The Irish Times has recently updated its website, to include digital archives of the paper back to 1859.
I work as a researcher. In my day to day life I meet people who want to trace their family tree, write a novel, see if they’re related to the pope, check if the past life vision they had was right or sometimes just find out who their mother was. Death is a common subject of discussion. Lost people, lost lives, lost babies.
It is an area in which you have to balance research skills and accuracy with a genuine compassion and interest in the person’s belief and quest for information. It takes a lot of guessing. People end up adopting ancestors all the time. It’s a good feeling to belong I suppose, a similar name in kinda the same area will do for most seekers.
I’d never really wanted to do it myself. I know my parents, my brothers and sisters, my aunts and uncles. My grandparents are all long dead and I was never dragged backwards to look for more. Until…
Yesterday morning, during a trough of tiredness and distraction, I typed my mother’s name into the Times’ archive searcher. She has an unusual surname, everyone in Ireland who has it is either an aunt or an uncle of mine.
2 results came back. One detailed a case in the 1940s of a young man, a labourer, married with one young daughter. He’d been arrested on suspicion of breaking into a house and upon arrest he begged and pleaded with his solicitor to help him. He tried to bribe the solicitor to somehow swing the case so he’d get out, back to his family, back to work. The bribe was small but noticed and the solicitor was removed from the case by the judge. It made the papers, the scandal of the bribe and the removal of representation.
The second article had this as its headline: Man found hanging in Cork Prison
He committed suicide in the days following his disastrous and desperate attempt to fix things. He left behind baby and a wife.
I rang my mum after I read the article, asked her if she recognised the name. She was shocked. I explained how my idle inquisitiveness at work had led to this story from her childhood. We talked about him and what had happened and how the family insisted it was the first time he’d ever been involved in a criminal act. I’ve never seen a photo of him, he has never been mentioned in our house.
I was not expecting that from a trawl through the paper. Maybe I’m about to get dragged back to the past.