Dublin’s grande dame hotel, the Shelbourne—actually employs a genealogy butler. Guests can send relevant information, such as ancestors’ names, dates of birth and death, and names of villages, to resident genealogist Helen Kelly, who can then comb through records to help paint a fuller picture of a family tree.
Since starting at the hotel in 2007, Kelly has helped hundreds of guests trace their Irish heritage. The process is fairly straightforward: After receiving the relevant details and completing her research, she schedules an hour-long meeting to share everything she has discovered (in person or over Zoom). From there, she can direct interested visitors to one of five record offices in Dublin. “My consultation with the guest eliminates time wasting on their part,” she says. “I know from what I research online what particular office will best serve their purpose for the next phase of their research.” Those offices include everything from the General Register Office for births, marriages, and deaths to the National Library of Ireland, which “holds a great deal of records, including Roman Catholic parish registers up to about 1880,” she notes.
Some 70 million people worldwide claim some Irish heritage, and for those fortunate enough to be able to travel to investigate their roots, Ireland tries to make it easy to do, with or without the aid of a genealogy butler. The government even hosts its own website, irishgenealogy.ie, which lists church records and civil registers of births, marriages, and deaths. Those who can prove that a grandparent was born in Ireland can even apply for Irish citizenship. Considering that an Irish passport is tied for third strongest in the world, according to Arton Capital’s Passport Index, a ranking of the world’s passports, this could save quite a few travel headaches depending on where you currently claim citizenship.
Americans (and to a lesser extent Canadians) are by far the largest percentage of tourists that Kelly sees. About 31 million Americans can trace their roots to Ireland, so it’s no surprise that the country does a brisk business with U.S. tourists looking for their lineage. The major exodus to America was from 1840 to 1870, the famine years in Ireland. “That was when it really surged,” says Kelly. “But since that time, we’ve always exported people,” she adds with a laugh.
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