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dave obee An interview with Brian Trainor

By Dave Obee

If you have Irish ancestry, you're not alone.

About 50 million other North Americans share those roots, according to one of the leading authorities on Irish family history research.

"The Irish were very, very early immigrants, so they had an influence out of all proportion to their number," said Brian Trainor, research director of the Ulster Historical Foundation.

To put that 50 million into perspective, consider this: there are more people of Irish ancestry in North America than there are in Ireland.

Trainor said it's been estimated that more than 40 million people in the United States alone have some Irish blood, and there are millions of Canadians with Irish roots, too.

"There was immigration to Nova Scotia from Ireland in 1761," said Trainor, in Calgary for a two-day research seminar sponsored by the Alberta Family Histories Society.

The first major migration from Ireland to Canada was between 1815 and 1845, Trainor said. The primary destination was Ontario, but descendants of those early arrivals can be found in every corner of Canada.

Many of those immigrants were Protestant, coming from areas dominated by Catholics, Trainor said. At the time, the Catholic population was exploding, so Protestants found their minority position being accentuated.

The second great wave came in the famine years of 1845 through 1856, he said.

"It was an exodus of starving people. Two million emigrated in 11 years, and a million more died."

Trainor said half of Ireland's population, three or four million people, were dependent on the potato -- and the crops failed, year after year.

More Irish have moved to Canada in every decade since then.

Trainor said the key to starting research into family roots is the same no matter where the ancestors were from: Start at home.

"Do the initial research in your own country, to get as specific information as you can, then address yourself to the places that hold those records in Ireland," he said.

"Speak to the older members of the family. Concentrate on the elderly female members of the family, who are normally the fount of oral tradition," Trainor said.

He said beginning researchers should find out what schools their ancestors went to, and where family members were buried.

Those facts could provide clues that would help them learn the place of origin of the family.

And it will be a time-consuming process, he said.

"It's very naive of people to come to Ireland and think they're just going to arrive there and think it will be sorted out in a day or a week. This sort of research takes time."

Trainor, 66, became the historical foundation's research director last year after a long career working with the documents of Irish history.

He personally answers 1,200 letters for the foundation every year. Most -- about 70 per cent -- come from North America.

His Calgary seminar was the start of a tour of North America that will last until late May. The biggest event, he said, will be the annual convention of the National Genealogical Society in San Diego. About 2,000 people are expected to attend.

This article appeared in the Calgary Herald on Monday, May 1, 1995. Used courtesy the Calgary Herald.


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