Thursday, March 17, 2016
While my recent project, preparing a presentation on Irish family history research, has inspired me to go back and review all my old records and files, it has also reminded me of one other detail: a research experience I hope never to repeat.
Using the story of my husband's great grandfather, John Tully, I've put together a case study of the winding route that led me to the very spot in County Tipperary where, in 1842, the man was born. Of course, that called for unearthing some very old files, both in my file cabinet and in tucked away storage boxes. However, the illustration for one key clue in the paper chase—the death certificate of a niece which led me back to the Tully family's intermediate landing place before their immigration was completed in Chicago—was missing.
John Tully's niece died in Chicago, and although I had long since sent for the death certificate myself, I am now reminded that at one point, that very certificate was also available for the taking on at least two genealogical websites. Perhaps because I already had a printed copy of the document, I had neglected to snag a digital copy of it. Whatever was I thinking?
Now, of course, hindsight reminds us that just because a key document has been digitized and placed in an online repository doesn't mean we will be able to find it there in perpetuity. Apparently, granting agencies sometimes change their minds.
So here I sit, now the happy recipient of all the news about fresh additions to online resources for seeking our Irish ancestors. Does it not occur to me that these glad tidings may—like those Cook County documents of a few years ago—vaporize into the ether upon the whim of a bureaucrat? Indeed, I've already seen rumblings from Irish quarters, incensed at the gall of the National Library of Ireland in releasing those precious Catholic parish record images to a worldwide audience online. What if such rumblings gain a hearing in some political quarter? Remembering the disappearing acts I've witnessed on the digital stages of other repositories, I begin to feel the need to capture every image pertinent to my known ancestors as soon as possible. These are treasures of our family's heritage that could not as easily be recovered, should I have to contact each agency, one by one.
There is often the warning to remember to learn from history. Perhaps we also need to be wise to the history of history, and remember the vanishing acts of prior online bonanzas. Be grateful for what we have, but don't be gullible enough to believe that online gift is forever.
Above: Found—that missing document, the 1933 death certificate for Margaret Tully Dempsey, daughter of John Tully's brother Patrick, which was the first hint that the family made an intermediate stop in Paris, Brant County, Ontario, before eventually continuing to Chicago.