Friday, July 3, 2015

Countdown to 8 July: Palaeography & the art of reading the illegible

An ideal find: perfectly legible entries in a Donabate Parish Register April 1764, Donabate, County Dublin.
Given that Wednesday 8 July — the official launch day for the National Library of Ireland's Parish Registers website — is almost upon us, today I am revisiting a post from 2013 with suggestions for improving your skills so that you might have greater success reading the more difficult register entries you might come across.

In May, eminent Irish genealogist John Grenham beta tested the parish register site and he was mightily impressed by what he saw, calling it 'extraordinary' and declaring it '90 percent squint-free'. However, you might still face challenges when it comes to deciphering the written script of those who created the entries in the original parish registers. That's where a tutorial in palaeography comes in.

What is Palaeography?

Palaeography, translated from the Greek, means 'old writing' (palaiós meaning 'old' and graphein meaning 'to write'). Strictly speaking, it is the study of ancient writing, but also includes the transcription and dating of historical documents, and in some quarters, the whole study of any book or manuscript written by hand.

Historians of all stripes — family historians and professional historians alike— often have to spend time deciphering the handwriting found on documents essential to their work. Thankfully I have studied enough palaeography to get me through documents for my own work, but it is always helpful to engage in further practice, in order to ensure that deciphering skills are at their optimum.

While you might not wish to commit yourself wholly to the study of palaeography, you may find a tutorial in the practice to be quite useful. The National Archives UK offers resources which you may find helpful in improving your ability to read and transcribe historical records.

(Bonus: There is also a handy historical currency converter on this page, as well as a link for help with reading Roman numerals.)

National Archives UK: Palaeography:

On this page you will find an excellent tutorial, which begins with an easy to read document and moves through documents of increasing difficulty to help you develop your skills. Also, in the further practice section, there are a number of interesting documents included which date from the 16th to the beginning of the 19th century, including one 17th century report from English State Papers which refers to Oliver Cromwell's banning of Christmas.

National Archives UK also has a page on Latin Palaeography:

There are a number of tips and tricks included here for deciphering the text and understanding abbreviations. You can even try your hand at transcribing a document with the online transcriber. As you type in the text any incorrectly transcribed words are highlighted in red, so you can instantly see any errors.

Be sure to stop by these pages on NA UK to improve your transcription skills, or to check out some of the fascinating documents they have included.

County Mayo Parish Register on microfilm:
Both the state of the register and some of the script may prove a challenge.

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Saturday, June 27, 2015

Sepia Saturday #285: Within these walls: 'School days'

School days, school days, 
dear old golden rule days,
Reading and 'riting and 'rithmatic,
taught to the tune of the hickory stick.
You were my queen in calico,
I was your bashful, barefoot beau,
You wrote on my slate,
'I love you Joe',
when we were a couple of kids.

It's funny how the mind works, isn't it? When I was looking at the inspiration image of the Chittenden Hotel for today's Sepia Saturday, these lyrics from a very old (1907) American chanty began to run through my head.

For reasons unknown to me, occasionally my Irish mother would sing this tune, while she was washing dishes, doing a simple mending job, or weeding in the back garden. When I was a child I thought it was a very silly rhyming bit, but it made my mother happy, and the light-hearted nature of it seemed to make quick work of the task at hand. I can still picture my mother working away, head slightly bobbing, as she trilled out this simple ditty.

How does this bring me to today's post? Well, the little tune, together with the image of the hotel building, reminded me of school and school buildings, and some of those educational institutions that have figured in my family history. So without further adieu, I give you, 'School days'.

The first set of images shows Clongowes Wood College in its various incarnations. Founded by the Jesuits in 1814, and situated just outside of Clane, in County Kildare, the college is a seven-day boarding school for boys. Several members of my family were educated here, including Andrew J. Kettle, who attended in the 1840s, and his sons Laurence Joseph Kettle and Thomas Michael Kettle, both of whom attended during the last decade of the 19th century.

The gateway into Clongowes Wood College remains much as it was from the school's inception.
'The Castle' of Clongowes Wood College in its earliest incarnation.
[National Library of Ireland]
The Castle, with the addition of the Boys' Chapel which was built in 1907.
[National Library of Ireland]
Clongowes Wood College as it looks today.
Additional buildings on the campus include the white building know as The People's Church.
Built from 1819-1821, it served as the Boys' Chapel until the current Boys' Chapel was built in 1907.
Back in County Dublin, in the lush pastoral setting of Rathfarnham, is St. Enda's Boys' School. My family's connection to the school comes from the paternal side of the family tree. According to my late father and his siblings, my paternal granduncle Patrick Geraghty was a member of the teaching staff of St. Enda's School. Patrick went on to teach at University College Cork, but of his time at St. Enda's, so far definitive proof eludes me.

Founded in 1908 by Pádraig Pearse — he who read the Proclamation of the Irish Republic at the outset of the 1916 Easter Rising — the school stands on 50 acres of woods and parkland.

With the view that conventional education was destroying young minds, instead of nurturing them, Pearse's antipodean methods seemed newer than new, but harkened back to the past and a theory of 'pure learning'. Gaelic culture and language were at the forefront of his educational system, as was Irish Nationalism, and the connection with the natural world was deeply ingrained in his philosophy.

The 'Hermitage' of St. Enda's School.
It is now the Pearse Museum.
The Dormitory.
The Study Hall as it once looked.
The Study Hall now stands empty of desks, though little else is changed.
The Chapel as it looked when the school was in operation.
The Chapel as it is today.
One of several follies secreted in the lush green landscape of the school.
Leaving behind the grandeur of Clongowes and the pastoral setting of St. Enda's, we head to the urban landscape, and the single simple granite building which comprised the Christian Brothers' School of St. Paul when it was founded in 1869. This was the school as my paternal grandmother's eldest brother Michael Magee knew it when he was in attendance in 1912. The school is located on North Brunswick Street in the Stoneybatter neighbourhood of Dublin City. With the passage of time the school has expanded, with 'modern' additions added on in later years; however, the original building still stands, and now houses the Boys' Primary School.

Although their programme of education was not as radical as that of St. Enda's School, nonetheless the Christian Brothers infused their lessons with more than a healthy dose of Irish Nationalism. Gaelic language and culture were also part of the curriculum. Such an education would have a profound impact on Michael Magee's life. In 1913, at the age of 15 years, Michael joined the Irish Volunteers. He fought during the 1916 Easter Rising, and would die as a member of the Active Service Unit in 1921 during the Irish War of Independence. Coincidentally, St. Paul's school fronts the street in an area in which 18 year old Michael was Volunteer Section Leader, serving with 'A' Company, 1st Battalion of the Dublin Brigade during the 1916 Easter Rising.

The Christian Brothers' School of St. Paul,
North Brunswick Street, Stoneybatter, Dublin City, County Dublin.
Be sure to stop by the Sepia Saturday blog to connect with others and see how they have interpreted today's theme.

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