The Roots to My Research
2019 represents 40 years of ancestral research. I realise in the year I turn 60 that two thirds of my life have shared a fascinating hobby.
I started in 1979 after the death of my father. It was something he had always planned to do, being orphaned at an early age. I too realised at 19, with just one surviving grandparent and few close cousins that I knew nothing about my family history or origins. I have been immersed ever since.
It did not get off to an auspicious start as I investigated family stories and “legend”; almost all of them turned out to be fables. I imagine every GRACE family thinks they might be related to the famous cricketer W G GRACE. However, I quickly found useful sources and libraries and spent quite a bit of time connecting the old-fashioned way (pen, paper and post) with potential cousins. The internet and available online resources subsequently transformed genealogy into one of the world’s most popular pastimes.
Tools of The Modern Researcher
The modern researcher has so many tools at their disposal: online libraries, images of original church records, Facebook (study groups and researchers), family history subscription sites and the rising popularity of DNA research. I was an earlier adopter of personal webpages (in the days when you had to learn HTML) and have been online genealogically since 1998; over half my time as a researcher. Best of all, if you have an internet connection, it can be accessed for free.
Genealogy & family history is not just a numbers game building a big tree but about the discoveries made along the way. Online, you can now meet people who have been inspired to develop interests and studies based on their own family histories which can include a specific surname (wherever it may be; I have a dozen names I am particularly interested in), an unusual occupation or trade, an ancestral location or a period of history or event in which an ancestor was involved. Some of my more interesting stories I have shared on my Facebook research pages and this blog.
Expect the Unexpected
Modern society is more open to DNA investigations which are helping people understand their genetic past. Often, it is not be what is expected, especially as the genetics tell a different story to the paper trail. The human condition was once a subject that was shunned as a family embarrassment or scandal, to be hidden away or forgotten. Now, events are more often viewed with curiosity and fascination – a mystery to solve.
Recently, I was discussing DNA with a lady of Irish descent who said that she was initially disappointed with her ethnicity results which showed she was 100% Irish. Her mother was from Clare and her father from Kerry, so basically her ethnicity was from those two counties – no surprise. However, she was contacted by a Congolese man who shared DNA with her. She realised there was an interesting story to be found, possibly involving an Irish missionary somewhere in her family who had worked in Africa and left an additional legacy behind.
I continue to delve into my story. In 2018, atDNA solved three historical illegitimacies within my wider family tree. While the paper trail is pretty much exhausted with some 60,000 people in my tree, there are many more DNA mysteries to solve. The rising popularity of DNA testing means the detective work will continue for many years to come.
Mark Grace, Resident Genealogist at Ballynoe House
Supporting collaborative family history and DNA research since 1979. Online since 1998.
Guests at Ballynoe House can discuss their own ancestry through free workshops and discussions during their stay.