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The usually quiet rooms of Dublin’s National Archives have been swarmed recently by a new wave of people seeking to illuminate their family’s genealogical history.
On the other side of town, the General Register Office has reported a similar spike in the number of visitors interested in genealogical research.
But what has transformed a pastime once considered of interest only to American visitors into a national obsession? General Manager of the genealogy website findmypast.ie, Cliona Weldon, is in little doubt as to the cause.
Speaking with the Irish Independent, she explained, “The growth in family history in Ireland can definitely be attributed to the popularity and publicity surrounding television shows such as, ‘Who Do You Think You Are', and RTÉ's ‘The Genealogy Roadshow.’”
The Irish version of the hit show ‘Who do you think you are?’ featured such national celebrities as actress Fionnula Flanagan and Irish presidential hopeful Dana Rosemary Scallon, while NBC’s adaptation in the US traced the lineage of Irish-American star Rosie O’Donnell.
In an interview with the Irish Voice earlier this month, the legendary TV personality described the profound effect that taking part in the show had on her.
“Doing that show really did change my life in a huge way because I really did identify as being Irish,” she said. “Both my parents are Irish. It was a huge part of my identity.”
Rediscovering her connection to Ireland was of particular significance to her children, O’Donnell explained.
“You know what was really fascinating? My children are all adopted. And when I came home and told them the story they took it as their own.”
“They were saying, ‘So you mean my great, great grandfather was in the poor house?’ And I was like, ‘Yes honey, he was.’ I got all choked up. They asked, ‘Could we go and see that place Mom?’ So we’re going over to Ireland for the holidays this year.”
Ms. O’Donnell is not the only high-profile individual to explore her Irish roots. Earlier this year, President Barack Obama was famously informed of his own tenuous links with the Tipperary town of Moneygall.
Genealogist Megan Smolenyak discovered a connection between Mr. Obama and an Irish family in 2007, the Dublin-based genealogy company Eneclann traced the various branches of his Irish roots back as far as 1698.
Cliona Weldon believes that the massive publicity surrounding President Obama’s Irish roots and his visit to Ireland in May helped bolster the popularity of genealogical research in Ireland.
For those looking to explore their own connection with Ireland, there is a range of resources to help people trace family history available on sites such as findmypast.ie, rootsireland.ie and familysearch.org.