Roots searchers get top advice in Dublin

The groundskeeper can point you in the right direction in the cemetery. The librarian can hook up the microfilm machine and find the files for you. But only in the National Archives of Ireland in Dublin does an actual pro help you with your roots search.

On a recent day, genealogist Rosaleen Underwood was the person on duty dealing with queries from walk-ins; her colleague Hilda McGauley assisted her for half the day.

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"We get everybody from primary school to postgraduate students. Absolute beginners to people who've been interested in genealogy for 50 years, and I could learn from them," Underwood said. "You get a great a cross section. That's what makes it so interesting."

The 15 to 20-minute sessions are free to visitors and so is the view of the Dublin Mountains from the 3rd-floor offices on Bishop Street.

Both Underwood and McGauley are on a panel of a dozen members of the Association of Professional Genealogists in Ireland that is contracted to provide the service for the National Archives.

"It's a unique service. There's nothing like it in other countries," said Paul Gorry, a prominent member of the APGI.

He added, though, that due to government cutbacks the person and a half arrangement is being reduced to five hours a day. "People will have to wait, or come back, if it's busy," Gorry added.

The good news is that the National Library of Ireland on Kildare Street is reviving for the summer months its service, which also relies on the APGI panel.

Bridget Bray of the Irish and British Genealogy Group in New York said she used the National Library's service before it was discontinued in recent times. "They were most helpful and provided addresses for other genealogy and archival related spots in Ireland," she said.

The National Archives, a leisurely 15-minute walk southwest, is the physical location of the 1901 and 1911 Census returns, two of the best windows to the Irish past available online. "We can help you get the best out of them," said Underwood, who was attracted to the field because she could indulge her passions for puzzles and history.

Underwood, like all professional genealogists, recommends preparation. "A lot of Americans arrive and say: 'I want to find out everything about my ancestors,'" she said. "They don't realize that they need to do their homework beforehand.

"People arrive with a lot of very mixed up information, too," she said. "Sometimes you find there is a grain of truth in it."

Usually, the genealogist will make some progress and often will direct visitors to other key repositories in the city such as the General Register Office on Lower Abbey Street, north of the River Liffey.

"We aim to be of some help in every case," Underwood said.

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PHOTO BY PETER MCDERMOTT: Hilda McGauley, left, and Rosaleen Underwood are members of the Association of Professional Genealogists in Ireland.