As disappointing as the letter from the Department of Justice must have been to Agnes Tully Stevens, it was not enough to stop her from pursuing her quest. Taking the numbered list of required items in hand, she sat down once again to compose a letter.
Ever since that time in 1969, both in Agnes’ home town of Chicago and here on the West Coast where her grandson now lives, this Irish-American family has sought for any trace of actual documentation enabling them to link to their homeland in Ireland. Just the other day, I attended a seminar in which another researcher recounted his experience with Irish governmental and parish archives: a journey to the homeland, full of unexpected turns, many disappointments, and the rare, at-long-last connection.
It was heartening, therefore, today to stumble across a mention of a reverse research project—one in which the motherland comes looking for her long-lost sons and daughters. Begun as a beta project in Galway focusing on specific parishes, Ireland Reaching Out has now been launched as a nationwide project. Businessman Mike Feerick took the original concept of organizing local volunteers in Ireland to trace and contact descendants of parish emigrants and established a pilot project culminating in a heart-warming homecoming event he calls Week of Welcomes. He now takes that pilot project from its local roots in Galway and rolls it out throughout Ireland. Agnes Tully Stevens, it turns out, is only one of seventy million of what Mike Feerick terms The Irish Diaspora.
As if establishing this service just in time to honor Saint Patrick himself, perhaps Ireland Reaching Out will provide a little accelerant to those American researchers needing some of their ancestral luck o’ the Irish to find their roots. If that isn’t enough to make the connection, there are other online resources springing up to close those gaps.
While many still acknowledge the dearth of online sources for Irish genealogical documentation, I like to encourage people to remember that sage advice to “Give Back.” While everyone is focusing solely on that wildly-anticipated release of the United States 1940 Census, and reminding each other to sign up as volunteer indexers, I’d like to suggest, in your Saint Patrick’s day celebration, to remember the Irish. Yes, sign up for the census index project—and while you are waiting for its official release, practice your indexing skills by letting your green fingers do a little Irish jig on your computer keyboard by volunteering to index some Irish (or at least United Kingdom governmental) records. (For instance, right now, you can join FamilySearch volunteers who are indexing the Ireland "Calendar of Wills and Administrations 1858-1920.") In doing some practice ahead of time, with a little luck, you will be up to speed in your indexing skills by the time April 2nd’s release of the U.S. Census rolls around—and pass a bit o’ help to your Irish heritage while you are awaiting the big day.
If Agnes Tully Stevens had had access to all the online records that are now available—and, admittedly, those Irish records have a long way to go before a substantial amount becomes representative of what can be available—perhaps she wouldn’t have had to take pen and paper and hand write her plea for help in finding her Irish immigrant grandfather’s fate.