52 weeks of Abundant Genealogy: Week 18: Historical Books

Amy Coffin of the We Tree blog, in conjunction with Geneabloggers, has a new series of weekly blogging prompts for 2012 and the theme is 52 Weeks of Abundant GenealogyWeek 18: Historical books.  This week we’re going to shine the spotlight on other historical books that benefit the genealogy field. Do you have a favorite book that falls in this category? What makes this book special to you? How can other genealogists benefit from its content?

As usual I find it impossible to restrict myself to just one book because the history books you’ll find useful will differ depending on where your families come from. So here are some of my Irish, migration and Scottish references.

IRISH HISTORY REFERENCES

I’ve written about a couple of these before so I’ll also refer you to my previous posts.

Oceans of Consolation, Personal Accounts of Irish Migration to Australia, Fitzpatrick David

I regard this book as a truly unique insight into the Irish migration experience. Yes, it focuses on Australia but anyone with an interest in Irish migration generally would find it fascinating. Fitzpatrick uses a series of letters to/from Ireland by emigrants and their families. It gives us a unique perspective on these correspondents’ experience of their new life, the loss of family and mediated new loyalties against those of (Irish) home and family. A wide range of counties are represented among the letter-writers: West Clare, Down, Galway, Tipperary, Kerry, Cork, Meath, Kings, Armagh and Fermanagh. Sadly for me, nary a one from East Clare. If you didn’t already wish for a stash of emigrant letters, this book will certainly make you do so, and mourn their absence if they don’t exist. The spelling is often “exotic” but they managed to make their message very clear.

At last year’s Not Just Ned exhibition, extracts of these stories were available in the sound booths on iPads and in heavy demand. I could have sat there all day listening to them.

Biddy Burke from County Galway is one of my favourites. She ends one letter Queensland for ever and agus an baile beag go brâth (and the small town forever)[i]….pertinent in relation to Hidden Ireland (see below), and demonstrating her loyalty to both her old and new homes.

The End of Hidden Ireland, Robert James Scally

Unless you have Irish ancestors from the townland of Ballykilcline in Co Roscommon, you’d be wondering why I’m recommending this book. While it focuses on the events and people in this townland, it provides a valuable insight into the life of one townland in the midst of the Famine. What I find fascinating is how it informs us on the nuances of townland life, obligations and familial and social obligations. Scally talks of it as baile, a settlement and landholding together, with community links often with specific family links [ii] while we’re more accustomed to only associating the townland with the geographic space/land. I’m about a third through re-reading this book and finding even more subtleties than on the first reading…you can tell by the annotations and the flags.

Farewell my children: Irish migration to Australia 1848 to 1870, Richard Reid

Sure this book applies to the Irish coming to Australia, but Richard’s approach to understanding more about the process and the immigrants is, in my experience, somewhat unusual as he complements the general history with personalised grassroots examples. I’d be surprised if anyone with Irish ancestry couldn’t gain insights into how their own Irish immigrant fitted into the broader data.

Mapping the Great Irish Famine, Kennedy L, Ell P S,  Crawford, E M, Clarkson L, (eds)

I mentioned this book briefly last year in a post on the impact of the Famine. It is a book I used extensively when researching my East Clare migration data, and it certainly provided some startling comparisons. Most books on the Famine, easily found, focus more on data for all of Ireland or perhaps one county. What I think is so valuable about this book is that it compares the before and after data for baronies or poor law unions, meaning you can drill down and make valid comparisons with your own family’s experience, and to see how typical they were of their place in terms of education, occupation etc. This article tells a little more about the book and the project.

SCOTTISH HISTORY REFERENCE

There are innumerable general histories for Scotland, but I am going to focus on a region-specific history.

Argyll: 1730 -1850, McGeachy, R A A

This book explains the ways in which Argyll changed across the important years 1730 to 1850 and includes such important aspects as Jacobitism, clearances, industrialisation, cultural change, and fragmentation of families and society. He addresses occupational changes and how this affected people at a grassroots level and provides many examples drawn from across Argyll. My own copy is annotated throughout and post-it notes sticking from the edges.

In the introduction, James Hunter (himself a noted Scottish historian) remarks “universal themes can sometimes best be understood by studying their local impact”. This runs contrary to how history was perceived for many years, but is an approach that I personally identify with, and have been inspired by in Richard Reid’s historical writings.

Judging on the prices you will need to shop around if you want this book, and will probably need to buy it used (unless you’re up for $413 for a new book). I paid £25 from a bookshop in Scotland in 2006.

MIGRATION TO AUSTRALIA: HISTORY REFERENCES

Two books which provide valuable insights into the experience of Australia’s immigrants from recruitment to arrival are both by Robin Haines.

Emigration and the Labouring Poor: Australian Recruitment in Britain and Ireland 1831-1860

This book focus on the pre-departure experience of the potential immigrant and the Colonial Land and Emigration Commissioners’ (CLEC) approach to recruitment. If you want to know how your immigrants may have been recruited and how they fit into the broader migration data, this is the book for you.

Life and Death in the Age of Sail: the passage to Australia, Haines, R

This is a fantastic book for anyone who wants to learn more about the emigrants’ experience at sea. There is a broader overview into how the emigrants were provided for, and the care taken by the emigration commissioners in ensuring the voyage was as safe as possible. The book also discusses the migration experience in different decades, pertinent with the changes to medicine as well as type of shipping. It is interspersed with extracts of letters and individual examples which illustrate the experiences.

SUMMARY

Australian residents should be aware they can borrow these books from The National Library of Australia on inter-library loan to their local reference library, assuming it’s not already on the shelves there.

Another tip for genealogists everywhere is to see if your local university library has these books in its catalogue. You may not be able to borrow them, but you will be able to sit in the library and read them (yes, I know, no coffee or snacks!…I’m reminded of 84 Charing Cross Rd when I say that). You may also find some in your favourite online bookshop or real bookshop, new or used. I can see I also need to go into my blog and add these titles to my Reference Books tab.


[i] Oceans of Consolation, page 155

[ii] The End of Hidden Ireland, Scally, page 12

The Irish population haemorrhage: mapping 160 years of data

Alerted by tweets from @IrishWattle @CaroleRiley and @QueenslandFHS, I investigated the link they’d provided for 160 years of Irish population data. The National Centre for Geocomputation’s (NCG) Online Atlas Portal is an absolute goldmine for family historians with ancestry in Ireland. There are two options: mapping and data relating to 2002 together with a timeline chart for population changes across the decades, and the other relating specifically to the impact of the Famine comparing census data from 1841 to 1851. Both are invaluable tools for your background research.

Kilseily parish % population loss 1841 to 1851 from NCG website listed. Kilseily is in orange and the bar on the bottom right indicates it had a severe loss of people.

The population loss from Kilseily parish 1841-1851 from the NCG website listed.

Over the years I’ve read widely on the Famine, and crunched raw census numbers for my parishes of interest, primarily Kilseily and Killokennedy in East Clare. In my paper at Shamrock in the Bush 2009 I referred to the haemorrhaging of the people, a description which seems melodramatic but which is reaffirmed by the census data. Despite knowing the my ancestor’s townland suffered a massive 47.24% loss of population between 1841 and 1851, seeing the long-term impact on the 2002 graphs  is still heart-wrenching. In 2002, Kilseily had only just (by 14 people) regained the population it had in 1926, with a very long way to go to reach earlier population numbers.

When you’re reviewing the maps etc, don’t forget to use the “select indicator” button near the top left of the page as this lets you change the parameters which are being mapped to review such things as 1841 and 1851 population as well as the changes, acreage under potatoes and housing. For example it reveals that in 1841 Kilseily had 475 inhabited houses and 9 uninhabited. By 1851 there were only 258 inhabited houses and 13 uninhabited: the parish had lost 44% of its housing, presumably “thrown down” with the departure and death of the inhabitants.

It is easy to regard all this as simply mind-boggling numbers, but imagine for a minute you are in a large meeting hall with some 3000 odd people, many of whom are kin or close neighbours, people well known to you. Then in a magic-wand moment, every second person leaves the room, never to be seen again. Bewildered, you leave the meeting hall, only to discover that virtually every other building had also disappeared and the built landscape is changed forever. Your mind and emotions would be reeling I imagine. How the Irish who remained, and those who fled the country in desperation, ever coped with this sense of grievous loss is a mystery. My father had a saying which he repeated regularly over the years: “they left their country for their country’s good”. I confess I would mentally eye-roll and think it was not only melodramatic but irrelevant. It was only last night that it occurred to me that this sentiment may have been passed down as an historical “memory” of the need to leave Ireland because of the post-Famine impact on families: three of his great-grandparents left Ireland for Australia in the early 1850s.[i] In my mother’s Irish ancestry, less can be found on their pre-Famine origins but these great-grandparents of hers also survived the Famine though they did not emigrate until the 1880s.

In my JSTOR reading yesterday I came across a journal article by Sharon O’Brien called “Remembering Skibbereen”, based on her memoir “ The Family Silver”.  Her belief is that these silenced memories of Famine deprivation, hunger, family loss, and the precariousness of housing and land, remain sub-consciously with descendants to this day, sometimes manifesting in depression or bewildering family behaviour patterns.  If there is any validity to this hypothesis imagine the impact of this experience on Biddy Gollagher, Irish Famine Orphan, about whom I recently posted a story.

"Mapping the Great Irish Famine" is an excellent reference book.

I’ve rather diverted from abstract data into the human impact but it does highlight that these are not mere numbers we’re looking at. If you are interested there is another brilliant source of information and mapping on the Famine which includes more wide-ranging data taken from the census. It is a book called “Mapping the Great Irish Famine[ii] and is well worth buying or borrowing if you have an interest in these topics.  This online article provides some background on it.

The census information for Ireland is also available online through the University of Southampton. It’s a little more convoluted to get there than I remember it from previously as you need to search their library catalogue for, say, EPPI Ireland 1851 census and you will then select whichever county you’re interested in. However as yet I’ve been unable to locate the raw data online that I had previously been able to download. Lucky I’ve saved Clare data already!


[i] Although his maternal line were Scottish, they didn’t fare a great deal better in the difficult 1840s and 1850s though theirs was a fairly typical Scottish story of displacement from their home place to an urban environment prior to emigration. His German ancestry was more well-off but perhaps pushed out by the revolutions in Europe in the late 1840s as well as compulsory military service.

[ii] Authors: Liam Kennedy, Paul S Ell, E M Crawford and L A Clarkson. Published by Four Courts Press, Dublin in 1999.