Tuesday, October 7, 2014
Books Are Still Better
Current trends in genealogical research tend to lull the uninitiated into a sense that everything one would want to know about one's family roots can be found online. Not so. While it may be tedious to crank through rolls of microfilm or thumb through the index at the back of countless books, sometimes those are the only methods which will yield the results we wish to find.
Part of the strategy behind our family's journey to Ireland was to seek out those local places where my husband's ancestors lived prior to emigration. Now that we were in Ballina in the northern part of County Tipperary, we had that opportunity for hands-on research. And yet, it was difficult to determine exactly where to find those local repositories of historical information about this town of now barely twenty five hundred people.
Out of the way places such as this have that small town advantage, though: everyone knows everybody else. Staying in a local bed and breakfast establishment, I thus reasoned, would bring us in closer proximity to that small town dynamic.
Thankfully, my hunch turned out to be right. Sort of.
When we arrived at our accommodations for the weekend, we found ourselves in a long conversation with the proprietor of the place. My husband had found it quite handy to adopt Pete McCarthy's "dewy-eyed Yank searching for his roots" line from the McCarthy's Bar book he had been enjoying (thanks to the recommendation from the Letter From Ireland blog). Naturally, the question became, "Oh, and who are you seeking?"
My husband had hardly gotten the name Tully out of his mouth, when the lady exclaimed, "Why, that's my maiden name!"
She was quick to keep us from jumping unnecessarily to any conclusions: "But I'm not from around here."
That's what I had begun to think about our Tullys, too. Flannerys I could find—the maiden name of our Denis Tully's wife Margaret—but not very many Tullys in this area of County Tipperary.
The woman gave it some more thought, apparently, for the next morning at breakfast, she brought in some items for us to inspect. One was the local phone book, just in case we wanted to peruse it for those current residents who shared our surnames. The other, as I discovered after an hour's reading, was a book I simply had to purchase for myself.
The book, written by a local father and son team—both named Kevin Griffin—spelled out in its title exactly what I was seeking: Ballina/Boher Parish: Our History and Traditions. Based on the index, I had originally thought there were several pages from which I could simply take notes on our surnames, but it turned out there were also long passages which contained detailed accounts of the local history of these two specific twin towns. How could I walk away from a treasure like this?
Unfortunately, the book was written in 2000, and there likely were no more copies available for purchase. My husband checked out the title online. Someone was selling the book, used, for a cool eighty dollars.
Not being quite that desperate yet, we mentioned it to our hostess. She thought there still might be some copies left in town, and directed us to one local bookstore in Killaloe. If it wasn't available there, she said, perhaps the news agent back over the bridge in Ballina might still have some copies for sale.
Each stop became yet another chance to tell our story, and inevitably recite the list of surnames we were seeking. Each stop, however, also gave us the answer we didn't want to hear: the book had been sold out. It had been, after all, fourteen years since it was published.
The shopkeeper in Ballina, however, thought his wife might be able to contact the author and see if he had any more copies. She asked if we had any further business in town, as it would take her about an hour to get a chance to run to the author's house. Still wanting to drive around the area further, we agreed on an afternoon meeting time, and left.
On the appointed time, we returned and found ourselves the owners of one of the last three copies of the Griffin book. We are now in possession of nearly four hundred indexed pages of the history of this town claimed in our ancestral heritage, complete with photographs, sketches of long-gone buildings and people, and even the details of more recent events. With our days still full of research and travel, I'll tuck this away for further reading upon our return home, much encouraged to have, at last, found some "local studies" material to add to our understanding of our heritage.