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The ABCs of preparing for the Family History Conference in Belfast

For those of you who have already signed up for the Autumn Family History Conference hosted by the Ulster Historical Foundation in Belfast during the month of September, Congratulations! I can guarantee you will have the time of your life! If you are in North America especially and have never been to Ireland or Northern Ireland in the past, this will give you a unique opportunity to visit and see some of the sites where your ancestors lived before they migrated to North America. It also gives you a chance to research at Ireland's best archives and libraries with the help of the Foundation's staff. What makes this conference different is that it combines researching with opportunities to visit some of the best Irish historical sites and landmarks. You can pick and choose which days you want to research and days you want to tour. I like that especially since you don't walk out on the final day of the conference overwhelmed and worn out from non-stop lectures and research!

I attended a conference few years ago and I believe one of the best stops was at the Ulster American Folk Park in County Armagh. The Park really gives you a chance to see how your ancestors lived in Ireland, when they sailed across the Atlantic and what North America was like when they arrived. Plus, we had a chance to speak with the staff at Mellon Centre for Migration Studies which is located on the grounds of the Park. As a descendant of an Irish immigrant you will walk away with a better understanding of life in Ireland in the middle 19th century and what your ancestors encountered on their way to North America.

If you haven't signed up yet, the Foundation will be offering more conferences in 2018. Information on those conferences will be available soon on their website For those who have already signed up for the September conference, you have some work to do! It's important to do a little research ahead of time to get the most out of the trip. Some of the veteran delegates have already done quite a bit of research while there are a few of you who are just starting out with your ancestry search. Either way, it's important to be as prepared as possible before you even aboard the plane to Belfast. Chances are there is no file on the shelf somewhere at one of the archives with all the information of Grandpa McClelland just waiting for you to pick up! Even if you are a descendent of royalty, some additional research is necessary. The more preparation you can accomplish ahead of time, the better your chances of finding some information at the conference. It all starts by getting your ancestor information together and doing a little research at home.

This is not an impossible task. That's where we get into the ABCs of preparing for the conference. Some of you are already way ahead of the game and you already have this information in hand. For those who are starting out, this next section will break down how to go about getting ready for September. Yes, you can do this! Just consider the process in these steps…

A: Knowing the correct name of your immigrant ancestor is the key to any type of success especially with this type of research conference. This sounds like an obvious detail, however keep in mind the names of the ancestors might have been spelled or pronounced differently in Ireland compared to the spelling in North America. Looking at the Passenger arrival lists in the U.S. or Canada may give you a clue as to the spelling of the name back in their native homeland. The U.S. arrival lists can be found at the National Archives while the Library and Archives Canada also has similar information. You can also find this information on some of the various free and pay per view genealogy websites. The U.S. and Canadian Census records can give you an idea how the surname was spelled through the years especially right after their arrival into North America.

B: Knowing when your ancestors arrived in North America can help you find more information on them. If you believe your ancestor arrived prior to 1900 and lived in the U.S., the U.S. 1900 Census should provide you with the year of arrival and whether the ancestor was naturalized as of the date of the enumeration. If the ancestor arrived and eventually lived in Canada, the Canadian censuses could also provide you with this important information. Otherwise, check obituaries, the U.S. Declaration of Intent as well as naturalization records and county histories. These county histories may be found at the library near where your ancestors lived. Some local county historical or genealogical societies where your ancestors lived while in North America might have an index of them which could give you some information of where the family originated in Ireland. What is important is being able to narrow down what county, parish and townland your ancestors lived in Ireland. The closer you can narrow that area, the more successful your chances are of finding more on your ancestors.

C: Once you know the names of your immigrant ancestors and an idea of the civil or religious parish they lived in Ireland, Some of these records are available online. As I have mentioned in previous blogs, religions in Ireland were not just confined to Roman Catholic and the Church of Ireland faiths. There were other religions in Ireland in the 18th and 19th centuries including Presbyterians, Methodists, Moravians, Quakers, Baptists, and Huguenots. Catholic and some protestant records are now available on various websites.

Some of your ancestors may have changed religions when arriving in their new homeland although many kept the same religion or a similar faith when they arrived their adopted country. If you don’t already know this information, you can find some clues to this question again by perhaps searching for the ancestor's obituary. That might give you some clues as to which religion they followed while in North America.

With that information in hand, you might be able to get a jump on your Irish research before the conference especially if they were Catholic or if you believe that ancestor belonged to the (Anglican)Church of Ireland back in Ireland. The National Library of Ireland has an online website which allows you to search Catholic records by parish name. This information may be found at The Representative Church Body Library also has been working on the Anglican Project for several years and some of these parish records are also available online at Since some of these records were either destroyed during the Four Courts Fire in 1922 or continue to remain in local custody, there is a directory in a .pdf file which will describe where the records for each Church of Ireland parish is located Other civil and religious records can also be found on the Irish government website Know this information will not only provide you with additional details of your ancestors, it might also give you an idea of the Townland or parish they originated in Ireland.

The Ulster Historical Foundation's website also has a searchable index that contains information on a great deal of Ulster records. You can also find information on the September conference as well as information on the Family History Courses offered by the Foundation. Information on future Family History Conferences for 2018 will also be available on the Foundation's website soon.

If you're planning on attending the September conference, narrow your research to two or three ancestors or attempt to prove or disprove a question regarding an ancestor. Time will go quickly during the conference and you probably won't be able to solve all the family mysteries. The more prepared you are, the better your chances are for success. You might be able to find something about an ancestor that you didn't know prior to the Conference. Perhaps you will be able to prove or disprove a question that you had about another ancestor. What I can tell you is that you will find out how your ancestors lived in Ireland during the 19th century when you visit the Ulster American Folk Park. You might even get a chance to visit the villages where they lived. That is an incredible moment for any North American searching their family roots. You will also learn the history of Ireland and especially Ulster and the events that led your ancestors journey to North America. Get ready for a great adventure! Hope to see you in September.

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