Thinking I knew a lot, I volunteered to help, but as soon as I did, huge gaps in my knowledge started appearing. Not having parents around anymore to supply information, I had no choice but to dive in, head-first, and discover everything for myself.
I began by listing the family tree on paper, but as I assembled more information, it threw up more and more questions. Then I decided that I needed method. I discovered a government genealogy site that lists births, marriages and deaths. The National Archives also give access to old censuses, the most useful of which were compiled in 1901 and 1911.
I spent at least 100 hours trawling through lists and records, cross-checking and establishing a core information data base file. I think this is similar to the information provided by genealogy sites that you can buy online.
The great advantage of doing it myself was flagging a wider range of outlying information, which provided new pointers that otherwise might be missed. Like anything else in the world, the more you try, the better and faster you become at executing.
The challenge with families is that once you get beyond immediate family members, it becomes more difficult to obtain and certify information. I now call each group of my cousins a “family silo.”
Within my family I identified nine different silos. I recruited at least one person from each silo to communicate with. I completed research before I started asking questions and avoided wasting their time. They were very helpful and two of the silos had already put together their own family tree.
I approached everyone in a professional manner which I think helped them appreciate that I was serious in what I was doing. I discovered: 1) within each silo there is usually a “squirrel” who hoards things like photographs, wills and letters. 2) the silos don’t generally communicate with each other so their research is usually confined to their own silo, and 3) some silos have old photographs and information about another silo that the other knows nothing about.
One of the consequences of the silos was information volume. The more material that people sent me, the more leads I had to follow. Researching a family is like a detective story. I tend to be obsessive and relentless once I get into something. The result is a book of 220 pages against an initially expected 120 pages. I am looking forward to sending every family member a copy when I go to print. Some of the older ones will find pictures of themselves, when they were younger, that they never knew existed!
Ancestral records in Ireland are not bad back to 1840. Some records went missing around the Irish independence era, but much is still readily and freely available. For a few of the nine family silos, I was able to trace back to 1750 without too much difficulty.
One of my cousins traced her silo back to 1350. I learned that families tend not to pass adverse memories down the generations. The beacons of reputation and achievement are celebrated but the bad news tends to get swept under the carpet of history and forgotten. I never found any murderers or infamous people in the family tree.
I ultimately joined Ancestry, the genealogy specialist, in order to source old travel and immigration records. For example, my grandfather spent a month in the USA on holiday from Ireland in 1948. I was able to locate him on passenger manifests and pin down exact dates and the ships he travelled on. One of the silos posted their family tree on Ancestry UK and invited me to join to source their information. I also found the Canadian government census information and the Australian government records helpful, which can be sourced online.
One of my favorite parts is a transcript of a Melbourne newspaper article, kept by my mother that no one in the family had a clue about. I first traced the article to a date in 1954. Amongst other things, it described a gentleman riding around the State of Victoria on horseback between 1880 and 1910, preaching to and opening new church congregations.
With a bit of digging in Oz, I found his obituaries in 1925, which contained a wealth of information. He turned out to be the older brother of my great-grandfather’s wife. I was also able to track down the date he arrived in Oz in 1864, and the clipper ship he sailed on. I could then follow his wife arriving four years later, travelling on the SS Great Britain, now a museum ship in Bristol docks.
I was also able to identify his current descendants, posted on Wikitree. They make no mention of their family connections in Ireland, so may have no idea of the hundred or so cousins they have on their broader family tree, which they will discover when they receive a copy of my book, out of the blue, next year!
She was also a very devout lady and given the gentleman mentioned earlier was her uncle, it was obvious where and who she must have stayed with. My cousins were delighted to learn this and amazed to find that it was all tracked down online from Bangkok!
I have written a number of professional publications. In 2011, for example, I wrote a book on banking and bad debt. It was published in the UK and still sells well even now. It was a technical book and I normally describe it for anyone outside the industry as a marvelous cure for insomnia!
This book has taken me six months to complete. Five months in, I went back to Ireland to visit family gravestones and meet with older cousins to collect old photographs and pick up on any interesting snippets of information.
Gravestones turned out to be an interesting source of additional knowledge. They are a good indicator of the wealth and prosperity of the family at the time of erection. They sometimes record information that is otherwise not known. I found family members not referred to in public record, notably deceased infants and second wives. One of the more interesting gravestones referred to a “castle,” which turned out to be a national heritage, megalithic stone fort on the family’s farmland that otherwise I would have known nothing about.
The book will be published shortly. I call it a patchwork of events, stories, records and photographs that includes maps and other reference material. The format will bear resemblance to The BigChilli, designed around photographs and graphic images.
I didn’t want to present it as a novel or text book that readers might find dull or tedious. I am publishing for the benefit of my children and my brother’s children so the next generation has an accurate record of the past, in an easy format, that they can use themselves in the future if they want. I particularly want my kids to know their roots, given they have lived most of their lives in Bangkok. I am doing it now, whilst I can, in a desire to create a record of this information for future generations of my family.