I find Irish history both fascinating and thought-provoking, so I was really looking forward to Dervla Kirwan’s Who Do You Think You Are? episode last night. I have to admit, I found the first half disappointing, as we were largely given a beginners’ guide to the Irish War of Independence and Civil War. Thankfully, things picked up in the last 30 minutes, as some real family history research turned up an emotional, and quite unexpected, tale.
I was flabbergasted that Dervla could have such a close link to one of the most famous figures in Irish history, and not know her precise relationship. Surely she would have at least been curious about Michael Collins following school history lessons? Perhaps because of Collins’ fame, it seemed the Who Do You Think You Are? team didn’t need to work too hard to discover this side of the star’s story, meaning it came over more like a historical documentary than a family history programme.
However, the tone changed dramatically as Dervla investigated a Jewish connection on her father’s side. She negotiated her way through birth, marriage and death certificates, naturalisation records, newspapers and prison and asylum papers as she pieced together a tale of courage, romance but ultimately sorrow. The idea that a judge could be so openly racist seems incomprehensible today, and the fact that it sent her great-grandfather into such a downward spiral makes it all the more abhorrent.
If you have, or suspect, an Irish link in your family, check out our full range of records dedicated to the Emerald Isle. Among the highlights are an index to Griffith’s Valuation – possibly the most important record of the country’s mid-19th-century population – and a series of documents relating to famine relief work.
Looking outside Ireland, you can trace travellers in your tree through passenger lists, arrival registers and many other immigration records. If you think your ancestors followed the same distressing route as Dervla’s, consult workhouse admission books, medical registers and other documents in our London Poor Law collection.