Niall Cullen and contest winner Christine LeBel in Findmypast’s Dublin officeFindmypast

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I won a trip to Ireland in September 2014 - "The Ultimate Irish Family History Experience."

I entered via’s Facebook page. Sure, why not? I read a wee story and answered a question. My answer included a note about my own grandmother who came from County Louth to America. The competition was run by – a family history site. So I entered the contest, nothing to lose.

In mid-September I got an email from Niall Cullen, Marketing Executive, Findmypast in Dublin. The email said that I'd won the trip. I deleted that email. That was silly. Nobody I know really wins those contests. The next day I had a second email from Niall. Why had I not answered, he asked? "I did not answer because I think this is a scam", said I. But there was a little ring of truth. I had, indeed, entered the contest. And Niall had cited my answer including the sentence I had written about my grandmother. I verified as best I could via Irish Central in New York - my skepticism was understandable, my winning was real.

Once I decided the trip was real I knew my goal was to learn more about the country of Ireland and what it was like in 1913. What would have made my young grandmother board a ship to America, probably believing that she would never see her family again?

Niall made all of the arrangements. All I had to do was pack my bag, get a sitter for my dog and grab my passport. Niall arranged airfare and for us to stay at the Maldron Hotel Cardiff Lane in Dublin. The Maldron is a lovely hotel one block from the River Liffey. We had a room with a balcony and a view of the river. It is across the street from a wonderful theater and within easy distance of Dublin’s center. (Thank you again, Niall.)

As part of the prize, I had the wonderful opportunity to meet with Carmel Gilbride, Research Manager, Eneclann (a partner of Findmypast’s). She had already taken information I'd provided and had found my young grandmother, working as a domestic at age 13. I knew “that was my girl”, my young grandmother. Carmel's words gave me goose bumps. What an emotional experience. To "see" my young grandma, already working as a child. We went to the General Register Office in Dublin and found, among other things my grandmother's birth certificate. Carmel was able to help me understand more about how Ireland had been and how my grandma's life had been. A million thank yous, Carmel.

We had three days to travel ourselves. On one day my cousins from Riverstown, Co. Louth came and took us to their home for dinner and tea with my family living there. In Dublin we toured on the buses that have commentary, visited the Kilmainham Gaol and learned much about the political and social history of the city and the country - the way it would have been in the late 1800s and early 1900s. It helped me put my young grandmother in the context of her country at the time she left to come to America. But we also went to a play and to the zoo and visited pubs and ate wonderful Irish food!

I learned so much and now, via my free one year subscription to, which was also part of the prize, I can continue to explore my history, the history of my family. It is incredible.

For more stories on tracing your Irish heritage from Findmypast click here.