Uncovering history: how you too can use the 1916 archives
The story of our nation — and your family’s role in shaping it — is just waiting to be discovered, writes Paul Melia
THERE’s no shortage of records available which outline the role that ordinary people played in the Easter 1916 Rising. They include Ireland’s military archives, some 300,000 pension records and witness statements taken by the Bureau of Military History, a special project which started in 1947 to capture the recollections of those involved.
In all, statements were taken from 1,773 witnesses. As a lot of veterans were alive when the project began, information on the identity of leaders, their family members and even the British Army officers involved is available.
Here, we outline ten ways to find out more about your family’s history:
1 Gather as much information as possible about the person you are researching. Their name, age and address are very important. You should also try and sketch a family tree, as you might not have just one relative involved. Setting out all you know at the start can help focus your search.
2 The first port of call is the 1911 Census. Free to search online, you can use your relative’s name and address to search. This will provide information on their occupation and ages, their religion and siblings. You can also learn what type of home they lived in, and if there were sheds or barns attached.
3 Once you have identified your relative, you might be interested in finding out if they married or had children. The General Register Office in Dublin holds this information, and you can check if a record is held at www.irishgenealogy.ie.
4 Church records are also useful, as they may also include additional details such as the names of godparents, which can help paint a picture of your ancestor’s friends and family circles.
5 Check the military records, with thousands available at www.militaryarchives.ie.
6 The first collection to check is the Military Service Pensions Collection. It awarded an annual payment to those who fought but also their families. But not everyone who took part sought a pension, most notably Eamon de Valera.
7 There’s also a map of all the sites where action took place between April 23 and April 29, 1916. It locates veterans and highlights their positions. Some may have been in a number of locations during the week.
8 The Bureau of Military History, which covered those involved in the Rising and War of Independence, can also provide more detail on your relative’s activities during the week. It includes personal statements and first-hand accounts of the action, as well as voice recordings and pictures of sites at the centre of the Rising.
9 Some 150,000 Irishmen served in the British Army during World War 1, some of whom were involved in fighting the rebels. Their military records can be found through www.ancestry.co.uk.
10 Files of the Dublin Metropolitan Police are also being released through the National Archives, which outline the secret surveillance carried out by police forces against what it called “extremists”. Some 230 people are mentioned in dispatches.