I will be presenting lectures on Irish research at the Great Canadian Genealogy Summit. There will be streams on English, Scottish, Canadian and French Canadian research. Have you registered yet?



For Immediate Release


The Great Canadian Genealogy Summit (CANGEN) pleased to announce their inaugural conference, to be held October 21-23, 2016, at the Courtyard by Marriott, Brampton.

The Summit showcases Canadian genealogists who have an expertise in the record sets relating to the early settlers of Canada.

On October 21, we have arranged a day at the Ontario Archives. And better still, for those with UEL ancestors who are mind boggled with the documentation required for your UEL application, former Dominion Genealogist Kathryn Lake Hogan will be offering a workshop with the at the Archives. She will share her expertise on what documentation is required and how to access the documents at the Archives.

Our Opening Plenary speaker on Friday evening is genealogist and author Jennifer Debruin who will share with us some of the struggles of our Canadian ancestors. This energetic talk will be followed by a social time. A time to get to know fellow Canadian genealogists, to get to know the speakers better, or to browse in the marketplace.

Saturday’s programming offers five streams of research. Registrants are welcome to mix and match:

  • Ruth Blair – who will talk on researching Irish ancestors
  • Mike Quackenbush – who will talk on researching English ancestors
  • Louise St Denis – who will talk on researching French Canadian ancestors
  • Kathryn Lake Hogan – who will talk on researching Canadian ancestors
  • Christine Woodcock who will talk on researching Scottish ancestors

Sunday starts with Louise St Denis sharing her extensive knowledge on Methodology. THEN she is providing each registrant with a certificate for a FREE course at the NIGS.

And we wrap up an intense weekend with Lynn Palermo who will help us to get a better handle on writing our family stories so that our work can be preserved for future generations.

Registration for the full weekend is just $159cdn ($125 usd). Registration for the Saturday only is just $119cdn ($93 usd) The Great Canadian Genealogy Summit

All registrations include breakfast and lunch on Saturday, free access to Findmypast and admission to the exhibition hall.


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When writing my blog post on The Importance of Genealogy Societies in an Age of Digital Technology it got me thinking about how much genealogy has changed since I started researching my family history.


I have been doing family history research since the mid-1970s. A school project got me started when I was 11 years old. To find out about my Mum’s family letters had to be written to family members in Ireland and England to get information. This required writing the letter on the blue flimsy airmail paper, posting it and then waiting for a response. Everyday you excitedly waited for the mail to be delivered. My Dad’s parents lived near us so a visit to Granny and Grandpa helped me to find out about his side of the family. This is one of the family trees I got from a Grand Aunt.


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Every time I visited family in Ireland I asked more questions and gathered information. In the 1980s I started doing actual research. One of the first books in my genealogical library was “Handbook for Genealogical Correspondence” prepared by the Cache Genealogical Library. It was an American book first published in 1974 and I got the third edition from 1980. Writing letters was one of the main ways to do research from a distance.


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This book included the “essentials of a genealogical letter” writing to relatives, libraries, archives and other repositories. They gave you tips to write to “church record keepers” and “public officials.” There was a section under “public officials” about writing a letter to get information about a census record. These days we just go on the internet and search a census in a matter of minutes, if you are lucky.


There was a section on why letters were returned and the responsibly of the Post Master.  They looked at International Reply Coupons. Who out there remembers these? IRC’s for short, they were purchased from your local post office and were included in a letter to provide return postage when writing to another country. It was always protocol to include a self-addressed stamped envelope when sending a written query.


In the mid-1990s I was on the internet researching my family history with my dial up connection. Remember that long loud screech? There weren’t many databases online but you had message boards where you could post information about family branches you were researching. People from around the globe were coming together to share information. You also had email which was faster and less expensive than the postal service especially for overseas correspondence. Sharing information still required the postal service. When I do a google search on some family names those online queries I posted more than a decade ago pop up in the results.


The internet opened things up. I used to subscribe to the Genealogical Research Directory. Anyone out there remember the GRD? This was edited by a couple of gentlemen from Australia. You would pay your yearly subscription fee and that would include a certain number of entries in the book. Then you would wait for the large book to arrive in the mail. Near the end of the run they used CDs. When the book arrived you would go through it and see if you could find anyone searching for the same families you were researching. Then a letter, and eventually an email, was sent off and you waited. I found several distant cousins this way. It was something I looked forward too each year. A local library had older versions of the book and I started off searching those for information before I subscribed myself. These books were about three inches thick and took up a lot of room on the shelf.


There was a point in the 1990s and early 2000s where people were buying CDs with genealogical information on them. You used to go to the Family History Centre or local library to view census records on CDs. How many computers come with a CD player now?


Family history societies were important because their journals would have articles that could help with our research, provide information on a previously unknown local resource and the societies also provide research help for those who were not able to go to the local repositories. Their importance hasn’t changed in the days of the internet. In fact I would say they have become even more important when you are searching a particular area. No one knows the local records better than the family history society, except perhaps the local history librarian.


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Then Ancestry arrived on the scene. This opened up a whole new world to people researching their family history. It was the first time that you could access information quickly and at home, or the local library depending on where you had access to the database.


Now there are other large companies putting a great number of genealogical databases online. They are not the only ones because some of the larger family history/genealogical societies have put specific databases online for their members. The National archives and libraries of several countries have put digital images of their records online. Some are free to access and some are behind a pay wall. This is not an inexpensive process. It costs millions to provide records in digital format. These records are preserved as long as the format they have been digitized in keeps up with the changes.


I have been though all the changes in family history in the last forty years. Some have been good and some not so good, but then that’s life. The influx of genealogical records online has made more people interested in their family history. There are still a large cross-section of countries that don’t have a lot of information online and old fashioned research is still required. Those countries that do have a lot of information online you will find that it’s still not everything and you will have to go and do research in an archive, library or other repository.


The online databases are a great tool and they help you to move forward at a quicker pace than forty years ago. Everyone will get to a point where they will have to get down and dirty looking at old records. I say dirty because you will get dirty looking at old records. They have the ages of time on them and it rubs off on you.


I like the ease of doing research online but I truly enjoy getting down and dirty in local repositories and doing the research in the actual records. There is something very satisfying about touching an original document that records an ancestor’s baptism in 1769. All hail the dirt of the ages!


© 2016 Blair Archival Research – All Rights Reserved

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The Sugar Loaf in County Wicklow Ireland - The View from the Powerscourt Estate driveway.

The Sugar Loaf in County Wicklow Ireland



Happy St. Patrick’s Day Everyone! Enjoy the day and do a little research on your Irish ancestors!

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Amy Johnson Crow interviewed D. Joshua Taylor at the RootsTech conference. She posed the question “In today’s world of social media, where everyone is sharing seemingly everything, do we still need genealogy societies.”


This got me thinking. Genealogy societies have always been a partner to my research. They had resources that could help me with my research. You could say that genealogy societies were the databases before the internet. The members would visit local libraries, archives, county offices, court houses, cemeteries and churches in their area and transcribe information that was a boon to researchers.


In my genealogy library I still have books and pamphlets from these societies that I have used to research my family history. As technology advanced some of these resources found their way onto CDs. Now you can find many of them in member sections on society websites. Thankfully they are still publishing books with information from smaller resources. The smaller record groups are not usually found on the larger company websites.


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They publish books on the history of their areas as well as local businesses and trades. This can help you learn more about the community where your ancestors lived.


Genealogy societies are important because their journals have articles that could help with our research such as providing information on a previously unknown local resource. Some of these journals are now available electronically. The best place to find past years of genealogy society journals is PERSI (Periodical Source Index) which you can now find on Findmypast.


Genealogy societies provide educational opportunities. They have monthly meetings, seminars, workshops and conferences. All these provide the attendees with an opportunity to learn more and to improve their research skills.


One thing I wish more genealogy societies would do is to either live stream or video their meeting lectures. They could put them behind membership walls and this would allow members who don’t live near enough to attend the meeting to watch the lecture. I often feel like I am paying a lot of money for membership fees to societies and not being able to avail myself of all they have to offer because I live abroad. These days everyone has the ability to take video with their cameras. You can use YouTube or embed them on your website. As we saw at RootsTech the app Periscope was used to live stream expo hall demos.


The majority of people who run genealogy societies are dedicated volunteers who have been with the society for many years. We are missing the younger people who may not see the importance of the genealogy society. There is a theory that we can find everything online. We can’t.


Jane Watt representing Halton Peel Branch Ontario Genealogical Society Conference 2013

Jane Watt representing Halton Peel Branch Ontario Genealogical Society Conference 2013


As Josh Taylor said in Amy Johnson Crow’s interview the genealogy society is a community to share information and stories. It is a place to learn new ways of research and keep up to date on all the changes.


Every genealogy society should have a social media presence. This will hopefully help bring in some of the younger people. Some of the societies that do have a social media presence aren’t using it to their advantage. There is a lack of knowledge about what genealogy societies have to offer. The first step is to promote their printed publications containing the transcriptions from local records and make these publications easier to access. It would save printing and postage if they were turned into eBooks.


Genealogy society memberships have always been part of my genealogy budget. I belong to the Glasgow & West of Scotland Family History Society, The Manchester & Lancashire Family History Society, The Genealogical Society of Ireland, The National Genealogical Society and The Ontario Genealogical Society which includes the Halton Peel Branch, the Irish Special Interest Group, and the Scottish Special Interest Group. These societies represent the areas in which my ancestors lived, where I live now, as well as my current interests.


Remember, if you are researching your family history no one knows the records of their town better than the local genealogy society, except maybe the local history librarian. Both places are brick and mortar and they house documents in paper, film and other formats. Both the genealogy society and the local history librarian are important assets to your family history research.


© 2016 Blair Archival Research – All Rights Reserved

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Today I received this press release from Aoife O Connor. Have you found criminal ancestors or ancestors involved on the other side of the criminal justice system in your family tree? If you have you may want to participate in this survey.

A Criminal Ancestor


Are you descended from convict ancestors transported far from home or did great, great, great uncle John end up in court for squabbling with the neighbours?  If your ancestor was a hardened criminal, a victim of a miscarriage of justice, a political prisoner, or in court for not paying their dog licence a new study is looking to hear from you.


Criminals in the family have always fascinated family historians and it seems more of us are discovering more of them all of the time.  The digitisation of the records of the criminal justice system and newspapers are bringing to light a side of our ancestors that may have previously been kept secret.


The crimes themselves range from the minor, even amusing, to the serious, and tragic.  From a few cows wandering unsupervised along a country lane resulting in an appearance at the petty sessions court and a 2 shilling fine, to a young girl stealing some lace and being transported for 7 years to Australia, a sentence which really meant a lifetime exiled from her native land.  A young boy imprisoned for vagrancy.  A rebel.  A highwayman.  A murderer.


The documents which record their crimes often have amazingly rich details not found in birth, marriage, or even census records.  From prison registers we can get physical descriptions of someone who lived long before the invention of photography, we can learn their height, weight, eye and hair colour, and any distinguishing scars or features such as tattoos.   From newspaper accounts of trials we hear their voices as they give evidence.


But how do we feel when we come across an ancestor who broke the law?  And how do they shape how we view our family’s history?  Is a criminal ancestor someone to be ashamed of, to celebrate, or part of a larger story?  What do their crimes, and the punishments they received tell us about them as people, and about the time and society they lived in?  You can help provide the answers.


As part of the Digital Panopticon project, Aoife O Connor of the University of Sheffield wants to hear from family historians across the globe who have discovered ancestors who were connected to a crime.  She is conducting short anonymous online surveys.


Aoife is based in Dublin, Ireland and is studying for her PhD part-time.  Her own family history includes, among others, one ancestor aged 18 imprisoned in 1821 for thirteen days on suspicion of stealing a frame saw (the same ancestor was fined for excise duty evasion to the tune of £12 10 shillings in 1838), and another who was fined two shillings at the Petty Sessions Court on the 24 December 1855 for driving a horse and cart with no reins.


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The big party in March is St. Patrick’s Day and so I will be presenting three Irish lectures this month.

The first two will be at the Oakville Public Library. On March 3rd I will be presenting “Taking Your Irish Ancestors Back Over the Pond” and on March 10th it is “Researching Your Irish Family History from Canada.”

On March 19th I will be presenting “Researching Your Irish Family History from this Side of the Pond” at the Kingston Branch of the Ontario Genealogical Society.

If you are interested in attending any of these talks please contact the host group.

© 2016 Blair Archival Research – All Rights Reserved

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Last year I attended RootsTech and got to experience it all up close and personal. I wasn’t able to go this year but was able to experience RootsTech just the same. RootsTech have always live streamed the opening sessions and some lectures and this makes it possible to feel like you are part of it all.


You don’t get to attend the socials, parties, or other events and you can’t walk the exhibit hall. I still felt very much a part of it all because I was active on Twitter and the app called Periscope.


During the live streaming those of us who couldn’t attend were busy tweeting along with those in attendance. There was a group of us using the hashtag #NOTatRootsTech. I ‘cyber’ met lots of new people and learned many new things.


There were a few glitches. We weren’t allow to view the keynote of Doris Kearns Goodwin which was unfortunate. The last two live streamed lectures had technical difficulties and previously recorded lectures were used in their place. They did show the recorded version of Peggy Lauritzen’s lecture about researching your female forebears after the conference had finished. This meant that I was still watching RootsTech at 7:30 Saturday night.


We got to live vicariously through our genie buddies selfies, tweets and blog posts. Periscope made an appearance this year. We got to watch Lisa Louise Cooke’s exhibit hall demo lectures live streamed via Periscope. Every time someone I follow on Periscope started live streaming I got a message so I didn’t miss anything. They were even posted on Twitter. If you were watching it in real time you could comment and ask questions.


Amy Johnson Crow showed us bag pipers in the Salt Place and the wind chimes that unfortunately weren’t chiming at the time. There was even a tour of the exhibit hall. All sorts of wild and wonderful things came out of RootsTech through the internet in real time.


I really enjoy RootsTech and am hoping the Canadian dollar improves so I can get there next year. But this is the next best thing and with the help of genie buddies sharing their experiences of RootsTech and participating online it was a great conference.


© 2016 Blair Archival Research – All Rights Reserved



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While handing out blogging beads at the OGS Conference last year a few people asked me what the beads meant. Some didn’t know what a blog was and after I explained it the next question was why write a blog.


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When I started writing the Passionate Genealogist blog in 2010 I jumped into an unknown entity and just started writing. It was scary at first but it soon became engaging and fun. During the last six years I have written several stories relating to my own family and some local history research. When you write stories about your family history this can be called “cousin bait” by genealogy bloggers. It is a bit like the movie “Field of Dreams” when they say “if you built it they will come” well if you write your family story they will come.


One such story was on my Great Grand Uncle Richard Fenton Toomey. His father moved to Australia in the 1880s and the family joined him in the 1890s. Mrs. Toomey didn’t like it so the children went back but the eldest son Mark stayed. Eventually the other two sons, Walter and Richard, returned to Australia.


Lucky for me a friend of mine lives near where Richard Fenton Toomey had his home in Australia. When we first started writing (we were/are still penpals) she told me that there was a place near her called Toomey Lookout and there was a Toomey Road and Toomey Walk. You can read more about this story here.


“Richard Fenton Toomey – Lest We Forget” was written to remember his service as an ANZAC. Soon I got a few comments on the blog. One from a person who is not related but who knows the area very well. He went on a search to find the house. Another person contacted me and she had a photo of Richard Fenton Toomey in Heliopolis on the morning of 26 April 1916.


This story was first posted in November 2011 and the last comment with new information was posted last fall.


I have written some local history stories about people from my town. The first was an all-consuming part of my life for nearly 10 years, Lady Diana Taylour. I wrote about her and my research to find out more about her life. The other was Richard Shaw Wood who lived in Oakville in the late 1860s early 1870s. Both of these posts have had comments from people connected to them.




This is why family history blogging is a good idea and sometimes called “cousin bait.” It may be that the people who end up helping you are not related but just as interested in the story as you. So expand your horizon and start blogging about your family history.

© 2016 Blair Archival Research – All Rights Reserved

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When I was in Dublin visiting family in October 2015 there was of course time set aside for research. There were six repositories I wanted to visit in Dublin but I wasn’t sure I would get to them all. You can read more about my plan here. The first two posts of my Irish trip here and here.

The next repository I visited was the General Register Office. This is where you can pay €20 and search the indexes all day. You can only order five certificates in one day and either come back or arrange to have them mailed on to you.

My research plan for the GRO wasn’t very big. I was trying to find out more about a particular branch of my Toomey family as I heard a few of their sons were WWI soldiers and I wanted to know more. This was my chance to get the birth, marriage and death information on this family.

Chester Beatty Library Dublin Castle Ireland

Chester Beatty Library Dublin Castle Ireland

The GRO Research room is tucked away in a nondescript corner of Dublin and it can be hard to find. I walked passed it twice. It was a long walk from St. Stephen’s Green to the GRO but I took a detour through the Castle trying to decide which window my collateral ancestor may have looked out of and then wandered through the Chester Beatty Library on my way past. The GRO is not the prettiest place and the office is very neutral. You have a table and chair and access to the indexes. The people are very friendly and helpful.

General Register Office Research Room - Dublin Ireland

General Register Office Research Room – Dublin Ireland

When you find your entry you fill in an order form and leave it at the enquiry window then wait for your name to be called. Once you receive your document then you pay for it. It is €4 per certificate which is not bad considering how much it costs to get some certificates at home and abroad. I only ordered one certificate that didn’t seem to fit.


I then had to revisit the National Archives to check on the wills I ordered and get copies.

National Archives of Ireland

National Archives of Ireland

The last repository I visited in Dublin was the Land Valuation Office on Lower Abbey Street. The Land Valuation Office is located in a regular office tower and is rather nondescript. There were some tables and chairs and you went to a main reception area with your question. You chose a chair and they brought the valuation books to you so you could search them. Here I wanted to find out more about the property my Great Grandparent’s owned called Roebuck Lodge which was in Taney Parish in Dundrum. Found out there were two properties in this area called Roebuck Lodge. Another property of interest was the Toppin land in Buffanagh and the Kelly property Calverstown House in Kildare. I wanted to know if they owned it and how long did they own it. This is the first part of the research. The next step will be the Registry of Deeds but that will have to wait for another trip.

The one repository I didn’t make it to was the Representative Church Body Library of the Church of Ireland. I was close by but didn’t get in the doors. There were lots of family events and visits to make and that was just as important to me. What was I going to say no to – having coffee with my 102 year old Grand Aunt! Yes I did that and she is as spry and quick as ever.  She loves her cappuccino.

During my trip I found all these wonderful records and they are still waiting to be transcribed and entered into my family tree. When I got home there were a few lectures that I presented and client work. The next thing you know it is Christmas and things need to be done for that. Next month I am looking forward to sitting down and revisiting these documents and am hoping that I will find some new information in them which will lead me to my next adventure.

© 2016 Blair Archival Research – All Rights Reserved




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When I was in Dublin visiting family in October 2015 there was of course time set aside for research. There were six repositories I wanted to visit in Dublin but I wasn’t sure I would get to them all. You can read more about my plan here.

My first day in Dublin wasn’t at a repository it was the Back to Our Past show at the Royal Dublin Society (RDS). I am very familiar with the RDS as I spent many happy times there at the various shows that are held in the spring and August. They would involve equestrian activities as well as antiques, and the RDS Crafts Awards.  When my Grandfather passed away there was a prize given in his name for one of the winners. The RDS Crafts Awards supports Irish crafts, artisans and design.

It was a long trek in from Dundrum where I was staying. It included a Luas ride, a walk from Stephen’s Green to Merrion Square and then a bus to the RDS. The Luas and bus were full so it was standing room only. I was standing next to a very nice lady on the bus and she had a two for one free entry ticket and offered me one so I got in for free. This show is put on in conjunction with the Over 50s show. It was in a separate section off on the side.

I was just in time to hear Maurice Gleason’s talk on DNA. I had met Maurice at the OGS Conference in Barrie and so we had a quick chat before his lecture. It was so nice to see such a full lecture hall for the event. There was an issue with extraneous noise from the other lecture and the exhibit hall in general. They had to move it to a smaller area on short notice so that could be the reason. There were not that many people in what we would call the marketplace. I had a chance to talk to several societies of which I am a member. One question I had for them was why they don’t start putting their meeting lectures online, either live or on video. This is something they are doing on this side of the Atlantic and I think it would help bolster the membership in the Irish societies. In my newsletters and journals I hear about these great lectures that my societies are presenting but I only usually get a few paragraphs of a synopsis which isn’t quite the same. A video could be put in the members only section on the society website and this would allow distance members a chance to see the presentation. Another lecture I attended was a panel discussion with Nicola Morris and John Grenham. It was very interesting.

John Grenham and Nicola Morris at Back to Our Past in Dublin Ireland

John Grenham and Nicola Morris at Back to Our Past in Dublin Ireland


There was one book I was looking for from the North of Ireland Family History Society and I did get that. It was “Researching Your Ancestors in the North of Ireland – County Tyrone.” I didn’t find the one on the Irish ANZACS that I wanted.

The Back to Our Past show is a three day event but I only made it on the first day because of family commitments. Still I was glad I got to see part of it.


National Library of Ireland

National Library of Ireland

The first repository I visited in Dublin was the National Library of Ireland. Newspaper research was my plan for the National Library. In particular I wanted to learn more about my Grandfather’s Liffey Swim win in 1928. I had to go through the Irish Newspaper Archives online and then I could go to the microfilmed newspapers to print a copy or download it from the website. I found the information about the Liffey Swim and some obituaries that I wanted but when it came to finding them in the newspapers it was nearly impossible. It was a very frustrating process for me that day. I have usually had such good luck researching in the National Library but it was not to be this time. I went to the Genealogical Office but they were so busy no one could help me. So I decided to try the Dublin City Library & Archives and see if they could provide me with the copies I needed. This proved a much more positive process and the librarian was extremely helpful.

Dublin City Library and Archives - Ireland

Dublin City Library & Archives – Ireland


Then there were a few more family events and the next stop was the National Archives of Ireland. Unfortunately they do not have an online catalogue to search and find out what may be helpful in my research. I was very spoiled by PRONI’s online catalogue. At the National Archives I was looking for modern wills and probate records, found several, had to order some and then come back to view them because they were held off site.

National Archives of Ireland

National Archives of Ireland


When I was at the Back to Our Past show I met Nicola Morris. We started talking and I mentioned some research on my Toppin family in Tipperary. Almost at the same time we said the word ‘murder.’ A member of my Toppin family was murdered in Buffanagh Tipperary. She had heard about it and knew that the Chief Secretary’s Office Papers had some more information on it. She sent me an email with the reference information and I ordered this when I was at the National Archives. This was a wealth of information. They even had a map of the crime scene. It will be a blog post later this year.

© 2016 Blair Archival Research – All Rights Reserved


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