3. Researching an Irish Family Tree: The Irish Census(es?)

This is where my family tree changed from what had been what I was vaguely aware at age eleven to the point at which I needed a notebook. Seriously – stationery has uses as well as being an addiction problem.

Ancestry now has the Irish Census records on it but if you’re embarking on research I would definitely suggest checking the Census website itself. Ancestry has a habit of dragging up every single possibly similar name that you are searching for, leading to time spent trawling through records that might have no relevance. As sad as the page below can feel, at least it saves you time!

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The Census is great for finding traceable information: it provides the age of citizens at the time of the census, and the 1911 Census states the amount of years a person had been married if applicable. Both then provide (with a calculator) some significant years to aid research.

Tip: Age

A quick word on age that was puzzling me for the first year of Census use: I have since read somewhere that the ages on the census records aren’t entirely trustworthy. Birthdays weren’t widely celebrated aside from the middle classes so this can explain why a person who should be exactly ten years older than they were in 1901 has suddenly either lost or gained four years each way.

Tip: Forenames

So… you might be christened William, but doesn’t Michael sound nicer? When I finally got round to looking for the right Elizabeth – Stedmond (my great-grandmother on the Kinsella side) who was married by 1911 and appeared then under her married name, in the 1901 records she was either 8 or 29 and from Dublin or Wexford. I had it on authority that she was from Dublin, which to some extent ruled out the 8 year old, as no matter how many birthdays hadn’t been counted, I seriously doubted that 22 years would have passed. I searched ‘Stedmond’ on its own with the age she would have been in 1901 and found a Lillie Stedmond living with her sisters and their mother Emily. It sounds like a long shot, but what with Elizabeth’s daughter in 1911 being named Emily, I had found the right Elizabeth. I checked – and Lillie is a derivative. Maybe in a hundred years my fourth time grandchildren will be having trouble finding my mother – one of those tricky Peggy instead of Margaret derivatives. They’re two different names! So yes, it might sound hotchpotch and without proof. But once you start getting into this, you’ll find yourself looking for name patterns too.

Census records – what precious little that’s left of them are snapshots of life providing amongst the above facts, occupational details which is one of the more exciting parts. An idea of what people did! And of course the address of residence, which will probably be a whole other post on all the fun you can have with Google map screenshots.

There is a huge amount of information about the census itself on the website, though not to be bogged down with instructions or advice, I jumped straight in to search for my grandfather Michael Kinsella. He was born around 1907 and appears on the 1911 census.

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The limitations of the Census records that I would have learnt about were I to have read the website before jumping in are that the bulk of the remaining records exist only from 1901 and 1911. There are remnants for specific counties available on the website from around 1821 to 1851.

With the bulk of the reliable resource lying between 1901 and 1911 it is obviously going to be a great help if your relative was alive between those periods, as with my grandfather above. My grandmother was not born until 1914, which meant that when I searched for her parents, there was little to go on other than hoping that ancestral timing played along with the needs for later generations to find them!

Fortunately, while John Delaney in Tipperary brought up about a billion results, Bridget Delaney had married and had her first child just in time for the 1911 Census. I found them in Buolick, living with – the next most helpful fact ever, John’s mother Johanna Delaney and their daughter, Mary-Jo. As far as the Tipperary side went at that point, there was little else I could find.

Finally on the census, as soon as I found someone in 1911, I immediately looked for any named family members who would have been around in 1901. Without corroborating evidence at that time, it feels difficult to decide exactly which Michael Kinsella might have been my great-great-grandfather, and that was around about the time that I found… the Irish Church Records.

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2. Researching an Irish Family Tree: Living Relatives

This is famously the best and most sensible place to start. Unless you have a mother like mine, who decided to change the maiden name of her grandmother and therefore send me on a wild goose chase for the better part of eighteen months. It’s fine Mum, all is now forgiven.

Living relatives are by far the ones who know the most. Unless you have a mother like mine who told me her father had an electrical shop on Grafton Street, when it turned out to be Nassau Street in Dublin. It’s fine Mum – you were the youngest of eight. I’ll let it go now.

Aside from the odd factually incorrect detail, wringing my mother for information lifted me from level one research (me, my parents, my grandparents) to level two: great grandparents. I knew my grandparents lived in Dublin and moved to England a few years after my mother was born where they settled in Coventry. Much of level one, as I call it, is sort of confirming what you already know has happened. Agreeing with the green Ancestry leaves that yes, my grandparents did pass away in the Warwickshire area. Discovering great grandparents depends on how much a living relative can tell you about their parents’ memories of their own parents, which again, being the youngest of eight children, my mum’s parents had probably given most of the information countless times to older siblings.

Regardless, Mum had memories of the mad Delaneys on my grandmother’s side. She blames any familial temper on this bloodline. So, there I had it – the surnames Kinsella and Delaney, which are completely unpopular Irish names and therefore could lead to no confusion whatsoever. Typing these into Ancestry of course produced nothing as those two generations had been born in Ireland. Which led me to my next and greatest find at that point – the surviving Irish Census.

About six months ago, I sent my mother to Coventry (literally) to visit her brothers, armed with two pages of questions and as many printed records and handwritten trees that I had produced by then:

Delaney Mum made a telephone call with hot off the press information relating to the wrong surname and where the electrical shop actually was. And despite my grandparents having passed away some years before, one of my Uncles kindly offered to ask them about the family tree to which my Mum sounded extremely confused until her brother reminded her they were going to the cemetery the next day.

Living relatives will also tell you things that no record keeper would be interested in noting: that my grandmother married in pink in 1935, that my Mum left a toy fire engine at their first home in Coventry to see if her mother was right when she said that if she left it behind she would never see it again – they left for their new home the same day. The recollections of a haunted house in Ringsend, and later, supernatural goings-on in Lowther Street, which involved rosary beads heating up to burning point – a childhood favourite, that my great-grandfather John Delaney was apparently a very kind man and that he had died from falling from a roof in his work as a thatcher, the opinion that my great-Uncle Kinsellas looked down on their brother – my grandfather – Michael Kinsella, that Bridget Delaney – my great-grandmother, was a – well – difficult woman.

So as much as the information of living relatives will not necessarily extend the branches, it certainly colours in the details. Especially with a mother like mine.

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Researching an Irish Family Tree P.1

How is that my husband can stay up to the early hours staring gormlessly at Who Do You Think You Are, but wipe bogies on my notebook in the event that I mention my own tree?

Our descendants will preserve this for DNA perhaps?

Our descendants will preserve this for DNA perhaps?

The entire two year (so far) pursuit is all his fault anyway, beginning when he spent an evening in January 2013 staring not at Sky Sports News, but at his computer screen, locked into what has transformed into one of the most fun puzzle games ever: Family Tree Research. Admittedly, his research has been gratuitously straightforward. Being of mainly English descent is fantastic on Ancestry. However, attempting to build my own history has been more difficult, what with being completely Mauritian on one side and completely Irish on the other. On my first few attempts, Ancestry gave me little more than my Dad’s telephone directory listing from the 1980s, which would have been great had I not known that my Dad existed and at that lived only a ten minute drive from my house.

Setting the Mauritian half to one side, partly due to my Dad being a terrible historian and partly having no idea how to even begin shaking down the Mauritian embassy for a way in, I turned to the easier Irish side. Oh – the majority of records were destroyed in 1922? And everyone’s named Margaret, Mary, Patrick or John? Yes – definitely easier!

Two years later, I somehow have 322 names on my tree, many of them relatives of my generation, or the one just before; then, ascending from that are entire families whose lineage we share. It sounds stupid, but there’s a sense of magic to it and I have indulged much staring time at the branches. I even have favourite ancestors despite knowing next to nothing about them.

Kinsella Side

My great-great grandfather James Kinsella for example, who worked as a Boatman in Dublin. His sister was named Mary-Anne Kinsella, and James went onto marry a woman named Mary-Anne Kavanagh. Mary-Anne Kinsella married William Ward. Between the two couples they had about fourteen children, some that I’m still discovering on James’ side. I like them for the fact that they and their spouses and in-laws continue to appear as witnesses for baptisms and marriages. It gives me a sense that they remained very much family to each other.

Ancestry is still late to my game even though I use it as my builder (sorry – I’m sure there’s a specific technical word). Weeks after I have added an ancestor from another source, the Ancestry green leaf wiggles suggestively at me, only to confirm something I already know, or to throw hints at me that all somehow lead to paying for their international service (yes, I know the Irish moved around, but really!)

Had I known just how – slow – will be my polite word of choice, Ancestry would be on the Irish records, I would have been less likely to have started there. But, it peaked my interest and made me Google terms like ‘how to research an Irish family tree’, and from there, I found several resources that I’ve relied on to grow my tree…

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Other People’s Bookshelves #53 – Geoff Whaley

Savidge Reads

Hello and welcome to the latest Other People’s Bookshelves post. If you haven’t seen it before this is a series of posts set to feed into the filthy book lust/porn and either give you a fix of other people’s books and shelves. This week we are off to Boston, yes the place I have always wanted to stay longer than the 24 hours I once did and home of my favourite series Rizzoli and Isles – though hopefully there won’t be any murder today, to join Geoff who blogs at The Oddness of Things Moving and has a podcast (which I am secretly hoping he will one day invite me on to discuss Rebecca) Come Read With Me. You can follow him on Twitter here. Before we have a nosey through his shelves, let’s find out more about him…

I currently live in Boston, Massachusetts and took a…

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Is an Auto-Biography Self Indulgent or Boring?


After two days in front of the computer screen my About page is now titled ‘Run of the Mill Biography’.

There are 6,442 words.

And they’re all about me.

As soon as I published it I was hit by the overwhelming sense that everyone who reads it will now hate me. It’s an added twist to my current concern that my main interest in the past two days has been writing about myself. I had actually set out to write a run of the mill biography. I had an image of a list of years and then the forgettable things that happened, such as:

1999 – read ‘Generation X’ and didn’t get it

2002 – wrote an embarrassingly biographical novella

It certainly was not the intention when I started writing to enter into something that feels like self-indulgence. As I remembered one element of my past, other memories come back with it, so that an act of life editing was required to maintain a sense of order. To try and quell my fears, I looked for a few quotes about biographies. This helpful one said:

Every artist writes his own biography (Ellis Havelock)

I like this one a lot as it suggests I’m an artist and not a self-indulgent madam with too much time on her hands.

However, this left me feeling like I was onto something:

And I certainly won’t write an autobiography. Only self obsessed people want to write or talk about themselves! (Kajol)

I mean – it’s a little on the judgmental side – well a lot. Yes, I think this is far too judgmental, in which case, even if I have been self indulgent, their judgmental-ness negates it.

Finally, this is possibly the most accurate attitude:

An autobiography is a book a person writes about his own life and it is usually full of all sorts of boring details (Roald Dahl)

That’s – well – that’s fair enough.

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It’s My Birthday

Birthday Cake

I am thirty-two today. Thirty-two. I keep referring to it as ‘chick-lit’ age; by this I mean the paperbacks I ripped my way through in my early twenties that all revolved around women who were thirty-two years old and had glorious careers in fashionable industries like the media and PR who had to put their careers on hold due to some man and inevitably they would fall in love with … well – you know, you’ve probably read them too.

I’m away from home, which makes this birthday stranger. Yesterday, my younger brother messaged me briefly asking about my birthday plans. He lived in France for a few months when he was nineteen, and was also away for his birthday. I asked him if it had been weird and he replied, causing the guilt that only families can with,

Yes it was a weird birthday – no one called.

Although it was about ten years ago, I have a vague recollection of him being upset after this; in conference with my Mum at the time, I had an even vaguer recollection of us all thinking that we couldn’t call. It wasn’t our best moment.

I feel like I should play at being anxious or panic-stricken at turning thirty-two. I can list all the things that I don’t have yet – a career, children, a dream home, good skin, a flat stomach, blah blah blah. But I feel fine. It’s not a matter of not needing or wanting those things; it’s still a case, as it was in my twenties, that those things will come when they do (this might not apply with such laissez-faire to the flat stomach).

For other reasons altogether I was thinking a week or so ago about the death of people with birthdays on leap years. They only have a proper birthday every four years, which means that say a person dies at eighty-four, they would really only be twenty-one (I think?!). Everyone grieves for twenty-one year olds, but people expect it at eighty-four. It makes age completely irrelevant, which is a cliche, but a great one the day you turn thirty-two and wonder how you haven’t yet obtained the things that you’re fine with not having.

So, with a whole birthday yawning before me, I think I will go for a walk and buy myself something. When I return, I think I will continue watching Orange is the New Black.

Happy birthday me!

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Problems of Cream Cheese and Glycollic Significance


The highlight of the day came when I decided on a carpe diem approach to curing the make-up defying red patches that have taken residence on my face with a mask made of cream cheese and fresh lemon juice. It smelt delicious, in case you’re interested. Alas, it did not solve the redness, as the internet promised it would. After removing the lunchtime snack, I looked at myself for two seconds in the mirror, mentally threw my hands up in the air, and for the very first time in my life Googled life changing issues such as:

– Skin care regimes for your 30s; and

– Where can you buy [acidic, unfriendly skin sounding chemicals] that deliver to Switzerland?

When I couldn’t get straight to the heart of these issues, I decided to make my eyes cosmetically ‘pop’, as instructed by a child young enough to be my daughter had I been more sexually advanced in my teens – which might have been the case had I ever learnt to properly apply make up. She had a palette of  twenty eye shadows. I have a (now) redundant kit that someone sold me outside the WH Smith in Charlton. I’ve not known what to do with my collection of make-up brushes since receiving them as a gift two years ago, but was encouraged to see the girl using similar looking tools. I left her on in the background and pulled out my make-up bag (which means stuff I have brought in the recent past when I get into a ‘I should be more of a girl’ mood) and tried to ‘contour’.

The last time I heard the word ‘contour’ as much was in year seven Geography. I have no idea what they were talking about then, and I still have no idea now. I think it’s because I’m not a natural artist (or geographer). I’ve seen people put on make up and practically change their whole face. I’ve seen drag queens who wear make-up more convincingly than I do. The eye make-up kept disappearing into small bursts of coloured cloud instead of sitting on my face and when it did stick, there were just lines of different coloured eye make up. I think the word ‘blend’ fits into this somehow, likely with its own special brush, but I’ll look into that another day.

After scraping the stupid clown look from my eyes, I returned to the earlier quest of finding out what in tarnation I’m supposed to have been doing in my twenties to my skin that I clearly didn’t, and what, if anything, I can do now. Cue millions of pages of advice that did nothing but bamboozle me further. I have never heard of ‘phytollipid’ or ‘glycollic’ until today. They sound unfriendly, like something a cigarette pack should be admonishing you for. Regardless, and sticking to my cause, I found a site that delivers to Switzerland and queued up some sci-fi driven bottled potions that should arrive in a few days.

On reflection, it’s not my proudest day. Additionally, the cream cheese seems to have exacerbated the red patches and they have now spread to my nose.

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Can My Sister Even Read?

During a FaceTime chat with my sister on Friday I asked her to read my recent blog post. She squinted at her screen when the page loaded. She haltingly read out the post title and as her eyes flickered to the end of the two short preview lines, she seemed – startled.

Sister: It’s really long. I make mine really short.

Me: Yeh I’ve noticed the average is about 500 words –

Sister: You could cut it up into a few – that’s what I do with mine.

Me: Will you read it though?

Sister: Um. Yes – but it’s really long.

I have a sneaking suspicion my sister never got round to reading the 1000+ word post.

But why would my sister just decide not to read it? As though there was something off putting about the post? It’s not as though reading upwards of one thousand, unedited, unstructured thoughts that relate to a situation she has no genuine interest in would be something she just wouldn’t do! No – I thought, waking in a clammy sweat sometime in the early hours of Saturday morning – there had to be a reason.

I decided to investigate.


After a weekend of papers, pins, red string and coffee I have boiled it down to this solid theory:

My sister can’t read.

So how did I come up with this? It really goes back to that look of horror as she surveyed the post, as she comprehended the numerical value of the words she was confronted with. Call it intuition – the seed was planted. Saturday, I trawled her social media profiles – posts about teaching children and her English degree I decided to put to one side. I mean – everyone lies on their Facebook page don’t they? Holiday photos irked me when I tried to fall asleep sometime round 4am on Sunday morning – what was missing? Sun, check, bikini, check, alcohol, check. But there was something – not right. It hunted me through a patchy, nightmarish sleep and the answer woke me around half-six on Sunday morning:

The book was missing.

Everyone reads on holiday, don’t they? And why wouldn’t they – AS LONG AS THEY COULD? The last piece of the puzzle came from my brother and his words sealed it. He too had asked Becky to read things he’d written in the past. And he said she never did.

This is in essence an act of reaching out. If my sister comes back to me with a reaction, perhaps I’ll rescind my theory and look a little closer to home. She alluded to this concept known as ‘concision’ in writing. Perhaps, if it turns out that I’m actually wrong, and that my sister can read, I might look into that.

Tom Cruise

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The Bored Girl at the End of the ‘Phone – Part 1



An Existential Quandary

Having never managed to get round to reading Sartre’s Nausea, I recently checked the general meaning of existentialism with my younger, learned brother. He described it as thus:

..when you come to a point of questioning so much how the world got to this point that you almost consider it fractured and as a world unreal…

If this is the case, I feel I have been correct the many, many times that I have reached for the phrase and decided to apply it to my life. It’s seen me through sixth form, periods of involuntary social inertia and more pressingly, my career.

No job.

My long-term job?

My job that must be a career by now because I don’t try to leave it.

And really, this difficulty to categorise, to sum up the actuality of where my body has settled that my brain wills it on from, is the greatest, if not main reason for the constant invocation of a theory set down by a French man (he was French wasn’t he?) that I have never found the time to read.

How has my world stopped and sputtered at the gates marked Fruitless Endeavour? There was even a signpost that read ‘EXIT HERE TO AVOID BRAIN DEATH’ but I passed that by around the spring of 2009.

But, for all my complaints, I took a route and exhibit a pressing reluctance to leave. For this account to be completely true, I owe a clear, simply set out explanation of how it came to this. Before the light of ambition was snuffed out, before the glow of motivation died.

Before these things, there was a plan.

The Plan

By 2010 the plan had started to unravel. But, the time before that, from 2004-2009, the plan had been 75% exercised. A degree had been started and finished, a good result had been achieved; I was able to say

I am a Law graduate

but I’m not quite sure how often I did. I definitely don’t now. In the August of 2007, I embarked on what should have been my final year of full time study under the strict regime of the Legal Practice Course, a practical framework so dry that the wood had chipped and onlookers suspected imminent forest fire.

£10,000 for the pleasure, which coupled with a 7.5% fixed interest rate (I thought I was being sensible to avoid the unpredictable meaning of ‘variable’) increased the fees to produce a ten year repayment plan that never seems to decrease.

The course was arguably insufferable – a constant tide of group exercises, dynamic problem solving and a library of books collected on the first day that could proudly break the back of a cart drawing horse. Or the boot of my father’s car.March 2008 002

However, the intensity of the approximately 10 month course was a constant drive to push on. The January blues of black mornings and frozen fingers was unaided by the never ending modules, though I had started to really enjoy the walk from Charing Cross Station to Tottenham Court Road. I even invented games to make avoiding crowds fun, like the one where I pretended they were zombies and I’d have to avoid colliding with them to ensure my non-zombie state. I was in my early twenties. Early, mid, what’s the difference now anyway. Then there was a death in the family that was so close and unexpected that the dirge of the LPC felt a million miles away, a luxury of angsty boredom that rightfully belonged to another life.

Finally, May – perhaps June rolled round, the study requirements ended and I traced my initial and surname in The Times, a tiny print amongst the hundreds perhaps thousands of eager and anticipatory post-graduates emerging just that summer, from just that college. Around the country – thousands is definitely the correct ball park figure – finished the identikit courses at a variety of (expensive) providers.

So, in the summer of 2008, I found myself with nearly a full set of equipment to complete the plan, The sole item I lacked was the ambitious confidence that had dwindled remarkably over the second half of the LPC, and that little matter of a training contract.

The training contract was the golden ticket – seemingly impossible to arrange, despite the rolling publication of the Training Contract Handbook, which I excitedly cracked the spine of during my second year at undergraduate level, before feeling overwhelmed by the pages and pages of tiny font firms that I would plan to apply to – the single, even double page spread firms were, as I had discovered at another point, out of my league. I made applications throughout the second, third and post-graduate years and received in return a shower of personalised emails with variations on the theme of how many applications they receive each year and how sorry they are that it wasn’t me that year.

I took their multiple apologies and turned them into Plan B – a much better plan, through which I would manage a Paralegal role (usually earning about £12-14,000 at the time), show the firm how useful I was and eventually win a heartfelt training contract.


I was ripping up a notebook and found that I had written the above into it. I think I wrote it about a year and a half ago when I was working in the worst job ever for about the third and a half year. This was the end of this section, with nothing following it. I may aim to carry on where it stops!

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Into the blurb

This will be my first, and possibly single wholehearted blog. Though if my positive attitude continues, it may just be the first of many. 


Herein lies the beginnings of my novel. Yes, I’m one of those people, who will die saying I’m trying to/thinking of/really, really want to write a book. This is my fourth genuine attempt in eight years (the first attempt swallowed four of those years), though I can count at least three more that stopped to fascinate for a while. Of those three genuine attempts, I am still yet to finish one of them – finished in as much that I can give them to Husband to read without having to supervise the reading experience by explaining exactly what it means in the context of the scenes and information that I haven’t yet got round to writing, because – don’t worry – they’re in my head.

The ghosts of course of the previous attempts are surrounding my table now, whispering discouragements – 

– You’ll only stop halfway through because you’ll get BORED – 

– It’s never as good when you actually start writing it – 

– You’ll never write a book! Never! NEVER!

At the moment I don’t have a lot to reply to them with – I’ve been waving them away most of the afternoon with a flap of one of the three notebooks I’ve decided to use.

Which really brings me to the main reason I decided to blog instead of cook dinner. I’m a self-confessed stationery obsessive, but I had always functioned on the belief that the more notebooks I brought, the more organised I would become – one for writing, one for cooking, one for gifts, one for books that I’ve read…

In April I set myself a cold turkey mission and told Husband that I was throwing away all the notebooks that I wasn’t currently using, which would leave me with one hardback Moleskine, one mini Moleskine and my then brand new super exciting all singing all dancing Arc notebook. For any concerned readers, the detox actually involved lovingly wrapping the unused notebooks in newspaper and storing them in a cupboard with labels like ‘Blank’ and ‘Can be used as blank’. Actually, they were the only two labels. 

Saturday morning, I woke in a panic at 5.30am (panic due to some absurd worry that all my current ideas for ‘the new book’ would fly out of my mind unless recorded right that second). I made numerous cups of coffee, ‘tidied’ the living room (moved a few glasses into the kitchen) and then decided that it would be best to go and sit at the desk upstairs and start to write things down. Then I broke into my stash and rescued one Moleskine cahier, one brand new still in its wrapper soft Moleskine and a (at the time a recklessly spontaneous purchased) Moleskine project notebook. I never had any projects to work on, so it really had been greedy of me. 

However. They have all come into a pretty interplay, the two smaller notebooks bound in a Filofax Flex that I found in a TK Maxx for a fiver. I spent a while on Saturday morning trying to set up a Flex dashboard like the ones I had spent waaaaaaay too much time reading about on blogs when I brought it, but gave up when I realised I was fussing. And procrastinating.

Which is what the biggest ghost said all day – there’s no way I’ll ever get this book done as long as I sit around and play with the notebooks. So I played in a different way and made up stories. A lot more fun, and hopefully a lot more productive!


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