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Family searchers often rely on expert help

By Peter McDermott

It was a wet Thursday morning in Dublin in late April. But Lynn Shayler and Jennifer Moran hadn’t come to Ireland for the weather, or for the view of the mountains that a 5th floor office on Bishop Street affords. They hadn’t expected to be sitting reading their great-grandmother’s will either, but two days earlier a professional genealogist at the National Archives said she could get it. Now they were back and her colleague Paul Gorry went over the document with them. It gave them some names and leads to follow up.

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Gorry teased out other issues with them, such as: how could Patrick Joseph Hand, a gardener from Kildare, and Mary J. Murphy, a cook from Meath, end up in Roscommon, where they married in 1882? In any case, the couple went back east again and ran a confectioner’s store from 1890 to about 1921 on Lower George’s Street in the seaside town of Kingstown in County Dublin.

At the end of that 30-year period, Kingstown became Dún Laoghaire. Meanwhile, one of their children, Alfred Patrick Hand, had gone to New York with his wife and daughter. A son was born to the family there. But the Dublin man died in 1929 and his widow brought the two children back across the Atlantic, eventually settling in England.

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The New York-born Alfred Xavier Hand was Shayler and Moran’s father. He died in 1968, at age 48, when they were teenagers. Their mother died in 1969. Now the sisters, who live in Nottingham and Stoke, wanted to find out more about them and their families.

“So many people died. I never met my grandparents, and my parents died young,” said Moran. “I’m trying to put together something not only for ourselves but for future generations, so that they know the roots from where they do come. “

“These people here have been absolutely brilliant,” she said of the free service provided by the National Archives.

“We would never have got that for a start,” Moran added, referring to the copy of their great-grandmother Mary Hand’s 1936 will.

However, they arrived at the end of an era; the Association of Professional Genealogists in Ireland had become, after a nine-year association with the National Archives, increasingly unhappy with the terms and conditions of their contract. The service was suspended on May 31 and will be resumed this month in association with two groups that have formed a consortium, Eneclann and Ancestry Network.

“Each year, the genealogy service guided hundreds of family historians, both overseas visitors and Irish residents, who wished to do their own research,” said the APGI in a statement, “providing them with a strategy for their particular case and giving them time-saving tips.”

Gorry’s time-saving tip for the visitors from the English Midlands that Thursday was to forget about tracing the family background of the former Mary J. Murphy. The name was too common. He did, however, help them identify which Bartholomew Hand in the records was their great-great-grandfather, and gave them some suggestions about how to follow the line further back through Griffith’s Valuation.

“We didn’t know about that website he mentioned,” Moran said, referring to Askaboutireland.ie, which is a portal for Griffith’s Valuation.

Shayler and Moran’s itinerary for their time in Ireland was highly organized. And they approached their search the way the experts advise, doing everything they could at home online and offline before traveling. The sisters had been working for 18 months on their Irish roots, a cousin having already done much of the work on their mother’s, the English side, of their family.

They reached the conclusion that Mary Hand and her husband were hard workers, and that she was probably the driving force. Though the store had the name P.J. Hand, he was still listed in the 1901 census as a “landscape gardener,” while she was a “mistress confectioner.” (They visited the location in 2012, now occupied by a shoe shop.)

They sent their sons Bartholomew and Alfred to school at Blackrock College, which turned out to be a good source of information for Alfred’s granddaughters.

“We found out a lot about our grandfather’s teeth. He had quite a lot of fillings,” Moran said. “We put it down to living in the confectionary shop.”

Their father’s mother was from Belfast. She migrated with her family as a child to Dublin, where they had a house-painting business.

She remarried after leaving America. Her daughter later married a man named Molloy and settled back in Ireland. It was through that connection that young Jennifer and Lynn Hand went to Dublin in the 1950s with their older siblings and parents. Their aunt got their father, who had been an aircraft engineer during the war, a position in a textiles company.

“I don’t think it worked out,” Moran said of that three-year stint in the land of his parents.

But his daughters’ trip of 2012 certainly did. “It’s been a good journey, hasn’t it?” Moran said to her sister.

“Everybody has been very helpful,” Shayler said. “And they have pointed us in different directions.”

“The stuff we’ve got here in the last few days is what we haven’t been able to get in England,” Moran said. “It’s been absolutely fabulous.”