Sunday, March 29, 2015

Family History Day 2015


Greg Young
Click on any image for a larger version

Family History Day in the Dublin City Library and Archive (DCLA) in Pearse Street is always a great occasion.

It gives a number of those who are pursuing their own family history, or that of others, an opportunity to present their results to a receptive audience. I have done three family history presentations on these occasions and they are a wonderful way of getting you to organise your material for getting it across to an audience. They also give you the incentive to quality control your research and to pursue further avenues that suggest themselves in the course of preparation.

DCLA, and Máire Kennedy in particular, are to be commended for providing this wonderful service.

And it is a service, not only to those who have results to present, but to others who are not quite there yet, and to those who have not yet started into this branch of research but who might be inspired to do so by days like these. Even for those who are not involved in research, and who don't intend to be, most of the presentations are sheer entertainment and an education in themselves.

Anyway, nuff pontificating and down to this year's event.

Greg Young, who has been in the family and local history area for a good few years now, kicked off the day with a talk on the Smyth family of Dublin who were parasol and umbrella makers. This had been the subject of his thesis for his Certificate in Local History, a course run by NUI Maynooth in collaboration with DCLA. I have commented on another student's output in an earlier blog post.

Greg's presentation was hugely interesting. His pursuit of the Smyth family brought us through the family's highs and lows: a new start up family business; expansion of the business and its extension to many city locations; it's decline and the descent of the family into poverty; the Bishop's religious prejudice which removed the children from their (non-denominational) schooling to be taken into care, an act which further fragmented the family. Make you sad and angry at the same time.

And then there was the product. The umbrella evolved from the parasol, from keeping off the sun to keeping off the rain. They were originally clumsy heavy things but Smyth's steel technology for the ribbed umbrella made them a more viable proposition. They were made on the premises and some of the locations crossed over with my own family's shoemaking traditions, such as at Wood Quay. In those days particular trades grouped in particular streets.

Greg was clearly anxious to give the best presentation possible. This was his first talk of this sort. He needn't have worried. The next step is the book.


Joan Sharkey

He was followed by Joan Sharkey, from Raheny Heritage Society. Joan is an old hand at this and for her contribution on this occasion she told us how she set about filling some apparently intractable gaps in her own family history.

She was chasing up missing Usshers (the family, not the theatrical employees). She took us on a fascinating trail of detective work, squeezing blood out of the stones of boring official records. Many of these were in the USA & Canada where some of the missing family members had ended up. She also relied heavily on the online records (subscription) of the Irish Petty Sessions (or what has now become the District Court). If someone appeared there, never mind what he was up for, she now knew that he existed and where he was at the time. And if, like me, you are still searching for an ordinary decent criminal (ODC) in the family this is clearly the place to go. This sort of stuff is addictive.


Conor Dodd

Conor Dodd, who is now working as a historian with The Glasnevin Trust, brought us up to date on the extensive range of data now available, principally about those buried in Prospect Cemetery in Glasnevin. The service now includes access to a genealogical advisor (part time) and he stressed that, in the normal course, people are only charged for what is found. So the Trust is actually going out of its way to encourage people to draw on its facilities.

He showed us how the various data sources are interrelated and outlined the richness and limits of what is available.

He also reminded us that the Trust is a private venture which is dependent on the income it raises from its activities. This has not stopped it from undertaking, in recent years, a major cleanup/restoration in Glasnevin cemetery in order to bring it back to the state envisaged by its founders. The "Garden Cemetery" concept is coming back in. So if you are contemplating a leisurely stroll of a Sunday afternoon, there's no better place to go. (I have to declare an interest here, I love graveyards - well, most of them).


Anthony J Jordan

Anthony J Jordan gave us the run down on the Yeats family. It was at times hilarious, at others sad, and at yet others outrageous. That WB fella seems to have been an insufferable individual, though Anthony did more or less persuade us that he wrote great poetry.

You will notice the absence of a screen in the above shot. Anthony gave us an old style presentation regaling us with stories for the imagination in which the imagined illustrations went well beyond the capacity of a Powerpoint screen.

He told us it was quite late when he came across the controversy over WB's bones (ie whose bones are in the grave in Drumcliff). He recounted how, when he gave a talk on the subject in Sligo, he was accused of undermining tourism in the county. A bucket collection for a DNA test would seem to me to have been a more appropriate reaction. But there you are. Leave well enough alone and to hell with the begrudgers.


James Curry

The final session was on the Fitzpatrick family and the satirical journal "The Lepracaun" produced over a decade at the beginning of the twentieth century by Thomas Fitzpatrick.

James Curry is co-author of a book on Thomas Fitzpatrick and The Lepracaun which was launched at this very spot just a month ago. Thomas's cartoons were beautifully drawn and took a poke at hypocrisy in high places and the various pecadillos of politicians and other very important people. Thomas's death in 1912 was headline news and the poor, who he always stood up for, were caught up in a combination of grief and pride on that occasion.

James replayed a first class short video about the book which Philip Bromwell made for RTÉ.

Appropriately enough for a family history occasion, James reminded us that Thomas's artistic and cartooning skills have now passed down to a fourth generation.

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