Summary of Lecture given by Gregory O’Connor at Clifden bicentennial festival, 31 May 2012
The lecture aimed to give the audience an appreciation of the wide variety of records held by the National Archives containing genealogical information. The great loss of Irish genealogical records sustained by the burning of the Public Record Office of Ireland in 1922 and other “record-destructive” events was fully acknowledged but a greater emphasis was placed on the research potential of records which escaped destruction through good fortune, being in a different and safe storage location, or by not being the subject of official orders permitting the disposal of particular classes of documents.
A surprising amount of ” name-heavy” administrative and legal records of the 16th and 17th century are still extant such as Chancery Court Pleadings and grants by the Tudor and Stuart monarchs of lands, pardons for offences, custody of minors, properties –such as castles, towns and monasteries and natural resources. Two examples of such grants (“Fiants”) from the reign of Queen Elizabeth I were shown.
The wealth of genealogical information to be gleaned from the Household Returns of the 1901 and 1911 Censuses and the great advance in “unlocking” this information afforded by the digitization and placing online of these Returns was illustrated with examples showing the 1901 Return of a Galway household with an allegedly 122-year old “Head”, 1901 and 1911 returns of an elderly lady living with other family members and several servants and a listing of pupils in a Boarding School.
There are a number of record collections which serve as at least a partial substitute for the destroyed material among which the Landed Estate Court Rentals, Valuation Office Notebooks, Application Forms for searches in the 1841 and/or 1851 Census and abstracts of Public Records made before 1922 by professional genealogists were referred to and illustrated by examples. The genealogical importance of records formerly held in the State Paper Office in Dublin Castle was underlined with examples from the 1798/03 Rebellion Papers, Convict clemency Petition Files and “Census-type” information collected as part of the official effort to relieve distress in the West of Ireland in 1891. Also very important genealogically are surviving or substitute legal records such as Wills, Registers of cases heard at District (Petty Sessions) Courts from the mid-19th century and ,occasionally, earlier and Property and Inheritance cases heard at Circuit (Quarter Sessions) and High Court (Assize) levels of which illustrated examples were given. Finally, records held by the National Archives relating to classes of State employee such as Teachers, Police (RIC & DMP) and Soldiers (the Royal Hospital Kilmainham Collection) were highlighted.