Saturday, January 22, 2022

Pictured are members of the Mayo Genealogy Group.

Mayo Genealogy Group has worked tirelessly through the Covid pandemic to assist people trying to trace their family roots, writes KEITH BOURKE.

A dedicated group of volunteers with incredible local knowledge and sleuth-like skills have helped people from around the globe trace their roots as well as long-lost family members.
For more than a decade now, the Mayo Genealogy Group has been an invaluable resource for those seeking to source their lineage and family tree. The tight-knit organisation also provides a social outlet for those interested in family research.
Even Covid-19 did not prevent the group from carrying out their admirable work and their regular in-person meetings moved online to Zoom, and the platform also allowed them to work closely with those looking to track their ancestry.
The group has been meeting at the National Museum of Ireland – Country Life since 2012 and has aided visitors to the museum, as well as dealing with the huge amount of queries they receive through their Facebook page.
“Before Covid, all our meetings would have taken place the second Saturday of every month in the Museum. The Museum was our base but since Covid, we have been doing this online on Zoom. We meet online with members from North America and the UK. Australia can sometimes be difficult with the time difference! We still manage to meet every week, every Wednesday evening,” says Seamus Bermingham, chair of the Mayo Genealogy Group.
The organisation has helped countless people search for their ancestors.
“We reach out to people, we meet people when we can, and we help them find their roots. Our local knowledge is a big help in finding where they come from and where their family roots begin. Quite a lot of people that reach out to us would have their DNA for ancestry tracing done and we have knowledge of a lot of the different resources that are used for that. If they come to us with a match to Charlestown or Castlebar or wherever we have the local knowledge to help them find their roots and find a connection,” explains Seamus.
The group now has almost 8,000 members from all over the world through its members-only Facebook page.
“The majority of people we help still remain members,” says Seamus.
The group digs deep to trace family connections and to help paint a picture for those seeking to find where they come from.
“If I make contact with somebody and I know who they are, and where they come from, I know stories about their family and you bring their family to life,” says Seamus. “It gives you a great sense of satisfaction to be able to help somebody. Sometimes people travel to Mayo for that reason alone and are able to be reunited with family members and cousins. People are delighted when we can help them.”

Mayo Genealogy Group chairperson Seamus Bermingham.

The genealogists are like amateur detectives using their instincts and research skills to unearth secrets from the past.
“We go back as far as possible. We normally go with Griffiths Valuation (a property valuation index carried out in Mayo), which was done in 1856, we look at the census records from the time, we also look at Church records, they started around 1845 for marriages and 1855 for baptisms. If you’re looking for someone in Swinford you can go back to 1828 in the Church records but State records started in 1864,” explains Seamus.
Not everyone wants to know a family member has a criminal past but it certainly helps when it comes to unearthing ancestors.
“The big thing is court cases and transportation records. If you got yourself thrown in jail it was easier to find you! The records made in that regard are very good and the court system was very efficient although people not may think it. You could have been deported for very little at the time and there would be some major crimes there too,” says Seamus. “Newspapers are very useful as well including the memorials in the newspapers. I think it was probably a way of selling more newspapers but when you go back the memorials mention everyone they possibly could and that helps us when researching.”
Seamus is a meticulous collector of newspaper reports that may be of interest and use and has gone back as far as he possibly can. The group are bastions of the past and are determined to ensure that memories, local knowledge, and records are preserved.
“We record and preserve the stories we receive and build family trees,” said Seamus.
The group has also helped people closer to home find family members that they could not trace or did not even know existed.
Mayo Genealogy Group has taken part in a number of projects over the years, and most recently produced an incredible heritage postcard and penned moving poetry as part of the ‘Daoine agus Áit: Connecting our Community Heritage Postcard’ project.

The wonderful postcard produced by Mayo Genealogy Group as part of the ‘Connecting Our Community Heritage Postcard Project’.

Noelene Crowe, Patricia Conway, and Seamus took on the postcard project here in Mayo with the aid of the Museum of Country Life.
“Noleen and Patricia concentrated on the poetry and did an amazing job. We looked at an awful lot of areas and we took an awful lot of pictures. We wanted to do something a bit different, we didn’t want to go and take pictures of Croagh Patrick or places that everyone knows and there are so many postcards done of those.
“I knew we had Kilcashel Stone Fort, a very ancient stone fort in Kilmovee. I got a chap, Kieran Murray from Charlestown, who has a drone and we took aerial shots of the fort. Noleen put forward the railway station in Balla which had gone derelict and that tied in with our theme of emigration. And finally, on the airport side of Kilkelly there is a deserted village that is very much part of local folklore and history,” says Seamus.
The postcard has already been sent all over the world and is available across the county.
“I suppose in our own quiet way through the work we do and the people we help we help to promote Mayo,” said Seamus.

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