Researching Armagh Ancestors: A practical guide for the family and local historian. By Ian Maxwell. Published by Ulster Historical Foundation, Belfast, 2000. Paperback, £11.99 from the publisher, ISBN 978-1-901905-89-5. 180 pages, index and 7 appendices: (Sample 17th century records, Repositories, Administrative Divisions, List of unofficial placenames, Table of archival references for tithe and valuation records, Map of Civil Parishes, and map of Roman Catholic Parishes.)
We’ve all heard that Irish genealogy research is a challenge because of record destruction, and that is completely true. However, there are a lot of manuscripts and documents that we can access to replace some of what was lost- if only we know where to look. Researching Armagh Ancestors is a useful guide that tells the researcher what has survived, and how to track it down. It also describes Armagh’s history, helping us place the events of our ancestors’ lives into context.
Dr. Ian Maxwell has written at least seven books on Scottish and Irish genealogy. He has written a book on Irish research as a whole, one on Northern Irish research, and two on specific counties in Northern Ireland. Thus he has examined Irish research both broadly and in a more focused way. Maxwell has a PhD from Queen’s University Belfast, he has worked for PRONI (the public records office in Belfast), and has taught genealogy classes. However, he is not a member of AGI (Accredited Genealogists Ireland), and his name is not as well known as heavy-hitter Irish genealogist/authors John Grenham or Brian Mitchell.
Much of the information in Researching Armagh Ancestors can also be found in the so-called “Bible of Irish Genealogy” Tracing your Irish Ancestors by John Grenham. This indispensable book tackles Irish genealogy as a whole, and also gives specific references for each Irish county. The recent (2012) fourth edition of Grenham’s book is much more up-to-date than Maxwell’s, and does include Internet references. However, due to the scope of Grenham’s book, he can only dedicate 8 pages specifically to Armagh, so much is missed.
The strength of Researching Armagh Ancestors is its careful and thorough description of all record types, while not shying away from obscure manuscripts and other less popular sources. Some of the appendices are unique and would be excellent for reference use on a daily basis or on research trips. My favourite, Appendix 4, is a list of unofficial place names cross-referenced to an Ordnance Survey map.
The biggest weakness of Researching Armagh Ancestors is that it is now fifteen years old. The explosion of Irish genealogy on the Internet has meant vast improvements to accessibility that I’m sure would be addressed by a new edition of the book. For someone new to Irish research, this book might be frustrating, due to this lack of Internet referencing. For the more experienced researcher with a good sense of what is available online, this book will still be extremely useful in finding unique resources and for onsite searching. Although I have ready access to this book at the
library, by the time I finished reading, I felt that I would benefit by having a copy on my own bookshelf that I could annotate and take with me when I travel. Let’s hope Dr. Maxwell considers a new edition of this manual in the near future.