Sunday 23 October 2011

Back To Our Past - report

I'm just back from three days in Ireland, two with family in Kilkenny and today at the Back To Our Past event at the Dublin RDS. This is the second year of the event, but my first attendance - and it's a cracker!

With my wife and boys in tow, we touched base first of all with Bob and Liz Blatchford, who have been doing a roaring trade with the newly released Irish Local and Family History Handbook ( Having contributed four articles to it I received a contributor's copy and so had a great read of this on the way back at Dublin Airport and on the plane and there are some top notch articles in there from William Roulston, Karel Kiely, Ann McVeigh, Jayne Shrimpton and many others. This is the first time that there has been a dedicated Irish edition, and Bob and Liz couldn't sell them fast enough. I did a short video interview with Bob about the book which I will upload tomorrow to allow you a better look.

I then did the rounds and met many people I already knew and many more I did not. Julie Phibbs was having a great show with Irish Roots magazine (, as was Tony Beardshaw from Yorkshire based genealogy supplies company MyFamily (, so after catching up with them I started to see what news I could glean.

I spoke for some time with Brian Donovan of Eneclann ( and FindmyPast Ireland (, which has just launched the prison registers for the Republic from 1790-1920. Unfortunately the northern records are not included as they are held by PRONI, and not the National Archives of Ireland, but it is hoped that they might be included at some stage - although from what I can gather the remit of PRONI has something of a stumbling block with regards to any kind of commercial involvement, so it may be a while. The southern prison registers, however, were clearly doing the business for the team today, as the area was PACKED! Brian mentioned that petty session records will be going online next year as another major development from the company, and there were a couple of other developments with FMP that we discussed off the record, but suffice to say, there are some interesting things happening in the near future.

One FindmyPast development is of course the big newspaper project with the British Library. Amy Sell from the UK branch of the company had been in Dublin on Friday and Saturday to demonstrate the collection, though I knew she would not be there today. The site itself was not actually demoed from what I can gather, rather Amy gave a Powerpoint demonstration, but it sounds like there are some real gems being unearthed. My understanding now is that there will be newspaper records from this launched leading up to Christmas but that any Irish material may not make it onto the site until well into next year. No idea about Scotland or Wales, but I can only add that the site at is still only discussing the launch of English titles at present, so it may be that additional material elsewhere in the UK might come in subsequent phases.

On the Irish newspaper front, however, there is some other brilliant news - Irish Newspaper Archives ( is about to expand. This site carries digitised copies of both old and new titles, so here is the update:

By December 2012
Donegal News 12/01/1980-14/12/2001
Fermanagh Herald 9/2/2011- current
Strabane Chronicle 10/2/2011-current

To be added 2012-2013
Limerick Leader
Sligo Champion
Skibbereen Eagle
Butte Independent (Montana)
An Gaodha (Boston)
18th century Trade Directories
- Slater's Directory
- Irish Parliamentary Records
Parish Records
18th Century Ordnance Survey Maps
18th Century Photographic Archive (Lawrence Collection)

But here's the real goody - the Belfast Newsletter is to be digitised imminently. This is exciting for two key reasons - 1) loads of my family come from Belfast; and 2) it is the complete collection, not just the material available already on the British Library's 19th century Newspaper Collection (currently carrying 1828-1900). The paper was first established in 1737, and is the longest running continuously published English language newspaper in the world. An incomplete index to the title for the years 1737-1800, is available at although there are gaps in the coverage (particularly from 1737-1750).
But to see the whole thing online - including the 20th Century copies - is going to make one hell of a difference! :)

I caught up with Ann McVeigh from PRONI ( and had a discussion about developments. The online Northern Irish wills project, currently up to 1943, is being extended, and will potentially keep going from what I understand up to the present day, subject to funding etc. It is already sorted well into the 1950s, though Ann was unsure if the new additions have gone online yet. There is another major project Ann referred to which she said she could not mention yet, which is moving slowly - however, although she could not tell me, in an article she has written for the new Irish and Local History Handbook, she does reveal that there is a project underway to digitise the Re-Valuation Books held at PRONI under VAL/12B. In other words, the sequel to Griffith's Valuation.

Richard Griffith's valuations from 1847 to 1864 were the primary valuations, but a series of revisions were made to those records annually up to the 1930s in big decade long volumes. The potential for this is going to be quite frankly, phenomenal for those with Northern ancestry, allowing people to trace the changing ownership of a property for the duration, and adding further weight to my theory that God may well be Northern Irish... The other possibility that Ann may have been referring to is the 1939 National Register which is also being looked at, as I understand it - we'll just have to watch this space and see what pops up next!

New sites I came across include Irish Gathering ( - not to be confused with The Gathering announced by the Irish Government a few days ago, but instead a social networking site which offers you your family coats of arms and a chance to explore clan affiliations etc. Hmmm... I'm personally not a great one for sites that say "Buy your clan coat of arms - buy one get one free!". But there may be more to it. Another new site is Irish Lives Remembered, one I was more impressed with at A very straightforward proposition, simply providing a place where you can create online memorials to Irish ancestors, but it looks great, and well worth exploring.

Two final discussions to mention - I finally had a chance to meet John Grenham, a man who may well put a hole in my theory concerning God's Northern Irishness, because he might well be a candidate for being the Big Yin himself (and that was definitely not a northern accent he was using!). John's Tracing Your Irish Ancestors is the modern bible of Irish genealogy - and he is now working on a fourth edition which he reckons will be out March/April next year, with significant additions concerning online resources and other materials. He is also running an online genealogy course in partnership with the Irish Times, which is aimed at those starting off - see - which seems to be doing well.

Staying with education, I also talked to the University of Limerick about their MA in the History of Family, and their Certificate in History of Family and Genealogical Methods. I'm sorely tempted on the MA front, though having spent a substantial amount already on a postgrad diploma at Strathclyde in Genealogical Studies over two years, the MA is a serious amount of money for the year long programme - 7595 Euros if studied in a year online, or 4611 Euros if part time over 2 years (the Scottish MSc is about £800 by comparison). The course itself, has a really good take on it, looking at context within which families lived as well as genealogical practice, including all sorts of sociological and other aspects - but that is a lot of money. Further details on that at,_Humanities_&_Social_Sciences/History_of_the_Family. The certificate programme by comparison, is a much more affordable 684 Euros - see

And finally - the Titanic! BIG exhibition kicking off next year in Belfast - though I've misplaced the leaflet I picked up, so will bring you more on that in due course! :)

Overall, the show at the RDS was one of many features at an over 50s expo essentially, and so the family history section was relatively small compared to something like Who Do You Think You Are Live in London - but the key thing is it had exactly the same buzz. And whereas WDYTYA Live is usually beginning to die by 4pm on the Sunday, by 4pm today the show was getting busier and busier. I have no doubt it will be phenomenally successful - and I'll definitely need to return again next year!

(With thanks to Bob Blatchford, and all those I managed to speak to in Dublin at the event)


1 comment:

  1. The following comment was made by Damian of on the Scottish GENES blog - I've posted here also to provide further info on the site:

    Hi Chris,
    It was good to briefly chat with you at the Back to Our Past Expo. I was at the stand.
    Just to bring your attention to a few points regarding our site. is FREE to join, to create your Family Tree and connect with other members of your family (known and unknown) in a secure social networking enviroment. As the site is FREE and does not have any membership fees or subscription fees, we do also have an online shop which sells Irish goods, Genealogical product & also Coats of Arms, amongst other products including subscriptions to the Irishroots Magazine! - cheers,

    ps, thanks for the shout out!

    (With thanks to Damian)