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The Genealogy Detective

It's really common for our Vagabonds or Driftwooders to express an interest in tracing their Irish roots while visiting Ireland.

By Derry

You may be exploring your own extended family ancestry. You might even be looking for relatives to qualify for an Irish passport.

Sooner or later you'll run into serious obstacles, however.

For that reason, we've invited Aoife Fitzgerald to tell you a little bit about her genealogical craft.

To help you overcome these brick walls, as she calls them:

Often the problems that people encounter in researching their roots are caused by a lack of primary source material. Some attribute this to the 1922 burning of the Four Courts in Dublin (in which many censuses and records were lost).

In other cases, it is a simple lack of knowledge about where to turn.

There is still hope. Over 25 years dealing with Irish archival sources, as well as in the course of researching my book, I have discovered many rich and underused archives.

With my help, you could access these alternative avenues and start to build a better picture of your Irish roots.

Irish explorer Ernest Shackleton and his ship, trapped in ice
Irish explorer Ernest Shackleton and his ship, trapped in ice


A Mysterious Link to Shackleton

A client recently came to me with a family connection to Ernest Shackleton, Irelands most famous explorer.

She believed the connection was through her fathers maternal grandmother, Dorothy Haughton, because, just like Shackleton, they had at one point been Quakers.

Aside from surnames, a residence in Carlow, and some interesting photographs, there was very little information to work with. Despite this lack of clues, I felt our chances were good.

From the photographs, it was clear that the Haughtons had been well off. Wealth aids genealogical research because title deeds and marriage settlements can be a great source of information.

Joining the Dots...

One of the photos appeared to be a scene in India - or at least a more exotic part of the world than Carlow! This proved to be a key piece of evidence. It was connected to Dorothys mothers family, the Hollands, and it was through them that I finally unearthed the link to Ernest Shackleton.

Dorothys mother was Mary Kathleen Holland. Her paternal grandmother, Mary Bell, was the daughter of William Bell and Ester Foxhall. Therefore, Ernest Shackleton was a second cousin, once removed, of Dorothy Haughton. His paternal grandmother Ellen Bell was a sister of Mary Bell, Dorothys great grandmother.

I discovered the Shackleton connection only after following the family from Ireland to India, then to England, and finally back to Ireland again.

In the process, I uncovered a rich and complex family story, boasting connections to many other interesting characters. These included Margaret FitzGerald, the brilliant daughter of Garret Mr FitzGerald, the 15th century uncrowned king of Ireland. Margaret later married her father's great rival, Piers Butler, the 8th Earl of Ormond.

Genealogy is a type of detective work. My greatest satisfaction comes in combining my academic training with my intuitive detective sense to successfully sniff out a key set of deeds, or a hidden manuscript.

I was able to do this with the Shackleton case, above. And I hope to do it for you too. As a freelancer, I am free to treat each case individually. I can give clients my full attention and go that extra mile to find the elusive link that unlocks a family tree.

More on Ireland's Great Explorers

Planning a Vagabond or Driftwood tour? Don't forget that if youre interested in Ernest Shackleton and the epic story of Irish Antarctic exploration, several tours stop at The South Pole Inn in Kerry.

Enjoy an ice cold pint in the very place that Shackleton's cohort, Tom Crean, acted as landlord following the conclusion of several amazing polar adventures.

Some other Irish genealogy resources

Find out more about how to trace your Irish Roots.

You may also want to leave some time at either end of your tour to research public records here:

The Public Record Office of Northern Ireland (PRONI) is located near the Titanic Centre in Belfast.

Both the National Archives and the National Library of Ireland are located in Dublin and offer the chance to research your family tree.

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