As anyone who has ever started down the road to discovering their Irish ancestors knows, it’s a path that’s beaten, fraught with stones, at times narrow and crooked, never the one of least resistance. Aand every once in a while a black cat will cross it in front of you.
In other words, Irish genealogy is a challenge.
I, myself, have been known to muse on occasion that clearly my missing ancestors discovered the portal to hell in a cave in County Roscommon, and a few of them liked it so much they stayed.
Deborah Large Fox, former-prosecutor-turned-family-historian, has a kinder, gentler theory to explain the difficulty in locating her forefathers and mothers: this past January she began writing a blog titled “Help! The Faerie Folk Hid My Ancestors!”
The blog developed out of classes and talks that she’s been facilitating over a number of years. Fox explains that she‘s always “receiving new information and research tips…and blogging might be the best way to pass these tips to a larger audience.”
Interestingly, when Fox first began teaching genealogy classes, it was on the general topic of family research. But she noticed a trend developing: the majority of her attendees were focused specifically on their Irish ancestry. And, fortunately for all of us here in the Philadelphia area, that’s a road Fox has been traveling for years.
She started her own family research back in the days before the Internet, making several trips to Ireland in her quest. Her visits included trips to her family townlands, as well as time spent researching at The National Library of Ireland in Dublin.
Locally, she did a lot of investigating through the resources at the Family History Center in Cherry Hill. When they approached her about facilitating a monthly group for Irish researchers about a year and a half ago, she was happy to do so.
The group meets on the first Thursday of every month, and as I discovered for myself a few weeks ago, it’s a magical place where folks can go and share information, brainstorm together about brick walls, discover new avenues to research, and sometimes even chance upon relatives.
“I had cousins meet here a few months ago,” Fox told me. “I love the people that come.”
Each month, Fox introduces a different theme, “something out of the ordinary, like music.” April’s topic was “Irish Culture,” and it centered on how to pick out cultural clues. “Many Irish family history researchers become frustrated when they can’t find the county or townland of origin of their ancestors,” without realizing that things like special recipes passed down within the family, or childhood games taught to them as children, hold an association with a particular county or region of Ireland.
“People talking about songs and poems…these are cultural hints to rely on, any little clues you can grab onto, which sometimes in Irish research is all you have to work with,” says Fox.
One woman had an immigrant grandfather who wrote poetry, so she brought copies of two of his poems to pass around the group. Even though it didn’t lead back to Ireland, the knowledge shared that day gave her some new inspiration. One of the poems, when decoded by new eyes, appeared to be telling a tale from the days of Prohibition; she remembered that her grandfather had owned a pub in Philadelphia back during that era–a light bulb moment.
“It’s the hobby that never ends,” Fox laughed. “It’s just amazing. And I’m having so much fun with it.”
Fox’s blog has many fabulous resources linked into it, far too many to even begin to try to re-list here. You simply must check out her site for yourself. But, I have coerced a promise out her that as I stumble down my own path of research, she will ably assist me, so look forward to more genealogy articles at irishphiladelphia.com in the near future.