasn’t a marriage for his parents!

I’ll have to tell you, my grandmother was, the term we use is a tea totaler. So that typically she was not an alcohol user. She was somewhat rigid and strict, in some ways. But I think I said to the clerk, “were my grandparents actually married?!” And he just burst out in big laughter. He knew them. So he just thought it was hilarious that a seven-year-old asked that. In the fact he said –  he called my grandmother Miss Eunice – he just laughed, and he said, “No son, I’m sure that they went somewhere else to get married.” It was pretty popular at the time. He didn’t tell me where they were married, though.

I did know that from the 1920 census, that they were already married. So in my great grandparents’ household there is my grandfather Earnest and his wife, my grandmother Eunice, living with his parents and they are married. And I knew that that had to be close to that time period that they married because I knew it was after my grandfather was back from World War I. So, this helps establish that they’re at least somewhere close, and that they’re a married couple living with his parents.

So they didn’t go to California, for example, or Texas. They didn’t go too far to get married. If they did they are already back. It was kind of like doing what we normally do, which I think is, as a beginner, we’re taught to look start in the county where they’re living. And I found a map of South Central Kentucky from that time period, 1924. I found it on David Rumsey.

map

You can see the blue star is generally where they lived kind of in the northeast corner of Warren County, Kentucky. Bowling green is the county seat, and so I looked there. I learned as a young researcher that if the marriage can’t be found where they lived, you will look at the surrounding place. You look at every place that touches that area. Well, there are a lot of counties! Nearby is Warren county, and I checked there. I checked every one of those counties and it took me a while to do it! (I couldn’t do it when I was seven. I had to wait till I could drive!) So, it took several years for me to be able to write a few letters.

You also see along that where that blue star is that there’s a railroad. It’s not a driving road. So the other thing that I thought about is the railroad. So I also went to counties beyond the adjacent counties because of the railroad. I went all the way even up to Louisville, which is just north, probably about two hours by train. North of that I even checked those counties. I didn’t find them.

Had I looked at this map more carefully, and had what I know today about the Gretna greens, I would have at least looked at the differences between the laws. I showed you those differences between Kentucky law and Tennessee law in the last video. I probably would have also looked at the statistics for the counties along the Tennessee Kentucky border where there were more marriages. Had I done that, if I had followed my own advice, I would probably have seen it.

If you follow that railroad on the map, it kind of goes down and then it goes straight south. And there is Simpson County. And it goes down to Franklin. And then there is the triangular jog. That’s a little break in the line up between Kentucky and Tennessee. It’s a historical point. Well, just south of that is a little town called Mitchellville. It’s in Sumner County. It’s just over the state line. There’s a railroad stop there. Well, guess what? That’s where they got married!

They hopped on a train, went to Mitchellville got off the train, went to the JP (Justice of the Peace) and were able to do everything and then probably hopped on the train, next train going north, and went back home.

I do want to verify that. And yes, it’s there. There’s a marriage bond for them. They married, and what’s interesting here is we always look at the bondsman to help us to connect with other family and associates and people that they know. What’s interesting about their record is that the bondsman is F.M. Groves, that’s also the justice of the peace who married them. And at the top it says that F.M. Groves paid for the bond. Do you know what he was known as? The marrying squire because if you crossed over to Mitchellville he was the JP. He had an office near the train station. I guess that probably was almost his full time job. People would come there to get married. Everybody knew about it. They would come and get married, he would take care of the license, and they would go on their way, and then he would record it. He would take all of those marriages to the county court clerk’s office over in Gallaton in Sumner County, and record those. I never thought about looking there. They actually are in the marriage register. But that’s not where they were married, and it wasn’t done the day they were married, because he did everything in his office, and then he took all the stuff over.

In the indexes, they copied my grandmother’s name which was Eunice. And on his record, you can clearly see it says Eunice Martin in that bond. Well, it’s a little scratchy. But when it’s indexed on the other record, they missed the U and the indexed her as Enis. And so that’s the other thing in a Gretna Green, when you’re checking an index, if it was copied by a JP and then taken to the clerk, it’s very possible  that there could be errors in the name transfer the copying. Or if the if the clerk was trying to read the JP’s handwriting and it was really bad, then the name could be totally obliterated in the register, which is usually what used to index the records. So that can also create a problem.

(10:10) So, they were married by this marrying squire. I found the article about him in the newspaper and he was involved with the railroad. So, he a smart man that realized that there were a lot of folks in the time period, post World War I, interested in getting married. He was in favor of that, and so that a lot of folks did it. And what’s interesting is that almost all of my grandfather’s siblings married all came to Mitchellville. They all came to the same place. And then all their cousins that married in that next decade from the 20s on, almost all of them did the same thing. They hopped the train and they came down to Sumner County, Mitchellville, and got married. It became almost like that was the heritage place and I wouldn’t have known that. But once I know it, then it’s like, I didn’t even have to go to Kentucky to look up any more records. They’re all right here in Sumner County.

So again, the Gretna Green creates a whole new situation of helping us. Once you begin to see it, you see the pattern.

One of the things that we have today that we didn’t have back when I was seven is we didn’t have access to the great records that have been indexed for us on FamilySearch, Ancestry, MyHeritage, and all these great resources. I could have looked for that marriage. But I might not have looked on Tennessee because I thought that they got married in Kentucky. So again, you do need to think about the possibility that they didn’t marry where they lived. Ask yourself, what are the places that people would typically go. If you can’t find them, clearly go back to that concept.

A lot of times our records are not where we think they will be. I was looking for one today. Pat Boone was a famous singer. All my life I’ve known that Pat Boone and his wife Shirley Foley, were a young couple that married in 1953. And I’ve always known that Pat Boone got married in this town in Springfield. It was kind of known as a Gretna Green because of the rural areas. People didn’t want to get married Nashville so they often came up here. I looked in the newspaper, and it actually said that Pat and Shirley, their newspaper accounts in Nashville, indicated that they had married in Springfield. It actually indicated the church that they were married in. It was in the study of a church right here. And it talked about who the witnesses were, because one of them was one of his college professors in Nashville. And so, I just wanted to find that record. I thought, well, since they married here, they also got their license here. But, again, that’s not the case. They actually got their marriage license in an adjacent County in Davidson County, and then they came up here and had it solemnized. So again, if I was looking for the record, even though they married here, (I looked for the record here), the record is in Nashville. And so sometimes, that’s not really the same thing as they went somewhere to get married in this case of Gretna Green, and the records are there, but again, you have to stop and think about what am I looking for? And what’s the truth of the situation? Listen to the story, and the story will help you find the details often.

(14:31) Lisa: That’s a great point. And I think you’re right, a lot of people assume that it always happens all in one place. but maybe not. And how amazing that the marrying squire performed 12,000 marriages. That’s a lot of people!

These strategies are so terrific because as you said even though we can search the index today, if it got transferred a couple of times there’s a chances of not finding it in the index because the name got kind of chopped up as it kept getting transcribed are good. You have to go back to these strategies.

(15:08) Mark: And also people had nicknames. You know me as Mark, but my first name is John. So if I actually was on the record as John Lowe, you might not have connected that with me. I know that’s often the case when I’ve been looking for brides, and I know them as Elizabeth, and I go look, and there’s not an Elizabeth in that marriage record. And I may have known she married somebody named William. So, I’m looking for an Elizabeth marrying a William. I know of a particular case where the young lady’s name was Caroline Elizabeth, and she went by Elizabeth, but her first name was Caroline, but she never used it. Guess what? She used it on her marriage record!

It could have been misheard. I know another person who went by Martha. Her name was not Martha. Her name was Mary Ann. She got a nickname of Martha, because she had an Aunt Martha. And so they called her Little Martha. It became a nickname. And so, she went by that. Her legal name was Mary Ann.

My grandfather ended up working for the railroad later. And I would say that when the railroad passes through an area, and I found this to be true in a lot of cases, with the transportation situation and a railroad often being an inexpensive way to travel, that often would have led to even more chances of the Gretna Green happening. I know of several couples along the railroad who decided to go somewhere else.

For example, to get out of Kentucky and go get married, they could hop on a train, and within about two hours, they could be up in Illinois in White County, Illinois. I know a couple in southern Kentucky who lived in different towns, they shared notes about how they were going to run off and get married and all this. But we don’t always have those notes afterwards, right? Grandma didn’t, grandma didn’t leave me all the personal things that she wrote to grandpa. In that case, this family ends up having these notes later, and they learned that the couple planned this whole thing. They hopped on the train and they met and had a bag and they went across the state line to White County, Illinois and got married. You would think, wow, I would never look that far away. All you’ve got to do is just follow that map of where the train goes.

Recently I talked to some folks in Eastern Kentucky and I helped some folks. In every case we used the railroad map and we were able to pinpoint the most logical place for them to go to get married. In almost in every case, they either went to Lexington or Louisville, because the big city had a JP. They might hear from the railroad guy who knew who to go see to get that done quickly. So they had a great experience. They were able to get back on the train and go back home and tell everybody, “Hey, we got married.”

So, one of the advantages of the Gretna Green is that the marriage can be quick, and you can get back home and announce it. I’m pretty sure that’s partly why my grandparents did what they did. They went and they came back and probably their friends knew and they probably had a reception or party either then or the next day.

Lisa: And it might be that people couldn’t necessarily afford a big wedding or it was just like a little getaway mini honeymoon or they had to get back to work on Monday. Who knows.

(19:40) Mark: Well, I think sometimes that’s the most logical reason. It’s probably very simple like that. There are some cases where we know that perhaps the father of the bride was not was not real thrilled about his potential son-in-law. He just didn’t think he was good enough for his daughter. And so he probably pushed back. I think that happened a lot.

I know in cases where they just didn’t want to wait. If all it took was crossing two county lines to get married they might just do that.  I can hear saying, “Daddy will be okay with it once we’re married, it’ll end once we’re married. He’ll be okay, you’ll all be fine.” I think the justification of young minds often will lead us to make those decisions.

Lisa: That sounds like my grandmother. I’m sure Daddy wasn’t thrilled. It was funny because they lived in Northern California, but they went to Carson City, Nevada to get married. It was just this little tiny thing in the newspaper, nothing fancy. Her fiance, my grandfather, worked for the railroad. So it was super easy. They picked a convenient spot along the railroad line.  I’m sure she felt like ‘well, we’ll come back and then we’ll ask forgiveness later.”

Use a Genealogy Research Plan

(21:21) Before I let you go, I really want to touch on one thing. I’ve been kind of trying to remind people lately about research plans. When it’s not a quick search, and what you’re looking for doesn’t just pop up on Ancestry or MyHeritage we’re going to have to dig a little bit and do this kind of background work.

As you were talking about getting the map out and then marking the spots I envision all those locations, go into that research plan. A plan helps you know where you’re going and how to approach it.

If you had to give a pitch on why it’s worth taking the time to take a deep breath and put a plan together, what would you say?

Mark: That’s easy because all of us have lost something important to us in our normal life. Now, as we get older, we lose a lot more. But when the research is important to you, a plan becomes essential. Not only does it help you think through it, and then you follow the steps as you as you see them developing.

It also helps you when you when you follow those steps and you don’t find the answer. A good plan helps you. It’s like a GPS that says “recalculating, recalculating!” If you have a written plan, if you’ve got a plan in place, when you get to that point it’s easy to just take a step back and look again. I call that my mull and ponder stage. I love to just sit and relax and rock and think through what’s my next option. A plan will help you decide what you’re going to do next.

In my years of experience, I’ll say, if it’s not there, then I’m going to look here, or I’m going to do this. I’m going to look for some alternates. That’s the real strength of a plan. I cannot imagine finding some of the great things that I’ve found without a plan. They don’t fall and hit you on the head.

You do not find new information by following the same old path. A plan helps you get to some new information.

Lisa: That’s a great point and a great note to end on. My friend, thank you so much for sharing your expertise.

About J. Mark Lowe

Contact professional genealogist J. Mark Lowe through the Kentucky – Tennessee Research Associates

Resources

Download the ad-free Show Notes handout for Premium Members

 

How to Get Dual Italian Citizenship

Learn how to get dual Italian citizenship using genealogical information with my guest professional genealogist Sarah Gutmann of Legacy Tree Genealogists. 

Watch Live: Thursday, May 12, 2022 at 11:00 am CT 
(calculate your time zone

Three ways to watch:

  1. Video Player (Live) – Watch video premiere at the appointed time in the video player above.
  2. On YouTube (Live) – Click the Watch on YouTube button to watch the YouTube premiere with Live Chat at the appointed time above at the Genealogy Gems YouTube channel. Log into YouTube with your free Google account to participate in the live chat. 
  3. Video Player above (Replay) – Available immediately after the live premiere and chat. 

Show Notes

My special guest is Sarah Gutmann. Sarah began her obsession with family history when she was 13-years-old.  She now has almost three decades of experience helping others climb their family tree. She is a professional genealogist with Legacy Tree Genealogists where she specializes in United States and Italian research. As a veteran classroom teacher, Sarah enjoys teaching  various genealogy programs to libraries, historical societies, and lineage organizations across America.

Obtaining Italian Dual Citizenship Overview:

  • Who can become a citizen?
  • Finding out when your ancestor naturalized and obtaining those documents
  • Identifying your ancestor’s specific commune (village)
  • Using the Italian archives site
  • Requesting vital records from Italy
  • Obtaining long form vital records with an Apostille (American records)

Who can apply for dual Italian citizenship?

The following list refers to examples of some categories of eligible persons:

  1. Direct Descent: from an Italian-citizen parent (if maternal side, after January 1 st, 1948) born in Italy and they were still Italian citizens at the time of the Applicant’s birth. The Applicant and their parents must have never renounced their Italian citizenship. Naturalizations occurred prior to August 15th, 1992 constituted renouncing ones’ Italian citizenship.
  2. Through Descent: from an ancestor born in Italy who was an Italian citizen at the time of the birth of their child. The Italian citizenship would pass through the generations up until the Applicant (the maternal branch could pass on Italian citizenship to children born after January 1, 1948), provided that none of the descendants in the straight line lost/renounced their Italian citizenship, such as through naturalization prior to August 15th, 1992.
  3. From an Italian-citizen mother to a child born before January 1st, 1948: applicants who fall into this category will have to appeal to an Italian civil court to obtain the recognition of citizenship.
Italian dual citizenship process chart

Italian dual citizenship process chart (Source: Dual U.S. Italian Citizenship Facebook Group)

How Do I Know When My Ancestor Naturalized?

Using Census Records:

  • Take note of the year of immigration
    • Look for passenger records
  • Naturalization
    • AL- Alien
    • NA- naturalized
    • PA- have submitted the first papers to become naturalized
  • Find Them at Family Search – FREE!

Use the census record as a guide to what court your ancestor may have naturalized through.

Looking for Naturalization Records

  • Prior to September 27, 1906, any “court of record” (municipal, county, state, or Federal) could grant United States citizenship.
  • Beginning September 27, 1906, naturalization was done through the Federal courts.
example of declaration of intent citizenship

Example: Naturalization Declaration of Intention

Contact U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. They have records from 1906 forward.

Order an “Index Search”

On the Genealogy page at the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service website click Order an Index Search or Record Request.

Provide as much information you know about the immigrant

  • Name
  • Addresses in America
  • Birthdate and place
  • Household members
  • Year of immigration

Order Record Request with Request Case ID.

Did Your Immigrant Ancestor Naturalize AFTER Their Child Was Born?

Start Gathering Vital Records!

Vital Records Issued by Italian Authorities 

Here are the Italian vital records for events which took place in Italy:

In Line Relatives:

  • Birth Certificate: Original Extended Certified Copy Issued by the Comune, with names of parents
  • Marriage Certificate: Original Extended Certified Copy Issued by the Comune, with names of parents, and any annotations of divorces
  • Death Certificate: Original Extended Certified Copy Issued by the Comune, with names of parents

Out of Line Relatives if born in Italy:

  • Spouse’s Birth Certificate: Photocopy of Certificate Issued by Comune in Italy
  • Spouse’s Death Certificate:  Photocopy of Certificate Issued by Comune in Italy

Finding the Italian Village of Origin

Here are some of the records that may include your ancestor’s village of origin:

  • Naturalization Record
  • Ship Manifest
  • Draft Record
  • Vital Records (Birth, Marriage, Death)
  • Obituary

If you don’t have success with your ancestor’s records, try searching your Ancestor’s FAN CLUB (Friends, Associates, Neighbors). These are the people who may have come from the same village. Search for their records as listed above.

Contacting the Italian Comune

  • Use Comuni-Italiani.it to locate your comune’s website
  • Find the comune’s email address and regular mail address
  • Write a request letter in Italian and include your i.d. (Letters are available in the “forms” at the Consulate Generale website)
  • Follow up! Follow up!

The Comuni-Italiani.it Webiste

Website: http://www.comuni-italiani.it/

This website provides Information and statistics on municipalities, provinces and regions in Italy. You’ll find links to official websites, zip code, number of inhabitants, banks, schools, pharmacies, maps, weather forecast, and other useful links.

comuni Italiani

Website: http://www.comuni-italiani.it/

Here’s an example of the official Italian document you are trying to obtain:

official italian document

The goal

This is your golden ticket to the Italian consulate and getting that coveted citizenship.

Vital Records Issued by Non-Italian Authorities (American Records)

In Line Relatives  ORDER NEW DOCUMENTS

  • Long Form Original Legalized by the Apostille & Translation of Document Only
  • Birth Certificate
  • Marriage
  • Divorce
  • Death Certificate

Out of Line Relatives

  • Photocopy of birth and death

What is an Apostille?

An Apostille (pronounced “ah-po-steel”) is a French word meaning certification. An Apostille is a specialized certificate, issued by the Secretary of State. The Apostille is attached to your original document to verify that it is legitimate and authentic.

Research your General Italian Consulate

  • MAKE YOUR APPOINTMENT!!!!
  • Fill out Citizenship forms
  • Download checklist and instructions

Resources

Downloadable ad-free Show Notes handout for Premium Members

Learn more about becoming a Genealogy Gems Premium Member. 

 

The Incredible Story of the Public Records Office of Ireland

Dr. Brian Gurrin is a specialist on Irish censuses and census substitutes and author of such books as Pre-census sources for Irish demography and The Irish religious censuses of the 1760s.

In this week’s video premiere he joins me for a discussion of the incredible story of the repository that held early census records and much more: the Public Record Office of Ireland. 

Dr. Gurrin will take us back through the history of the building and the surprising and ironic catastrophes that destroyed countless valuable records. Then he will share the truly inspiring ways that records are being restored, some of which will be available soon!

Watch Live: Thursday, June 9, 2022 at 11:00 am CT 
(calculate your time zone

Three ways to watch:

  1. Video Player (Live) – Watch video premiere at the appointed time in the video player above.
  2. On YouTube (Live) – Click the Watch on YouTube button to watch the YouTube premiere with Live Chat at the appointed time above at the Genealogy Gems YouTube channelLog into YouTube with your free Google account to participate in the live chat. 
  3. Video Player above (Replay) – Available immediately after the live premiere and chat. 

Show Notes

Downloadable ad-free show notes PDF for Premium Members

(This interview has been edited for clarity.)

If you’re looking for Irish records that were created prior to 1922, and you’re in the right place, today, we are talking about the Beyond 2020 to Ireland project, which may just be the best hope for Irish research in a long time.

Dr. Brian Gurrin is a specialist on Irish census records and substitutes. He’s also the author of the books Pre-census sources for Irish demography and The Irish religious censuses of the 1760s and he’s here today to tell us about this exciting project.

Lisa: What was held at the Public Records Office of Ireland prior to 1922? What kind of records would somebody have found there?

Dr. Gurrin: The Public Record Office (PRO) opened its doors in 1867. Prior to that the Irish records, the various state records, records of Parliament and so on, they were dispersed around in various repositories, around Dublin and around the country. Many of them were stored in locations that were unsuitable for maintaining records in good condition. The records were getting damaged, some records were getting damaged by damp and so on.

So, when the PRO opened, they started to take in records from these unsuitable repositories. There were a vast quantity of records available. Our earliest census records, our first census was held in 1813. That wasn’t a particularly successful census. And then are our next census was the first time that Ireland was fully enumerated by statutory census in 1821. And thereafter, we held censuses every 10 years on a year to terminal digit one. So, we held our census in 1821m 1831, 1841, 1851, and so on, right up to 1911, which was the last census that was held in Ireland, when Ireland was part of the United Kingdom.

And so, they were very important, very important for genealogists. And an interesting thing about the census: when the Public Record Office opened, and it just goes to show how research is changed, they published annual reports every year, the Deputy Keepers Reports. And when they opened, one of the earlier reports, I think it might have been the second report or the third report, made a comment about the census records. It talked about that the census records were just clutter taking up space and that they weren’t very important. And that they were just taking up taking up an enormous, inordinate amount of space in the Public Record Office. They didn’t want to receive any more census records because there were just basically clutter. And when you think about the census and how important the census is for genealogical research and family history research now, it just goes to show how historical research has changed, and how these records are vital records for historical research and historical study.

Overview of the background and contents of Public Record Office of Ireland:

  • Public Record Office of Ireland opened to public in 1867.
  • National repository for records:
    • Census returns (1813-5, 1821, 1831, 1841 & 1851)
    • State papers
    • Parliamentary records (Ireland had its own parliament until 1800).
    • County records; accounts, administration; grand juries.
    • Charters, corporation records
    • Maps
    • Testamentary (wills), parish registers (Established Church)
    • Tax records (poll taxes, hearth tax)

The building destroyed on 30 June 1922; and almost all records lost.

So it was a really vast collection and it built up from 1867 right up to 1922 when it was still receiving records into the record office.

Let’s just go back and talk about the 1821 census. Again, Ireland’s first census. When that census was held, the census recorded the names of all householders in the country, but also the act that initiated the census specified that at the each of the individual counties where to make a copy of the census as well to hold locally as their own local copy of the census. But then when the county records came in after 1891, after the fire, in the Cork courthouse, all those copies of the 1821 census also came into the Public Record Office as part of the county records collection. In 1922 the Civil War the civil war commenced, and the public record was on the north side of Dublin City in the Four Courts complex, just north of the River Liffey on the north bank.

The anti-treaty IRA occupied the Four Courts complex. We’re not sure what happened. There are two schools of thought. One is that the Anti-treaty IRA deliberately mined the building and blew up the building when they were evacuating it to destroy the records which were primarily records of British administration in Ireland. So, it was a great strike for Irish republicanism, destroying the records of the British administration in Ireland. The second thought on it is that when the anti-treaty IRA started shelling the Four Courts complex to drive out anti-treaty Republican forces there, a shell went in into the Public Record Office, exploding munitions that were stored in the Public Record Office.

Whatever happened, it was quite a disaster for Irish record keeping the beautiful fantastic archive was destroyed. It was explosions that occurred on the 30th of June 1922. It was a catastrophe for Irish history. The building was destroyed, this beautiful archive was destroyed. Records going back 800 years were blown up. The records were scattered around Dublin City. Records were blown on the wind over 10 miles out around Dublin. People were picking them up and handing them back in. There were very little handed back in. It was a catastrophe for Ireland and a really great tragedy. So that’s the backstory.

There was two parts to the records office. In designing this, they were really careful to try to ensure that nothing, no catastrophe, could happen that these records could be destroyed. There were two parts to the building. There was a squarish type building (on the left in the photo).

Ireland Public Records Office

Ireland Public Records Office

That’s called the Record House. That’s where the researchers went. If you want to access records, you went into the Record House, (it was like the Reading Room of the archive) and you filled out a form. You filled out the details of the record you wanted.

The building on the right was called the Record Treasury. It was called the Treasury because these were Ireland’s treasures. This was where Ireland’s treasures were store. It was a beautiful archive containing beautiful records of Irish history over 800 years.

If you look up towards the roof, between the two buildings, you can see a gap. This was a fire break that was that was installed because it was thought that if any fire broke out, it wasn’t going to break out in the Record Treasury, it was going to break out in the record house where the where the public came in and where the heating systems were. So, they wanted to ensure all the collections of records that were in the Record Treasury were going to be protected from fire. So that building isn’t actually joined together. That’s a false wall there. That firebreak gap between the two buildings was to ensure that there was no possibility that a fire could spread from the Record House into the Record Treasury and destroy the records.

The great irony is that when the fire broke out, when the explosions occurred, the explosions occurred in the Record Treasury. That meant that the firebreak operated in reverse protecting the Record House from the Treasury. And by coincidence, whoever was working on records on the day that the record office was occupied, those records were moved from the Treasury to the Record House for them to access. Those records remained in the Record House. So, a small quantity of records survived just by pure accident because people were using them in the Record House at the time. So, the firebreak operated in reverse, protecting the Record House from the fire that was in the Record Treasury even though it was designed with the idea that it would protect the Treasury from any fire that was going to occur in the Record house.

Lisa: Did you say that there was actually munitions stored there?

Dr. Gurrin: Just to take up on the first question that yes, they did. They were really careful to ensure that no damage could come to the records. It wasn’t just that they installed a firebreak, but they also made sure that there was no wood in the Record Treasury to ensure that there was no possibility. So everything was metal. Initially there were wooden shelves in there. But then, maybe 10, 15 years in, the Deputy Keepers annual report says, that’s it, there’s no wood left in here, We have it perfectly protected, so there is no possibility of fire occurring in here.

A  view inside the Record Treasury:

Ireland Record Treasury

(enhanced and colorized photo)

There were six floors in that building. You won’t see any wood at all.

These people are called searchers. So, you go into the Record House:

Searchers

The Record House

You’d sit down in one of those benches down the back, you’d fill out your document, and you’d hand it up to the clerk behind the desk. They give it to one of the searchers who then goes in through those double doors. That’s the way in between the firebreak and the link into the Record Treasury. They wander up to the steps to whichever floor the record was on and find the record, and bring it back down into the Record House for you.

Now we do have a great knowledge of what was in the Record House.

record treasury chart

record treasury chart

There was a kind of a central aisle down. On either side there were what were called “bays”. There were six floors to it. This chart is giving you an indication of what was in the Record Treasury and what type of records were in the bays.

Public Record Office inspection document:

docket image

Tennyson Groves was a great hero of mine. He was a genealogist who sat in the Public Record Office and transcribed vast amounts of information from various census records. A lot of what we have surviving now are transcripts that were transcribed by Tennyson Groves.

Lisa: You mentioned the copies of records that were often made. We see that in genealogical records around the world that sometimes copies get made, and then the original set may go to a central location, and then they would keep a set locally. You mentioned that with some of the census records they actually sent the second set into the public records office as well. Do you have a sense of how many duplicates are out there? I mean, how much hope is there that there are copies of some of the things that were in the building and lost that day?

Dr. Gurrin: That’s a really good question.

Once the fire occurred in the courthouse in 1891 in Cork, they said, ‘right, we cannot have, we can’t have a situation where local records are stored in unsuitable accommodation like this. They can’t be destroyed. We have a perfectly fireproof location here. So, we’re going to take them all in.’

So, whatever records counties produced, like as I said, the 1821 census, they were required to make copies. Not all counties produced copies, and not all counties produced complete copies for their county, but many counties did. And many counties produced partial copies. All of those went into the Public Record Office after 1891 as per instructions of the Public Record Office. They all went in except for one county, which is county Cavan. About 40% of the census records survive for Cavan. They were the only county that didn’t send in their local copies into the record office. All the others transferred.

If the fire hadn’t occurred in Cork, maybe the Public Record Office would have let the records stay locally, and they would have survived. In terms of survival of records, Cavan is the only county that copies of the 1821 census survived. Now there are four volumes of 1821 census original volumes that survived. Some bits of partial sets of records have survived. That’s four out of 480 original volumes that existed. So, it’s like 1% of the original volumes from 1821 to survive. But for Cavan 40% of the county is covered by copies that were made under the terms of the census act.

Then there are transcripts for various parts from genealogists and local historians. Prior to 1922, they made copies. But in terms of survival there’s probably about, I suppose, 50 or 60,000 names surviving from 1821 and transcripts. Now that’s 50 or 60,000 names out of the 6.8 million names that were enumerated in 1821. So it’s really, really tragic.

And it’s even worse as you go as you go to the next census for 1831, the survival rate is even lower. And for 1841, it’s very low as well. And there are about two and a half thousand civil parishes in Ireland. And for 1841, there is only one parish that the original record survived. The scale of the losses is just catastrophic.

We are very lucky in that we do have census substitutes. In some instances, we have a wonderful land value taxation valuation that was conducted in the 1860s or in the 1850s called Griffiths Valuation, which is effectively a census substitute. But that’s what we’re down to as Irish genealogy. We’re down to using census substitutes in a lot of instances because unfortunately, this wonderful census records were lost.

There was one other very interesting census that was conducted in Ireland in 1766, a religious census. And that’s a real focus of our project now. It’s a magnificent survey that was conducted that is in the second book of mine that you mentioned. Some original records survive from that as well. So, that’s a really interesting focus of our project, which I could talk for hours!

Lisa: How has this loss of records been coped with over the last 100 years? Were there efforts to try to reconstruct them and fill it back in?

Dr. Gurrin: There were. As soon as the Record Office was reconstructed they did put out calls for records or records transcripts that were taken before 1922. Those came back in and were donated back into the facility. They did make efforts to recover them.

A lot of the records like the charred remains of records that were picked up around the streets of Dublin and in the vicinity of the Four Courts were collected and boxed and cataloged. Many of those records weren’t accessed again until our project started.

The National Archives has been cataloging those records that were picked up almost 100 years ago on the streets of Dublin, and they’ve been cataloging them they’ve been trying to recover them to try to treat them to make them accessible again.

There were various efforts made and donations came in from genealogists like we had a lot of genealogists who transcribed records previous to 1922. If genealogical transcripts came up in auctions the government was very active in trying to secure those. They did as much as they could do, I think, to try to recover the losses, but it was only going to be a drop in the ocean in comparison with what was there.

Lisa: Now you’ve got a brand new project called Beyond 2022. Tell us how this gets started. And what’s your end goal?

Dr. Gurrin: It’s part of the decade of the decade of Centenaries in Ireland. There were a lot of things happening around 1916, with an Easter Rising around 1918, with a general election, which saw Sinn Fein’s win the majority of the seats. It saw the War of Independence, the Civil War, and then the government of Ireland enacted the partition of Ireland. So, it was a lot of things happening around there.

Beyond 2022 really fits into that as a part of the Decade of Centenaries. It’s a two year project that’s been going on with the intention of identifying material that still exists in archives around the world and local archives here in Ireland. It’s an effort to recover it to make it freely available digitally online. They’re being digitally imaged as high-quality digital images. They are being transcribed as much as possible. And that’s not being hand transcribed. This is a transcription package, which is reading the handwriting and trying to transcribe that handwriting into searchable text.

At the end of it, it is the intention of the project to make 50 million words available and searchable through the Beyond 2022 website. So you will be able to enter a name, enter a name, enter a townland name, enter a place name, enter free text and search these documents and come back with whatever we have. The launch date is June 30, 2022.

Learn more about Beyond 2022

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