It’s a simple idea really. Rather than waiting for living Irish descendants to search and find their Irish ancestry, Ireland is reaching out first to find the descendants of its Diaspora and then welcoming them to come and visit their ancestral home. The driving force behind it all is the Ireland Reaching Out Program, also known as Ireland XO, which started as an Irish genealogy pilot project a couple of years ago in Loughrea, located in the southeast portion of County Galway. Local resident and Ireland XO founder Mike Feerick saw the Irish ancestry project as a great way to increase tourism, thereby boosting the Irish economy, which has been hard hit of late. According to Feerick, “Ireland XO is building an invaluable national infrastructure that we hope will drive tourism and energy into every community.”
In order to extend an invitation to members of its global Irish Tribe, Ireland XO proactively tours locales that are heavily populated with people of Irish ancestry. The program’s representatives, including Feerick and Henry Healey (a distant relative of President Obama), act as ambassadors during the visits. In mid-2012 Ireland XO reached out to Galway’s sister city of Chicago, sending a delegation to the Windy City, as well as attending the Milwaukee Irish Fest with its estimated 120,000 festival goers. Ireland XO was able to provide ancestral details and Irish genealogy for as many as 600 Irish-Americans, who subsequently signed up for the program.
How Ireland XO uses reverse Irish genealogy to build its database is by encouraging the country’s parishes to launch their own Diaspora projects that include compiling information from parish records for the last 200 years, and creating a list of those countrymen who emigrated. Since Ireland XO went national in 2011, more than 500 of the island’s parishes (North and South) are now actively involved in the project. To see if your Irish ancestors’ parish is included, check the Ireland Reaching Out website for Find My Parish.
In order to trace your Irish genealogy, you really need two pieces of information: the name of the place (town or village) where your ancestors lived, and their religion. Irish land division makes Irish genealogy particularly difficult. Irish genealogists have to take into consideration the fact that the island is split into the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland. Additionally, there are four provinces, 32 counties, cities and towns, townlands, baronies (obsolete since 1898), and dioceses.
Ireland XO has tapped the country’s data resources at the parish level, of which there are approximately 2,500 – some are ecclesiastical and some are civil. Parishes usually have been and continue to be responsible for compiling and maintaining Irish land and property taxes and records, integral resources to tracing Irish genealogy. In many cases emigrating Irish listed their parish as a place of origin on civil documents in their adopted country. Ireland XO is hoping to replicate its Irish ancestry database technology in every one of its 2,500 parishes.
Once you have established in which parish your family lived, you can contact that entity. If they are active in the project, volunteer Irish genealogists will help you create your family tree, map your ancestral gravesites, tell you where your family lived, etc., and invite you to visit your ancestral homeland, so that you may attend a number of gatherings to give you a better understanding from whence you came.
What drove Ireland to engage in reverse genealogy? New York Times reporter Chris Nicholson in his article titled “In Tough Times, Irish Call Their Diaspora,” cited a number of economic statistics of the country that help to explain. Its unemployment rate is at 14%, having risen 10% in just five years. Emigration has more than quadrupled in the last two years to 34,500, with many young Irishmen seeking work opportunities in Australia and the U.S.
Additionally, Irish economist David McWilliams explains that the country’s economy has shrunk more than 20% in less than three years. McWilliams, who is the co-director of Ireland XO, sees Ireland’s search for its Diaspora as having spiritual value. He views the project as “recharging the battery of the Irishness of the Tribe,” and further describes Ireland – with its relatively small population of 4.5 million – as the “Mother Ship” of a global Irish Tribe of 70 million people.
To welcome visitors to the country, Ireland XO has partnered with Gathering Ireland, a tourist initiative that is preparing to invite as many as 325,000 visitors to Ireland through the end of 2013. The project’s other “Meet and Greet” events include its Week of Welcomes, which invites the Irish Diaspora to return to their ancestral parish. It helps those seeking their Irish ancestry to build on their paper trail of records by providing an actual face-to-face experience with local knowledge. Other events include clan gatherings, lectures and workshops, family reunions, festivals, and more. To see a full schedule, access Events on the Ireland XO website.
Those of you with Irish ancestry now have more resources to research your Irish genealogy. If you know a little about your Irish ancestry, you can register and leave queries on the Ireland XO website that will be answered by local trained Irish genealogist volunteers, so that you might be linked to your ancestral home. For those of you who are intrigued, but have no real clue if you do have Irish ancestry, or if you suspect you are a descendant of the Irish Diaspora and need to know what you should do next, you can also contact the program, or you can contact a professional genealogist who is trained in Irish genealogy. RecordClick is a genealogy ancestry service that can help you with your Irish genealogy, so that you will have the necessary information to connect to the roots of your Irish ancestry.