A Day in the Life of Irish Genealogists: Q&A With Nicola Morris, Helen Kelly

At The Wild Geese, we work every day to weave the threads of individual Irish stories into the tapestry of heritage“wherever green is worn.” Whether you are still pulling at strings or have a fully woven view of your own Irish story, a professional genealogist may hold the key to learning more.

Two of our own Heritage Partners, Helen Kelly, of  Helen Kelly Genealogy, and Nicola Morris, of Timeline Genealogy in Ireland, gave us us an insight into their work through an e-mail interview conducted by Preservation Editor Belinda Evangelista

[Uncover your own Irish story with the help of a $300 donation to our campaign to build The NEW Wild Geese.]

The Wild Geese: What started your interests in genealogy?
Helen Kelly

Helen Kelly:
Like most professional genealogists, my initial foray into genealogy started because of an innate interest in ‘Who’s Who?’ and in particular, a curiosity about my own origins.

Nicola Morris: It was the detective work that appealed to me, searching back through fragments of records to try and build the story of a family and the telling of the history of Ireland through each family story. 

The Wild Geese: Have you both ever been baffled in your efforts? Hit the proverbial wall.

Kelly: In
our professional capacity, our primary work entails Irish family history research, so we are always conscious of the fact that for historical reasons, Irish family history research, for most individuals, can hit the brick wall in the early 1800s.

Morris: The great challenge of being a professional genealogist is that it is our job to solve mysteries, to seek out sources that will get us past that 'brick wall.’We can't always find the answer, but we will leave no stone unturned in our quest.
Nicola Morris' Timeline Genealogy in Ireland

The Wild Geese: What is your favorite genealogy resource?

Kelly: I have to say that land and property record known as Griffith’s Valuation is my favorite source, particularly in relation to members of the Irish Diaspora, because this source usually leads to identification of the precise birth location of the emigrant ancestor.

Morris: I enjoy working with estate records. These collections vary greatly in what they contain. It is the collections that document tenants and employees on an estate that excite me the most because these can often predate the many other traditional sources. These records can be mined for descriptions of tenants, maps of estates and, on the odd occasion, diaries and letters that breath life into the research.

The Wild Geese: Have you ever gotten teary-eyed over a case? Do you get emotionally involved with your research?

Kelly: All the time! Research becomes very sterile if the genealogist does not enter into the life and times of individuals they ‘meet’ on the paper trail.

Morris: Yes, of course. You cannot help empathizing when you are holding in your hand a death certificate for an abandoned child who died in the workhouse or a census return for a family of 15 living in a one-room cottage. You cannot avoid imagining what their lives were like and the struggles that they overcame. It certainly gives you perspective on the challenges that we face in life today.

The Wild Geese: What is your best advice for those who want to discover their roots?

Kelly: Be aware that as human beings we store a vast amount of personal data in our conscious and subconscious, and that the best starting place is -- not on the internet -- but within the recesses of our minds and in the minds of close family members. So, it is good for those starting research on their family history, to write down all they know about their family, retrieve all family documents in their possession and talk with other family members to ascertain what they know about their family history. Once this basic homework has been completed, they should then systematically go in search of family documents in the various family history repositories in their own area, and in
the area where their ancestors emanated from. Many of these documents are available on the Internet, but one must always be aware that the family-history project will also necessitate research in local and national record archives
and libraries.

Morris: I agree with Helen. Your family will often hold some of the most valuable clues to your family origins. When undertaking research I would always recommend patience and persistence. Sources can sometimes be time-consuming and tedious to research, but stick with it because there is a great sense of achievement when you do find the information that you are searching for.

The Wild Geese: Do you both talk shop when you get together?

Kelly: Mostly – but we also have downtime and fun discussing a range of topics outside the realm of genealogy!

The Wild Geese: What is a typical day like for a genealogist in Ireland?

Kelly: In truth, there is no such thing as a typical day for a genealogist -- whether in Ireland or elsewhere. Of course, every day has to start by booting up the computer and downloading e-mails. After that, one realizes that no two enquiries are the same -- just as no two individuals or families are the same. As each new day dawns, this diversity inevitably brings with it a sense of fresh adventure as, typically, we head for one of the wonderful record repositories in downtown Dublin, such as the National Archives, National Library of Ireland, etc.

The Wild Geese: What is your own 'Irish story'? Do you have any particularly fascinating ancestors, for instance?

Kelly: In the late 1980s, my interest in genealogy led me to search the history of my own family after being told by a relative that one of my maternal grand-mother’s ancestors was evicted from a large holding in the Midlands of Ireland back in the ‘mists of time.’ Extensive research of extant church registers brought me to the Registry of Deeds, where I discovered that this event really did happen circa 1790. Validation of this piece of ‘family lore’ then led me to an
exciting trail of registered deeds back to the early 1700s and to a family pedigree for one branch of the family documented in Hunstanton, in England, in the 16th century.

Morris: My grandmother always spoke about her Italian grandmother and when I started working on our family history, I discovered the Pericho family in Cork and have so far traced them back to 1805 and a looking-glass manufacturer who I believe came from Italy. I have yet to make the connection in Italy. WG

Ready for Helen Kelly or Nicola Morris to dive into your family genealogy? Donate $300 to our campaign and receive a genealogy assessment -- and more!

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Tags: Bowles”, DNA, Genealogy, Helen Kelly, Ireland, Irish, Timeline, clans, “Tyrone


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