Saturday 3 December 2016

So, who do you think you are?

Frank Coughlan

Published 10/04/2016 | 02:30

Who are you? It's a simple question, really, at its most obvious level. We all have a name and most of us have families and homes. All the things that give us roots and a sense of belonging.

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But when you dig deeper, the question can become harder to answer, sometimes uncomfortably so. Yes, many of us can trace some class of lineage as far back as grandparents at least, but at that point the trail often begins to run cold and the lines become blurred.

For much of our busy lives, we don't have time to do anything about this, nor the inclination.

Eventually we get curious, or somebody else in the extended family does. An inquisitive cousin in Australia, perhaps, or an ageing aunt who finds a dog-eared picture in the attic and wants to know more.

And while tracing your family tree can be exciting and rewarding, it can be daunting, too. You need to have the right tools, the necessary sources and no little patience.

There are all number and range of places to look, traditional and digital alike, ranging from church and State archives to school and military records and many more besides.

But there is no better place to start than the census records - the ultimate, most reliable and incorruptible keeper of the facts, figures, name and addresses that make up all our pasts.

In two weeks' time, the nation will sit down again and tick the boxes in Census 2016. Its primary and most immediate role, of course, is to help the State plan and organise over the coming half-decade.

But it's as a resource for future historians and genealogists, professional and amateur alike, that the census holds its greatest attraction.

The census of 1911, for instance, tells us all we need to know about what life was like in the pre-revolutionary Ireland of a hundred years ago. There was no census again until 1926 because of the Great War, the War of Independence and the Civil War. Turbulent times indeed.

Today, Kathy Donaghy shows you where to look in your quest to solve the mysteries of your own past, while Graham Clifford talks to Paul Brady about his family's part in the fight for independence and David Lawlor tells us how he went about unearthing the story of his grandfather, a member of the firing squad that executed Erskine Childers. And by examining the census of 1911, and CSO figures of the times, Damian Corless takes a snapshot of Ireland in 1916, a country which was still very much part of the Empire.

Most importantly: who are you? See how much of the family tree on page 5 you can fill in. It could be the start of a great journey.

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