Tuesday, September 8, 2015

'Share a Memory': Preserving your family history and genealogy

Inspiration in Sepia: Although they speak to us through images,
it would be lovely if we could hear the sound of their voices.
This post is inspired by DearMyrtle, a.k.a. Pat Richley-Erickson, who has created the series '#30 ways in 30 days, Share a Memory'.  In addition to writing my blog, a favourite ‘Share a Memory’ idea I have for preserving my Irish family history and genealogy is my ongoing and ever evolving project of creating audio files.

After the death of my mother, one of the things I missed most was the sound of my mom’s voice, with her lovely Dublin accent gently touching her words. Although I am sometimes visited by the sound of my dad's voice, it breaks my heart that my mother's is now lost to me. I long to hear Mom call me 'Jenn', as only she could do. I struggle to remember the intonations in her voice, the sounds of happiness playing on her words, the sounds of sadness too, and the timbre of her laughter. On rare occasions, just for an instant I hear my mother's voice in my own, when I am talking about certain subjects, or laughing at a good story, and it is a comfort to me.

When I began to consider the special impact the voices of those we love can have on us, my feelings prompted me to create a series of audio files. Essentially, the files comprise an audiobook in which I read aloud stories which hold special meaning for our family, as well as share family history and genealogy, and favourite blog posts. Once I have created the audio files, I can save them on my computer, post them on iTunes, send them in an email as an mp3, or burn the recordings onto a disc or discs so they can be shared.

The GarageBand software on my Mac works well for creating audio because it enables me to work with a number of aspects of the recording to change the tonal quality, add music, and so on. I have made a few recordings, but am still experimenting in order to get them exactly the way I want them. Also, although my Mac has a built-in microphone, which works really well for podcasting or web chat purposes, I have found using an external mic produces the best results. GarageBand is also available as an iPad and iPhone app. The devices app gives you fewer options than the Mac version, but it does also work well for recording the spoken word.

Here are 10 tips I use to help me when recording audio files:

1. Speak in calm, dulcet tones. When I record I speak in the way I would when reading a story to a child, adding spirits of excitement, joy, etc. where appropriate, and being especially careful not to sound monotone. If it fits the mood, I smile as I am speaking in order to ‘put a smile into my voice’, something I learned from a voice coach many moons ago.

2. Practice before recording. Producing a good sound track is not easy, so you will have to practice before creating your audio file. You may find yourself recording, erasing, and then recording again when you trip on your words, and believe me you will occasionally trip — ‘brass plaque’ is my achilles heel. Those who are more experienced with audio recording may wish to clap loudly when an error is made, so the visual wave form in the audio file spikes, making it easier to find when you go back to correct it. 

3. Sit up tall and open your chest as if you were going to sing. Sometimes I stand in order to maintain a feeling of energy when I am recording.

4. Exercise your vocal cords before you begin recording your voice. I use vocal exercises: motor boat lips, vowel sounds, and running a scale of musical notes. If necessary, sip room temperature water in very small sips. Soothing herbal tea is also helpful for lubricating the vocal cords.

5. Chant sound phrases in order to improve diction, using for example, 'la, lo, le, lo’, ’ma, mo, me, mo’ and 'ta, toe, te, toe’.

6. Recite tongue twisters such as ‘She sells sea shells by the seashore’ or 'If two witches were watching two watches, which witch would watch which watch?', or any number of other tongue twisters you might enjoy reciting. Repeated recitation of tongue twisters will help you to improve your diction.

7. Read aloud at a measured pace, as you would when presenting a paper at a conference, or performing at a public speaking engagement. It should take you about 15 to 20 minutes to read aloud an 8 page double spaced piece. If you speak too quickly your listeners may not be able to follow along.

8. Enunciate, being sure to pronounce all the syllables in a word, while endeavouring not to sound stiff. Be careful not to drop syllables in your words. Be sure to speak the entire word.

9. ‘Pronounce’ punctuation, so you hit a pause when there is a comma, and have a brief stop when there is a period. Remember, your voice should go up when there is a question mark at the end of a sentence, and there should be a tone of exclamation when there is an exclamation point.

10. Above all relax — yeah, right — and have fun, so your voice sounds as natural as possible, like you only a slightly better version.


What 'Share a Memory' ideas do you have 
for preserving your family history and genealogy?


Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Tuesday's Tips: A secret stash of Irish Roman Catholic parish registers?

St. Patrick's Church, Ringsend, Dublin, established 1858.
One of several Dublin City churches
whose parish registers are not online.

The launch on 8 July of the National Library of Ireland's Roman Catholic Parish Registers website no doubt delighted many the world over. Yes, the site may be a bit glitchy at times, and for some here is absolute proof those of us who said some of the registers might prove difficult to read had been telling the truth; however, overall it is a boon for researchers who find themselves away from the island of Ireland and in search of baptism and marriage records for Irish Catholic ancestors.

Despite this godsend from the NLI those researchers who land on a page bearing the statement 'The NLI does not have any registers available for this parish' may find themselves asking 'well, where are these parish registers'? 'What happened to them?' 'Is there a seemingly secret stash of Roman Catholic parish registers, and if so where are they?'

Contrary to a belief held by some, Roman Catholic parish registers were never housed in the Public Records Office (PRO) of the Four Courts. The obvious upside of this is no Catholic registers were destroyed in the huge explosion and fire that decimated the Public Records Office in the west wing of the Four Courts complex on 30 June 1922, during the Irish Civil War. It is parish registers of the Church of Ireland, along with a significant cache of irreplaceable documents — some dating to the 13th century — which were stored in the PRO (See: this post).

Historically the Catholic Church has always borne sole responsibility for keeping and protecting its own original records. No doubt over time this proved quite a challenge, considering the suppression of Catholicism and its accompanying penal laws, not to mention that lovely fellow Oliver Cromwell and his Irish campaign of 1649-50, a marker of which was his penchant for blowing up Catholic churches.

Although no Catholic parish registers were destroyed at the Four Courts, what some researchers may not be aware of is not all Catholic parish registers have been made available to the public. Some parishes still hold all of their own registers. They are neither part of the collection held by the NLI, nor are they part of what is online at irishgenealogy.ie or at RootsIreland.

St. Colmcille's Church, Swords,
built in 1827.
Thankfully their records are accessible.
The original National Library of Ireland microfilm project, which is now online, covers 1,066 extant parish register sets out of a total of 1,153. This translates to an NLI collection comprising over 3,500 individual registers. Among the registers not included in this number are those for some of the churches in Dublin City. Also, the County Dublin parishes of Clontarf, Naul and Santry are not a part of the NLI set of registers. RootsIreland (see Dublin North) does have some records for Naul and Clontarf, but Dublin City is not part of RootsIreland reserve, and Dublin City Library & Archives has a database of burial registers for three now closed cemeteries at Clontarf, Drimnagh and Finglas. As well, there are a number of parishes in counties Antrim, Down, Galway, Kerry, Mayo and Meath whose records do not comprise a part of the NLI collection.1 

If you have had no luck online with the NLI collections or other online sources, you may wish to contact a parish directly. Also, you may find such an approach helpful if you are in search of a post-1880 record for which no civil registration record exists, since most of the NLI collection pre-dates 1880. For contact information see the website Catholic Hierarchy which has a listing of the 26 current Catholic dioceses. Within this catalogue are links to parish churches throughout the island of Ireland. As well, the Archdiocese of Dublin has a listing of all its parishes, including location and contact information, at http://www.dublindiocese.ie/parishes/. Many churches have their own websites; some include information about retrieving transcriptions of records.

In some parishes a sacristan or administrator will search the registers for you. You will need to submit as much information as possible with your request, including the approximate year for the record you are in search of, as well as the name or names of the person[s] in question. Sometimes you will be required to pay a search fee, in addition to the fee for the transcription of the individual record itself.  Whether or not such a fee is specifically requested, a donation to the church is always welcome. Transcriptions usually cost between €5 and €10 each, but rates vary around the country.

From Westport parish for €10 I was able to purchase a transcription of the 1885 marriage record of my paternal great-grandparents, a very helpful transcription since the register is not online, nor is there a civil registration record for their marriage. From St. James Church in Dublin, I was able to obtain baptism transcriptions for all of my paternal grandfather's siblings for €5 a piece. On a side note: although the registers for St. James Church dating from 1737 to 1890 are listed as among those on irishgenealogy.ie, oddly enough the registers holding the baptismal entries for my relatives —which date between 1887 and 1890 — are not among those on the site. The sacristan for St. James explained to me that not all of St. James' old registers are on the site. Yet another good reason for contacting a parish directly if you cannot find the record for which you are searching.

Transcription of the 1885 marriage of Patrick Geraghty and Margaret Toole.
This record cannot be accessed online.
A transcription from St. James Church, Dublin City, County Dublin.
The parish register in which this information appears is not online.
Of course, making contact with a parish is no guarantee a record will be retrieved for you. Some churches have neither the staff nor the facilities to conduct searches. Privacy concerns are sometimes cited as a reason for no immediate access to parish registers, no matter what the dates. For example, Louisburgh Parish in County Mayo notes the following on their website: "For reasons of security and confidentiality old registers cannot be made available for inspection by the public." However, when possible Louisburgh parish will reply to written requests for records. Some members of the bishopric believe such records should only be viewed by immediate family members. As well, there are churches, such as St. Nicholas of Myra in Dublin, that require you to seek permission from the Diocesan Chancellery before they will provide transcriptions for any records dated after 1914.

As you can see the rules for access can be many and varied, and are sometimes dependent on which parish holds the records you are seeking. Still in all, contacting a parish directly is definitely worth the effort if you are in search of baptism, marriage and death entries in parish registers with no online presence. After all, parishes aided in these searches long before the internet came along, and your ancestor's records may be a part of the almost secret stash of Irish parish registers which cannot be accessed online.

What success have you had finding parish register records 
with no online presence?

St. Colman's Cathedral, Cobh, County Cork,
built in 1879, consecrated in 1919.
Registers for Cobh are part of the NLI collection,
although some are in very poor condition.

1. See John Grenham's Catholic Records Locations for specific parishes in counties Antrim, Down, Galway, Kerry, Mayo and Meath whose records do not comprise a part of the NLI collection.

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