It’s no surprise to learn from long-standing genealogy expert Brian Mitchell that researching your family trees is ‘either something that’s your cup of tea, or not at all’.
However, the popularity of programmes like ‘Who Do You Think You Are’ and the rapid digitisation of centuries old records mean that people are increasingly wanting to learn more about their past.
Nowadays the records that Brian so painstakingly organised into databases have been uploaded onto the Roots Ireland website in partnership with Derry City Council.
It’s a subscription based service which means that one month access to the records costs £20. While this may seem a lot Brian believes that it’s the fastest and most time efficient way of looking into your past.
He says, “Every record available online is available at various points across the city or country in its paper form. But trawling through a paper record which hasn’t the benefit of being indexed takes a lot of time and effort.
“I honestly believe that the online service is great value for money. It’s organised and even if it just allows you to eliminate a name or date from your research than it’s worthwhile.
“Births, Deaths and Marriages records are like gold dust. They are the basis for any good search and you can build then beyond them.”
The latest records have been available since December 2014, and are brilliant ‘census substitutes’ in that they reveal a great deal about the citizens of Derry at the time.
Brian continues, “The work online is the culmination of over 30 years painstakingly entering details; these latest entries are an extension of what’s already there.
“It’s also helpful to log on to a site that covers all of Ireland, as more often than not it turns out that ancestors could be from our neighbouring counties, so they can be found in the Donegal or Tyrone records.
“I would say keep an open mind and enjoy the process. Have a list ready so you know what you’re hoping to find and an idea where to start. It is an investment, both of time and money, but it can reap real rewards to see who your ancestors are.
“You can then view and print out any certificates or forms you find. I think most people get great satisfaction from doing the research themselves. It can be a challenge, but getting a full family tree mapped out can be rewarding too.”
Yet not all searches will be positive.
“In the past, if I carried out research on behalf of someone I would conclude that the details were ‘possible but not proven’,or ‘may be linked’ - definites are not a given when looking at genealogy.”
New ‘census replacement’ databases
1. The earliest census of the city, namely the rent roll of 1628
This Rent Roll, dated 15 May 1628, names 153 leaseholders within the walled city of Londonderry
This database contains three fields: Surname, First Name and Lot Number belonging to leaseholder
2. The names of 905 men from Derry and surrounding estates who defended Derry’s walls during the 1641 rebellion
The ‘Muster rolls of foot companies in the garrison of Londonderry’, dated May 1642-August 1643, names 905 men in nine foot companies, consisting of 90 officers and 815 soldiers, who defended Derry’s walls during the siege of 1641/42.
On 22 October 1641 the native Irish, under Sir Phelim O’Neill, rose in rebellion in Counties Derry and Tyrone, and the walled city of Derry became a refuge for Protestant settlers. A ‘League of the Captains of Londonderry’ was set up to guard the city, with the raising of nine companies of foot soldiers, each assigned with a particular section of the walls of Derry to repair and to defend.
By April 1642 the city was close to starvation, with the rebel forces led by Sir Phelim O’Neill camped at Strabane. However, the threatened siege of Derry was lifted on 17 May 1642 by the defeat of the Irish army, led by the O’Cahans (O’Kanes), near Dungiven, by an army consisting of east Donegal settlers and four Companies of soldiers from Derry.
This database consists of four fields: Surname, First Name, Rank and Foot Company.
3. The names of 1,660 supporters of Williamite campaign in Ireland of 1689 to 1691, many of whom fought at the siege of Derry in 1689
‘Defenders of Londonderry’ refers to all those people (1,660 in total) who were named in contemporary sources and accounts as playing an active or supportive role in the successful Williamite campaign of 1689 to 1691 and were named in William R. Young’s ‘Fighters of Derry. Their Deeds and Descendants: Being a Chronicle of Events in Ireland during the Revolutionary Period 1688-1691’ (published by Eyre and Spottiswoode, London, 1932).
Many of the ‘Defenders’ fought at the Siege of Derry, which commenced with the closing of its gates on 7 December 1688 and ended on 31 July 1689 with the Jacobite army in retreat after a relief fleet, with essential food supplies, managed to break through the boom of fir and iron cable across the River Foyle.
The database of ‘Defenders’ consists of five fields: Young’s ID, Surname, First Name, Residence; and Remarks. Young’s ID refers to the identity number used by William Young for the ‘defender’ in his book. With this number researchers can consult Young’s book to verify or gain additional information about any ‘defender’ recorded in the database. Biographical detail, where provided by Young, about a ‘defender’ and their planter origins in England, Scotland or Wales is inserted in the remarks column.
4. The names of 226 citizens Of the city, in effect a census of the city at the end of the 17th century, who signed a petition condemning a Jacobite plot to assassinate King William III in 1696
A resolution, signed by 226 citizens of Derry, expressing condemnation of the plot to assassinate King William, was copied into the minute book of Londonderry Corporation on 16 April 1696. This is, in effect, a census of the walled city of Derry at the end of the ‘Plantation’ period. It is very noticeable that baptism, marriage and burial entries relating to many of these people are recorded in the registers of St. Columb’s Cathedral, which commence in 1642.
There was a considerable surge in support for William III, who reigned as King of England, Scotland and Ireland from 1689 until his death on 8 March 1702, following the exposure of a Jacobite plan to assassinate him in 1696.
This database contains three fields: Surname, First Name and Remarks.
5. The names of 110 leaseholders within the Walled City in 1738
Archibald Stewart’s Survey of 1738 names 110 leaseholders within walled city of Derry.
This database contains three fields: Surname, First Name and Lot Number belonging to leaseholder.
6. The names of 191 Derry men and women who were held in the County Jail on Bishop Street, from 1839 to 1856, awaiting transportation to Australia
The Transportation Register identifies those people, male and female, who were tried and sentenced to transportation to Australia and were held ‘in the Gaol of the County of Londonderry’ in the time period 1839 to 1856 inclusive. In other words these men and women were convicted of committing crimes in County Derry and were held, prior to transportation, in the county jail on Bishop Street in Derry city. This jail closed in 1953 and was demolished in 1971, except for one turret of the jail which still stands today.
This database contains seven fields: Surname, First Name, Age, Year Tried, Crime, Length of Transportation Sentence (in Years) and identification of cases where Sentence was commuted.
7. Reconstruction of census for Derry city during ‘The Troubles’ of 1920, extracted from Derry almanac of 1921, which names 8,367 heads of households against their street address and house number
Derry Almanac and Directory of 1921 name 8,367 heads of household in Derry city. From 1868 right through to 1949 inclusive each annual edition of the Derry Almanac and Directory contained a ‘Street Directory’ where heads of households were identified against their street address in Derry city. The recording of house numbers, against each householder, first appeared in the Almanac of 1897.
As the 1926 census for Northern Ireland was used for waste paper in World War II the first census that survives for city and county of Derry, since 1911, is for 1937 and this will be available for inspection in the year 2038 (unless the 100 year closure rule is waived before then). This means that each annual edition of Derry Almanac is the closest surviving census document for Derry city in the period from 1912 to 1936.
This database contains five fields: Surname, First Name, Street, House Number and Page Number.