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The Feast of Saint James the Great
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Irish Catholics can find out about their ancestors when staying at this Dublin hotel


Public Domain

V. M. Traverso - published on 09/28/18

A genealogy butler is tasked with helping visitors retrace their family lineage.

The history of Catholicism in the U.S. is very much tied to the history of the millions of Irish Catholics who in the 19th century left the Emerald Isle to pursue their fortunes in the New World.

It is estimated that between 1820 and 1930 at least 4.5 million Irish arrived in America from Dublin, Cork and the rest of Ireland. And today, roughly 55.3 million Americans report having Irish ancestry, according to figures from the U.S. Census Bureau. Many of them feel a very strong connection to their land of origin, with some reporting that Ireland fells like an “anchor” in a spinning world.

Sam Soneja | CC BY-SA 2.0

Saint Patrick Day Parade in San Francisco. Many Irish Americans feel a strong connection to their ancestral land.

And for those interested in getting even an even closer look at their roots, a visit to the Shelbourne Hotel in Dublin should probably be on the list when planning a trip to Ireland.

Since 2007, this historic hotel—built in 1824 and featured in James Joyce’s Ulysses—provides guests with a “genealogy butler,” a title that describes a professional genealogist affiliated with  Accredited Genealogists Ireland (AGI) who can help visitors reconstruct their family histories.

Public Domain
The Shelbourne Hotel, an historic hotel dating to 1824, provides visitors with a “genealogy butler” that can help reconstruct their lineages.

“I know the kind of requests tourists make and the Shelbourne is an excellent location to provide this sort of service” Helen Kelly, the Shelbourne’s resident genealogy butler, told The Irish Times. “The National Library, where guests can look up information in its archives, is just a 10-minute walk away.”

Before their arrival, guests are asked to fill out an assessment form to provide Kelly with basic information about their Irish ancestors, such as estimated year of birth and occupation. The genealogist then compares this data with other materials such as family records, maps and legal documents in order to draw a map of visitors’ lineage which she then discusses with them over tea in the hotel’s lounge.

“I get a great buzz from talking to descendants of Irish diaspora,” Kelly said to the Irish Times.”It is amazing when you focus in on another person’s family history to such a degree because you realize how personal and special a person’s name is to them.”

Visitors are then encouraged to follow the “goose-bump trail” and go visit those places where their ancestors came from in order to get a sense of the landscape they grew up in and their way of life.

Andrew Parnell | CC BY 2.0

Remains of the Trim Castle, the largest Norman Castle in Ireland. Professional genealogy butler Helen Kelly encourages visitors to go explore the places that used to be inhabited by their ancestors.

“We’re the products of our parents and grandparents, but we’re also the products of our landscape,” Kelly told travel magazine Travel and Leisure. “So I encourage visitors to travel to the exact townland their ancestor is from to see how the locals talk, what they look like, and how they live.”

For more information on the Shelbourne genealogy services, you can visit the hotel’s website.

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