For many Irish Americans traveling to the Emerald Isle, the chance to track down family histories and conduct genealogical research is one of the largest draws. Failte Ireland, the National Tourism Development Authority, recommends first gathering as much information as possible on ancestors, including names, dates of birth, marriage and death, county and parish of origin, and religious denomination. The most often used sources are birth and death certificates and church records, land/property valuation records, and census returns. Once in Ireland with collected information, there are several stops an amateur historian should make. One is the National Library of Ireland, which offers a free genealogical advisory service. The National Archives of Ireland houses a service staffed by a genealogist that locates records such as wills and census records. The Public Records Office of Northern Ireland can help those with roots in Ulster. The Valuation Office in Dublin and the Registry of Deeds offer a great deal of genealogical information that can be found in maps, deeds and property transactions.
Some companies provide an entire genealogical experience, such as Irish Ancestral Holidays (www.irishancestralholidays.com), a team of travel, genealogy, hospitality and history experts in Ireland that create vacation plans around tracing Irish roots. “Our holidays are tailored to the customer,” said Howard Kingston of the company. “It’s an emotional experience that you won’t get from typing your surname into a search engine. We have the best genealogists in Ireland working to bring family history alive. They’ve worked on the BBC’s Who Do You Think You Are? program and researched family history for Barack Obama.”
Irish Ancestral Holidays offers packages that consider individual travelers’ interests. “Because there is no way of standardizing a holiday that deals with your own personal history, we consider your preferences, hobbies and interests,” said Mr. Kingston. “If you’re into golfing, we make sure you tee-off at some of Ireland’s best courses. If you’re into culture, we arrange Irish music sessions. It’s your choice how you get around Ireland on your holiday, ranging from chauffeur-driven luxury cars to self-drive to public transport. Most significantly, we take into account the emotional journey of our clients. Reliving your family’s history is a very personal experience, and we go to all lengths to make sure it’s completely unforgettable. Our team goes all over Ireland to see if that gravestone, that tiny parish church, or that ruined farm-worker’s cottage is still accessible, and we ensure that family history comes alive.” Irish Ancestral Holidays also offers stand-alone genealogy packages for those who cannot travel to Ireland.
For Mr. Kingston, the idea of Irish Ancestral Holidays stemmed from a need he saw in guests at the county-guesthouse in Wicklow where his family has provided Irish hospitality for three generations. “I make a point of asking our guests if they have Irish ancestors. When the McGinty family from Boston came for a vacation, Mr. McGinty said that his great-grandfather came from Kerry, but that they couldn’t find more information than that. After lots of research, I was able to help Mr. McGinty find what he was looking for.”
Mr. Kingston encourages those who are interested in researching their family history not to be disheartened if they don’t have much information to go on. “The best starting point is usually from a family tree, or a living relative.”
An initial ancestral assessment is 60 euro, for which an individual is given a research plan that indicates the probability of being able to trace one’s family history. A typical price for an eight-day/seven-night stay for two is 7,500 euro.
For those who want to research their family’s genealogy or other records without leaving home, Eneclann at Trinity College Dublin provides professional services in the historical, heritage, archive and records management sectors. Eneclann employs historians, genealogists and archivists and offers family history research projects that can be given as gifts, as well as conducting research for individuals and the media. The company has participated in major historical projects including the Belvedere Book, Irish Genealogy Project, and Ballymun History Project. Family histories cost around 360 euro.