Sunday 11 October 2020

Brian Mitchell's New Pocket Guide to Irish Genealogy

The Genealogical Publishing Company recently sent me a free copy of Brian Mitchell’s NEW Pocket Guide to Irish Genealogy, to independently review.
This handbook is divided into three easy-to-read sections.

The first section includes an outline of Irish history and genealogy for those beginning their Irish research, as well as information on how to get started from overseas, and the first steps a researcher should take.

The second section covers Irish record sources. Here, Mitchell examines how to make the best use of his seven ‘major' record sources, which he claims enable all researchers trace their roots back six or seven generations, on most lines. My ancestor scorecard supports this, to an extent, though it must be admitted, despite nearly ten years dedicated research, the names of only 9 of my 64 ancestors in the seventh generation have been identified.

Still, the majority of people born in Ireland during the 19th century and late 18th century, are bound to be found mentioned in these seven sources:
  • Civil registers of births, marriages and deaths
  • Parish registers of baptisms, marriages and burials
  • Gravestone inscriptions
  • Wills
  • The 1901 and 1911 census returns
  • Griffith’s Valuation
  • Tithe Applotment books.

Next, Mitchell examines a wealth of ‘other' record sources, including the pre-1901 census fragments, newspapers, directories, school registers, 17th and 18th-century census substitutes, plantation and settlement records, military records, workhouse records, memorials of deeds, and estate records. These sources should enable most researchers to fill in gaps and build a much more complete picture of their ancestors' lives.

The worked examples provided liberally throughout the section are especially valuable for anyone beginning their Irish research. They often illustrate how to construct two and three generational family trees, from the information contained in the record being examined.

Essentially, in the current COVID-19 situation, directions on how to access digital copies of the records online are provided.

The sources and worked examples reflect a distinct Northern Ireland flavour, an acknowledged bias perhaps, and probably irrelevant to a beginner, who might easily apply the principles involved to their own research. However, the more experienced researcher, whose ancestors are not from Ulster, may find themselves at a relative disadvantage. For example, the non-denominational burial registers in Dublin, which often prove indispensable in tracing Dublin city lineages back that extra generation, are not mentioned in this guide. But should the bemoaned gaps in my pedigree ever take my research to Northern Ireland, Mitchell's local knowledge might come in very handy indeed.

The final section generously shares the 'insights and strategies' Mitchell garnered over many years working as a genealogist in Ireland. It appears as a mishmash of unrelated ideas, yet a knowledge of each topic is often crucial to successfully tracing Irish roots. Subjects covered include Irish place-names and administrative divisions, the origin of Irish surnames, Irish passenger lists, an introduction to genetic genealogy, and a list of sources for tracing Scots-Irish ancestors. To conclude, Mitchell sets out two case studies demonstrating how to apply everything in practice - one that works backwards from a man who died during the First World War, and another that traces the origins of a Scots-Irish family who emigrated to the US in the 1700s.

With nearly 40 years’ experience as an Irish genealogist, Brian Mitchell is already the author of several notable Irish genealogy reference books. He currently heads up RootsIreland's Genealogy Centre in Co. Derry, Northern Ireland. This handbook is ideal for newcomers to Irish genealogy, providing them with everything they need to know, but its 122 pages, crammed full of expert knowledge and experience, will almost certainly contain something for everyone.

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