Thursday, July 29, 2010

I'm off to Ireland soon; Can I get you anything?

In a couple of weeks I am off to Ireland to conduct research for my work, and, if time allows, family history research. I have a very full work schedule, but am looking forward to just being in Ireland once again.

It's difficult to believe, (perhaps not so difficult, given the Irish economy), that so much has changed with respect to archives/libraries since I was there last August. Due to "a significant reduction in staffing levels", UCD Archives has been forced to reduce reading room access hours. The Allen Library, a veritable treasure trove of documents and ephemera, is now closed. A vast array of materials now sits in boxes until someone can find the money (and the will) to house it properly. This is particularly sad for me because the Allen holds the Christian Brothers School portrait in which I saw, for the very first time, an image of my paternal grandmother's brother, Michael Magee.

In April of this year over 200 archivists, historians, librarians, genealogists and members of the general public attended the 'Archives in Crisis', symposium hosted by the Medieval History Research Centre, Trinity College, Dublin. The event was prompted by the proposed amalgamation of the National Archives of Ireland with the National Library, and the news in January 2010 that state papers due to be released under the 30-year rule cannot be processed owing to a lack of resources in the National Archives. According to my contact at Kilmainham Gaol, "everyone in archives is feeling very unsettled at the moment".


As always we try to make the best of any situation and so I'm wondering, while I'm there...

Can I get you anything? Is there a document I can retrieve for you? Do you have a family member who has been difficult to trace and whose information I might be able to find for you? Is there a grave you would like photographed?

Let me know by email:, or just post a comment here. I make no promises, but I'll do my very best to try and bring it home for you.

Cheers! Jennifer

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Wisdom Wednesday: Superstitions: a sprinkle of salt

Superstitions are very interesting to me. Such beliefs may be viewed by some as just silly; however, it seems as though those who give credence to superstitions do so because such beliefs are based either in real life experience or in religious training.

One of the practices my mom has shared with me, of throwing salt over your left shoulder after you spill it, is one she learned as a child.

A pinch of salt thrown over the left shoulder is meant to keep the devil at bay.

Salt was once a highly prized commodity, crucial in preserving food, and even used as currency in ancient times. According to my mom spilling salt has long been viewed as a sin. The action of throwing a pinch of the salt you have spilled over your left shoulder is intended to keep the devil at bay.

In Latin 'left' is 'sinistro' from which the word sinister is derived; thus, the left side is thought to be the devil's side. 'Right' in Latin is "dextro", interpreted as 'to the right', meaning good and fortunate; therefore, you toss the salt over your left shoulder with your right hand.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Tombstone Tuesday: Beautifully Embellished Celtic Cross

Celtic crosses are very interesting because of the way in which they intermingle ancient Celtic symbols, such as the traditional vines and knots which appear on the 'post' of this cross with Christian and Greek imagery and symbols. The Celtic symbols are traditionally interpreted as representing life everlasting.

The IHS in the center of the wheel is the Greek iota-eta-sigma which stands for the name of Christ. The dove represents the Holy Spirit. The PX is again Greek; 'Pax Xristos' meaning Peace of Christ or Christ's peace. The 'A', which looks as though it has wings, is the Alpha/Omega symbol from the Book of Revelation, the biblical book in which Christ names himself as the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last. The six pointed star is often called the star of creation. The Catechism of the Catholic Church (528 A.D.) refers to the star which led the Magi to Christ as "the Star of David" meaning "the star of the King of Israel". Also, in the Book of Revelation, Jesus is called the Morning Star (Revelation 2:28; Revelation 22:16).

Monday, July 19, 2010

Madness Monday: Misinformation makes me crazy!!

Misinformation makes me absolutely, positively, stark-raving, barking mad! Did I use enough adjectives there? Please bear with me.

Recently I have come across sites presenting completely inaccurate information about records in Ireland pertinent to family history research. I do not believe the people who post this misinformation are doing it out of any sort of maliciousness; rather, I think they are simply ill informed or making incorrect assumptions.

The most significant piece of inaccurate information I have come across so far has to do with Irish Civil Registrations of Births, Deaths, and Marriages. There is a misconception afoot that these records (pre-1922) were lost in the fire following the siege of the Four Courts during the Irish Civil War.

The Four Courts

In order to clear up this misconception I thought I would go straight to the horse's mouth, so to speak. According to Colm O'Dalaigh, Manager of the Public Office and Central Applications Division of the General Register Office:

(and I'm quoting now)

"Yes, there were a lot of important documents and records lost [in the Four Courts fire], including some Parish registers and other documents containing some genealogical data."


"The Civil Registrations of Births, Deaths, and Marriages were NEVER housed in the Four Courts." 

Got that? NEVER!!

The misconception about records of birth, marriage and death, may stem from an assumption that the Public Records Office and the General Register Office are one in the same, when in fact they are not.

In 1922 the Public Records Office was located in a building in the Four Courts Complex which was damaged by fire, thus the loss of the records referred to by Colm O'Dalaigh. (The functions of the Public Records Office and the State Papers Office are now handled by the National Archives, established on 1 June 1988.)

A Brief History of The General Register Office (They moved A LOT)

The very first repository for the records of the General Register Office (GRO) was the Kings Inns (1848-1872). From there the GRO moved to Charlemont house in Dublin (1872-1929). Relocation to the basement of the Custom House on the river Liffey took place in 1929; the GRO remained there until 1983. For accommodation reasons, as well as health and safety, in 1983 the Office moved once again, this time across the river Liffey to Joyce House. In the same period the Superintendent Registrar's Office for Dublin was also accommodated on the ground floor of this new building.

In 1992 then Taoiseach (Prime Minister) Albert Reynolds made a commitment that would see the General Register Office relocated to Roscommon in the West of Ireland. As this move involved a major modernisation programme for the entire Civil Registration System, the relocation did not take place until April 2005.

The Research Room of the General Register Office, with its leather bound tomes, remains in Dublin. It is in the Irish Life Centre in Lower Abbey Street where members of the public still visit daily in order to carry out research.

Thanks for letting me be MAD on Monday; I feel much better now.
Irish Life Centre: Interior Courtyard

UPDATE: As of Autumn 2013, the Research Room of the General Register Office is now located on Werburg Street in Dublin. See this post.

Copyright ©J. Geraghty-Gorman 2010

Thursday, July 15, 2010

"Probably General Debility": Joseph Fitzpatrick, aged 6 years

In June I wrote about discovering Joseph Fitzpatrick on the 1901 U.K. Census. Joseph, aged 5, is the middle child in a family which at this point includes two other siblings, eldest sister Mary Angela, aged 6 (my maternal grandmother), and baby brother Thomas, aged 2.

By 1907 the Fitzpatrick family has returned to Ireland. In the 1911 Irish Census, Thomas and Mary Angela are both listed in the record, as are siblings John, Leo, and Francis; however, of Joseph there is no account. What happened to him I wondered? Searching in both Irish and U.K. materials, I discovered him in November of 1901. Between March and November of that year Joseph had marked a birthday, but on 19 November 1901, at the age of 6, Joseph is dead.

Having learned that Joseph died during the family's residency in Liverpool England, I applied to the U.K. General Register Office for his death certificate. When I received the document I was shocked by what I read. This is the certificate:

The cause of death is listed as "probably General Debility". How on earth does a six year old child die from 'General Debility', a cause which since the 18th century has been used to account for the death of persons of very advanced age? I was truly shocked by this. Further research was a necessity.

Liverpool in the early 20th century was a densely populated city, made more so by the influx of Irish labourers crossing the Irish Sea in search of work. Joseph's father Thomas has been described as a "coal labourer"{1}, a "general labourer", and a "dock labourer"{2}. An article in Blackwood's Magazine for 1901 estimates that a stevedore (i.e. someone who loads and unloads cargo from ships) earned on average about £2 a week; however, casual dock labourers might only make 8-12 shillings. They were subject to abuse by employers who might release them without notice, or short them in their wages, actions for which they would have no recourse. More likely than not Thomas Fitzpatrick falls into the latter category of casual labourer. Many Irish were employed as casual labourers in the South Docks area of Liverpool, jobs for which they would be chosen from among a large group of individuals. Under such conditions it would have been very difficult to provide for a wife and family of 3 children.

Courtesy of Liverpool County Library

The Blackwood's article emphasises the importance of the waterfront as a source of employment for Irish immigrants and describes it as "a magnet for close settlement". At the time of the March 1901 UK Census the Fitzpatricks are living in rooms in Great Howard Street; by November they have moved to 50 Paget Street. It is in 50 Paget Street that little Joseph dies. Both homes lie in close proximity to the docklands, and both are in densely populated areas in which the living conditions are, to put it mildly, less than ideal.

In 1901 the infant mortality rate among this population is very high, and there is a cause of death which appears more often than should be the case; that cause is "general debility". General debility is a phrase used in reference to children to describe death by emaciation. In other words, it is likely that little Joseph Fitzpatrick aged 6 starved to death. General debility would manifest in a slow suffering, a general weakening and wasting of the body. One night he would have gone to sleep, never to awaken again.

I have cried for this little child, one whom I never knew, and could never know. When I first discovered him I used to dream about him and my grandmother on their adventure in Liverpool, thinking them fortunate to have been able to accompany their father as he travelled from their homeland for work. I imagined them running and playing in the streets, making new friends, and exploring new places. I see his little face; I imagine grasping his tiny hand, but this is all a fantasy. I knew the history of the place and the time, but hoped that somehow they might have lived outside of that history, so to speak.

That phrase "probably general debility" will hold a place in my mind for a long time to come, and I will never forget little Joseph Fitzpatrick.

Liverpool County Library
Blackwood's Magazine, 1901
Lancet Journal of British and Foreign Medicine, 1908.
{1} Thomas Fitzpatrick is named as a coal labourer in the 1911 census of Ireland.
{2} Thomas Fitzpatrick is named as a dock labourer on his son's death certificate, and as a general labourer on the 1901 UK Census.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Friday, July 9, 2010

Eyes shining bright...

Hi Everyone,

Just a brief note to update all of you on the state of my eyesight. I had the procedure on Monday afternoon 5 July, and everything went really well. Although I am black and blue around my eyes, feel like I was hit by a 2 x 4, and things are still a little cloudy, my doctor is very pleased both with how the procedure went and with the outcome at this point.

Once again I want to Thank You most sincerely for all of your prayers, kind thoughts, and warm wishes. Also I want to give a VERY LOUD shout out to Carol at Reflections From The Fence who must have a very BIG heart because it's so filled with warmth for anyone who needs it. Thank You so very much Carol!

It's great to be part of such a wonderful blogging community. I guess the world really is just a slightly oversized little town, and I'm so glad to be a part of it.

And, as always, I hope the sun is shining on your part of the world today.

Cheers! Jennifer

Friday, July 2, 2010

Follow Friday: The English Kitchen

On Monday I came upon this blog, and honestly cannot tell you how I found it, but I did. It's not a Genealogy blog, but I thought I would share it with our family history community because food plays a major role in so many family gatherings. In my own family, food features prominently at both weddings and funerals, not to mention Christmas, Thanksgiving, birthdays, anniversaries, promotions, and pretty much any other sort of celebration.

Written by Canadian ex-patriot Marie Alice Joan Rayner,
'The English Kitchen' is a feast for the senses. Rayner moved to England from Canada in 2000 armed with, in her words, "a bulging suitcase full of kitchen tools, handwritten recipes and a 4 litre can of Maple Syrup, totally prepared to be greeted with the worst." She discovered to her delight that, "most of what I had heard was totally and completely wrong! Here in the UK we have some of the best poultry, meats, fishes, ingredients and produce in the world, and some of the most innovative chefs."

Marie Alice Joan shares recipes and beautiful photographs about food, delicious, gorgeous food. I hope you'll stop by and have a look. Just be prepared for your taste buds to tingle.

The English Kitchen can be found at:
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